Nerby retires, headed to Nashville
by Bonnie kay Baldwin
Lake Mills Graphic
Gene Nerby, owner of Gene’s Place, Mill St. Liquor, and North Branch (all on N. Mill St., Lake Mills), is moving on and out after 37 years in business.
Nerby moved to the area from Austin, Minn. in 1983. He worked at Don and Ruby’s for two years and two more at ‘The Rec Center’, before purchasing the building on the corner of Main and Mill Streets, from Roger Benson.
It was then that Nerby gutted the building and started from scratch to design and build a new bar called Gene’s Place in 1988. He opened New Year’s Day, 1989, featuring live music monthly, including the D.C. Drifters—a rock and roll band.
“This business has really changed over the years,” said Nerby, looking back. “Drinking has subsided. When I first started, the kids came in to get their folks out of the bar for happy hour, and they’d sit there after work. Now, they don’t come in after work anymore. They’ve changed the point where they don’t want to get drunk as they used to; they don’t drink up til 2 a.m. anymore either. Drinking ain’t their life anymore. And the kind of beers they drink, and the new stuff they’ve come up with. You know like they started puttin apple and honey in everything, like Crown Royal Apple (whiskey) and Crown Royal Honey, kind of introducing it to new kids. They’re (the patrons) not as ornery as they used to be. Like every Friday night at Don and Ruby’s I’d expect a fight. It was natural. Now, they are way more mellow, they’re not as destructive. They are more behaved, I guess.”
According to Nerby, the bar business has changed drastically in those 37 years, making it less profitable. And of course, he also mentioned that all the rage now are the specialty brews available at the new local breweries, which draws business away, as well.
“You know, I’m on my third generation, almost my fourth. Back a couple generations, a dozen (customers) would sit around a table, and get another drink, and another drink. Money meant nothing to them. And then, patrons would drink through their supper. Now they go home for supper.”
Nerby continued saying, that one doesn’t go to school to become a bartender. “Being a bartender can ruin your life. The after hours will kill ya—woman-wise, drinking wise, party-wise. It’s hard because although you want to drink and party with your customers, you really can’t drink on the job. I’ve seen a lot of people (owners) drinking martinis, all day and all night on the job, and finally they die.
One time when Harry O (a radio personality, DJ, and entertainer from Mason City) and I were partying—he used to bring in 200 people and it was packed—law enforcement was much more lenient . . . now people are realizing it’s a helluva penalty to pay to get caught drinking and driving.”
All of these changes have taken their toll on the business, and Nerby feels it is time to move on. He is ready for a new start.
“I love this town, but there’s nothing to keep me here.
At my age, I can’t continue to do what I am doing. And once I sell the bar, I’m homeless,” he said as he chuckled. “I’m 72, and will have nowhere to live.” Nerby doesn’t have any family to keep him here. His only daughter, Jenny, lives in Minneapolis, Minn.
At the end of this month (January), he is heading down to Nashville, Tenn., to live and find some small business to run after he settles in. He says he isn’t ready to retire totally, sitting around drinking coffee. He feels he needs something to do, like a little food stand, where the tourists will come and go. He wants to be in Nashville, around country music and people who are on vacation. That booming city will be his home base, but he’ll follow the weather, he says, doing a little traveling.
Nerby has sold his three businesses to Lynn DeVries (present manager of Mill St. Liquor) and his wife, Ann, Lake Mills. North Branch Bar, formerly Silverado’s, was purchased from Bobby Rupp six years ago, and Mill St. Liquor Store, formerly Kari Out Wine and Spirits, purchased from Wendy Goranson, four years ago. He says that the name ‘Gene’s Place’ will be changed to something else, later.
“Over the years, I have learned a lot about people, how they have changed and what their ambitions are. Some are happy and some aren’t happy at all.”