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Minit Mart stores will change hands

The Minit Mart convenience stores in Carlton County were expected to come under new ownership by the end of the month. There are seven Minit Mart stores in the county that will fall under KornerStores Inc. of Duluth, Caywood Country Store in Saginaw or Edwards Oil Company Inc., a family-run business in Virginia, Minnesota.

Most of the current Minit Mart stores were, until 2015, under the ownership of Cloquet-based Best Oil Co. It sold 18 Little Store convenience stores to TravelCenters of America.

KornerStores and Edwards were expected to close on a sale by the end of February with EG America, a Europe-based firm that took over the Minit Mart chain in 2018. There are three Minit Mart stores in Cloquet. Others are in Carlton, Esko, Barnum and Moose Lake.

According to this week's Carlton County board of commissioners agenda, Caywood Oil & Propane has applied for licenses for the stores in Esko and Carlton after a deal with KornerStores fell through. The companies involved in the sales aren't revealing too much as the sales remain pending.

The expected sale involves 26 stores in the region, including northwest Wisconsin.

KornerStores began with one store in the Gary neighborhood of Duluth in 2015, according to owner Derek Medved. He stepped down from the Duluth City Council this month to concentrate on his growing chain of stores. In 2017, he acquired convenience stores from Lakehead Oil and in 2019 a One Stop store in Superior. He reported online late last year that he will have 10 of the stores offered in the sale. It hasn't been determined what stores will come under KornerStores Caywood or Edwards, which operates Lucky Seven stores on the Iron Range.

When reached at the end of February, Medved said he had no comment on the pending sale.

Best Oil was a third-generation family business in Cloquet before the McKinney-Lindholm family sold in 2015. The bulk oil company retains the name under ownership from Minnesota-based NuWay Cooperative.

What eventually became the Best Oil Company was founded in 1939 by Ray Lindholm, who is known historically today as the man who brought Cloquet the world's only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1950s. Lindholm was joined in the business by his son-in-law, Daryl McKinney, who managed the company from 1961 to 1999.

The first Little Store opened in 1971. McKinney's sons - John, Mike and Chris - led the company by 1999 and grew the Little Stores brand along with the bulk fuel operations. In the 2000s, the company continued to build on the Little Stores division by razing and rebuilding several locations, 18 in all by the 2015 sale.The McKinneys said they decided to sell when it became clear that there were no younger family members willing to take on operations of the company.

The sale came as Kwik Trip stores started cropping up across the region.

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