The General Store of Minnetonka Is 40 and Fabulous

by | Jun 2024

Left to right: The hearts and souls behind the magic of the General Store include: Matt Bollis, Jenny Putnam, Ellie Putnam, Gail Bollis, Liz Mugford and Christopher Bollis Jr.

Left to right: The hearts and souls behind the magic of the General Store include: Matt Bollis, Jenny Putnam, Ellie Putnam, Gail Bollis, Liz Mugford and Christopher Bollis Jr. Photos: Chris Emeott

Celebrate the General Store of Minnetonka—a beloved shopping and dining destination for three generations of customers.

Amid the office buildings and residential neighborhoods that dot Highway 7 in Minnetonka, one friendly looking building on the south side of the road has been welcoming curious shoppers for 40 years. The General Store of Minnetonka, a family-run business, featuring all sorts of sundries, is part boutique, part café and all fun. We spoke with co-owner Jenny Putnam on the occasion of the General Store’s 40th anniversary about what makes her family’s mercantile such a beloved destination (and whether we can get the recipe for the café’s famous popovers).

“My mom, Gail Bollis, was a maker and artist way back in the ’70s,” Putnam says. “She was creating items to sell at art fairs around the Twin Cities, and she made friends with the other artisans.” Soon, Gail had created a one-stop boutique in her own home, featuring her work and that of other makers. It was so successful that, in 1984, Gail and her husband, Chris Bollis Sr., opened the General Store of Minnetonka in its current location—and the rest is history. “It’s really grown organically,” Putnam says. The store now includes 20,000 square feet of shopping and dining areas and is still run by the tight-knit Bollis family.

Home Décor at the General Store of Minnetonka

When her parents retired, Putnam took over co-ownership with her two brothers, Christopher Bollis Jr. and Matt Bollis. “We do whatever needs to be done,” she says. “When we aren’t working behind the scenes, you can see us bussing tables in the café or carrying packages out to customers’ cars. We’ve grown up in the business, and we all work well together.”

Gail is still involved with the store (where she works with three generations of the family, including Putnam’s daughter, Ellie). You might also spot Gail’s sister, Liz Mugford, a longtime buyer with a keen eye for what customers love. “My aunt Liz has been part of the store since day one,” Putnam says. “And I still get to work with her every day.”

Plenty of staff members are needed to keep the gears turning, as the store is organized into mini boutiques or vignettes—from the kitchen area with gadgets and gourmet foods to the children’s zone with games and toys. There’s a jewelry and clothing boutique and a pop culture section, brimming with giftable items, featuring items giving nods to everyone from Bob Ross to the cast of Friends to Taylor Swift.

The pop culture section leans into the what and who is trending—including Taylor Swift bracelets and Seriously? mugs.

The pop culture section leans into the what and who is trending—including Taylor Swift bracelets and Seriously? mugs.

The Minnesota-themed items at the General Store are always popular, Putnam says. Some shoppers love the T-shirts, local artwork and Minnesota books because of their hometown pride. While others, visiting from afar, shop to take a beloved piece of Minnesota culture home with them.

Minnesota-themed gifts are on deck.

Minnesota-themed gifts are on deck.

“We also have an area dedicated to retro items, from Raggedy Ann to Gumby to Mister Rogers … I think those make us smile. They remind us of being a child,” Putnam says.

Putnam and her fellow buyers travel to trade shows around the country, including Atlanta and Las Vegas. “We’re always looking for the latest and greatest products that our customers will love,” she says. “We have three buyers from three different generations, so I feel like we get a great cross-section of things.” The Bollis/Putnam family makes it a point to get to know its longtime customers and is adept at picking out items that will resonate each year with shoppers.

Feed the midcentury modern vibe.

Feed the midcentury modern vibe.

Like many retailers, the General Store pivoted to more online sales during COVID-19, which Putnam says has turned into a boon for the store and customers. “Customers who discovered us while they were visiting from Iowa or California can relive their experience through our website,” she says. “We also have longtime customers from elsewhere in the Metro who can’t easily make it in to shop, so they can take a look at what we have online.” While they’ll continue to expand the e-commerce footprint, the General Store team doesn’t have plans for major shifts in the way it does business—and for good reason. “We’ve been in business for 40 years,” Putnam says. “We have a really good sense of what our customers want and need.”

Café Cravings

Shop ’til you drop? When your feet are tired from browsing the seemingly infinite wares of the General Store, you can stop for a rest and a bite to eat in the General Store of Minnetonka Café. “Food has always been important to our family, and when we decided to expand the store in 2000, we thought a café would add to the whole shopping experience,” co-owner Jenny Putnam says. “It allows customers to have some more leisurely time. They can come in the morning, take a break for lunch and continue with their shopping.”

In the early 2000s, staff offered popovers as a daily special, and they were a huge hit. Around 2013, the popover recipe was packaged and sold at the store. Of course, the popovers transport diners to another iconic Twin Cities institution. “Today, we enjoy the daily comments that our popovers and creamy wild rice soup are reminiscent of Dayton’s downtown restaurant,” Putnam says. The café’s best-selling dessert is Gloria Wartman’s Pumpkin Squares. Wartman was Gail Bollis’s mother and a greeter at the General Store for many years.

The General Store’s Popovers need no introduction. Legendary!

The General Store’s Popovers need no introduction. Legendary!

A series of General Store cookbooks is also available to ensure shoppers can take home every last bit of deliciousness, featuring recipes from the café and staff members over the years (including Wartman’s Pumpkin Squares recipe). “You always put your best recipes forward when you’re contributing to a cookbook,” says Putnam with a smile.

When Pumpkin Squares taste this good, order them no matter the season.

When Pumpkin Squares taste this good, order them no matter the season.

Then and Now

We asked co-owner Jenny Putnam to take a peek at the General Store’s archives: What have been some of the most popular items sold, and what top the list today?

From then …

  • Beanie Babies (1990s): “We’d have release parties in tents outside, and lines would wind around the store—all to get the newest edition!” Putnam says.
  • American Girl Doll Clothes (1990s): The iconic dolls could be dressed to the nines by a local artist, who sewed beautiful outfits to fit them. “She’d bring in clothes several times a week, and we had customers waiting at the doors to get their first choice,” she says.
  • Dept. 56 Holiday Villages (1990s–2000s): When Dept. 56 announced which pieces would go by the wayside on its annual “retirement day,” shoppers flocked to get the pieces they needed to complete their collections.
  • Christopher Radko Ornaments (2000s): The artist visited the store for an ornament signing in 2001, and customers came and waited for hours—in the middle of a giant snowstorm.
  • Italian Charm Bracelets (2000s): “The first collector jewelry line that we sold had customers lining up to choose special charms,” Putnam says.

To now …

  • Minnesota Gift Boxes: Customers send them to friends who have moved and give them as holiday gifts.
  • Jellycat Toys: “This fun collection of stuffed toys … have really gotten popular this last year,” Putnam says.
Who doesn’t get a giggle from a Jellycat Toy?

Who doesn’t get a giggle from a Jellycat Toy?

  • nora fleming Kitchenware: “These are great basic, functional kitchenware pieces that have interchangeable mini knobs you can change with the season or theme,” she says.
  • euroSCRUBBY: This colorful dish scrubber is a long-standing General Store favorite.
  • enewton Jewelry: “This is my latest prediction of a future top-10 product,” Putnam says, calling it, “A great new line of waterproof, affordable gold bracelets that’s making its way to the Midwest.”

General Store of Minnetonka
14401 Highway 7, Minnetonka; 952.935.7131
Facebook: General Store of Minnetonka
Instagram: @generalstoreofminnetonka


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