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03/05/2023

Let’s go birding at Beisswenger’s Hardware

Bird Department Manager Jeannie Kratzer says, ‘I love bringing so many people to nature.’
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Beisswenger's Jeannie bird feeders
Jeannie Kratzer, bird department manager at Beisswenger’s Hardware & Power Equipment, said “everyone knows me as ‘The Bird Lady’ around here.”

“Tweet-tweet.”

There are 2,000 birdhouses for sale at this retail store. And there are bird feeders and bird seed. But there’s only one Bird Lady.

“I sell bird seed endlessly,” she said.

The “she” is Jeannie Kratzer, bird department manager at Beisswenger’s Hardware & Power Equipment, a Do it Best dealer in New Brighton, Minnesota.

The bird department is positioned right by the store’s greenhouse, said Kratzer, who is also affectionately known by all who come in as “The Bird Lady.” She helps customers attract any kind of bird in the area to their feeders.

“The most popular feeder is the hopper design,” said Kratzer. “Everybody wants squirrel-proof feeders; one particular type is known as the squirrel-buster.”

She spends much of her time advising people where to position the feeders, so they don’t get wrecked.

“Since Covid, lots of people have gotten into birding,” said the manager.

Jeannie Kratzer started in 1996, first as a part-time employee, then went full time in 2004.

Just north of the Twin Cities sits 103-year-old Beisswenger’s Hardware. Owner Mark Beisswenger has incorporated his personal passion into an extensive and unique specialty that has really taken flight: Birdhouses, feeders and supplies.

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Beisswenger's group shot
Jeannie Kratzer, Mark Beisswenger and James are stocking up large bags of sunflower bird seed, and everything else to do with birding, for the approaching season.

“We’re in the Mississippi River corridor central flyway,” she said. “We get cranes; trumpeter swans which honk like a car honking; tundra swans which sound more like whistles, and prairie birds.”

She’s been around nature and animals all her life and she noted that recently, due to drought conditions, the bluebird and purple marten populations have been hurt.

But in her world, it’s not always just about birds.

“One of my regular customers has had trouble with bears – even with their bird feeder positioned 10 feet off the ground,” she said, “the bear was reaching it.”

There is more concern about bears now than she ever remembers. “Never have bears been this far south,” said Kratzer.

Another surprise was when she got a call from a customer with an alligator in their yard – in Minnesota. “Someone released a pet. It was still small. That has nothing to do with birds. But I got the call,” she said.

Birding takes flight

With the doors open, especially in nice weather, birds fly into her bird department all the time, “to get in the bird baths, which have water in them,” she laughed.

“The only way to get them out is turn off the lights. They will go toward the light outside,” she said.

Birding has taken off, she noted.

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Beisswenger's Jeannie bird houses
Bird houses are filling the hardware store shelves as the spring season flies in. Kratzer said birding has taken off, “with a half million dollars in sales last year in the bird department.”

“We did a half million dollars in sales last year in the bird department,” she said. “Our two owners, Mark Beisswenger and Jim Neumann, are nature lovers and that means a lot,” she said.

Over the phone chatting with her, it was easy to feel the love she has for nature, and birds.

“There’s an excitement in feeding birds,” she said. “It’s cheap entertainment too. And you’re happier when you feed birds; it’s better than a therapist.”

In this hardware store, and likely in many others that sell birdhouses and feeders, bird supplies are a growing area of revenue.

“And don’t forget bat houses as well,” she added. “It’s all about mother nature and it’s about insect-eating in the summer,” she said.

Through personal attention, enthusiasm and expertise, Beisswenger’s is making a name for itself and drawing in customers who share a passion for all things aviary.

“I love bringing so many people to nature,” said Kratzer.

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