In August of 1927, during the time of the Great Depression and Prohibition, Arthur J. Jerome decided to go into the wholesale business. He started off by buying a small building located at 216 4th St. in Devils Lake, ND. The building was only 11 x 18 ft in dimension. It was small but would be just perfect for starting out. The business was first known as Jerome Candy Company. They sold everything from candy and pop (Coca-Cola) to shotgun shells and paper products. Jerome Candy Company actually owned part of the Coca-Cola Franchise during these years.
The company only started off with two 1-½ ton trucks and a model-T coupe, which was handcrafted into a pick-up for delivery. With the help of his wife Gertrude, brother Harry and son William, who was only 13 years of age at the time, he was ready to start building his dream. Gertrude handled the sales while Harry and Arthur drove the delivery trucks on the out-of-town routes and William was in charge of the city delivery, which was done after school and on Saturdays.
The first delivery route Arthur ever took was to the small towns south of Devils Lake. The route included Fort Totten, Sheyenne and a couple other small towns along the way. When he returned from the route, Gertrude asked him what had happened because his truck was completely empty. Arthur simply replied that John, a store owner along the route, told him "Back his truck up and I'll take it all." Within one route he had gotten rid of all the supplies and candy.
A year later Jerome Candy Co. moved into the Great Northern Beanery building just West of the train depot in Devils Lake, ND. They stayed in that building for three years, until they were asked to move by Fairmont Creamery. Arthur said that the creamery company was "big shippers" so they didn't have a choice to move or not.
The Great Depression
At the time, Arthur was short on capital, but with a loan from his grandmother, Mary Schreder, he was able to purchase the Rueben building at 502 2nd St in Devils Lake, ND. By this time he had a total of five trucks and hired a couple of new members to the team. One was Mr. Hanson from Munich, ND, and the other was Mr. Wolf from Carrington, ND. They both owned their own trucks and worked out of their respective cities.
Because of the Great Depression, times were hard for everyone. Candy and other supplies weren't bringing in enough money so they had to branch out to something else. Gertrude started running trucks up north into Canada and then over and down to Crookston, MO. In Crookston, she would pick up a load of alcohol and return to Devils Lake. This continued until prohibition was repealed in 1933.
In the year following the repeal of prohibition, Arthur bought a two-ton truck and beer was added as a legal product of Jerome Candy Company. They started off buying Hamm's and Coca-Cola from a branch in Grand Forks. Six months later the Grain Belt Brewery opened and they started branching out from there.
In 1936, Arthur passed away, while his son William was attending college at U.N.D. Gertrude then took over management of the company with help from Dwight Gonser, who at the time was one of the city deliverymen. Dwight Gonser played a large part in the success of the company. He focused on the bookkeeping, while Gertrude focused on the sales.
The Era of Jerome Wholesale
Because the company owned a Coca-Cola franchise, they had planned to build a new plant that year, but with the passing of Arthur, it never happened. In 1937 Gertrude gave up the Coca-Cola franchise and built our present building in Devils Lake. Since being first built, the building has now been added on to five times. When Gertrude gave up the franchise, William came home from studying the bottling business in Minnesota to work. William continued on the candy truck for two years before his mother and he became partners. William then took over management of the company. For seven years they worked hand in hand until she retired in 1947.
In 1973 William bought out his mother's shares of the business and changed the name from Jerome Candy Company to Jerome Wholesale Inc. During that time William's four sons worked for the company. His oldest son, Art, started at the age of 15. He drove the beer truck and ran the candy route on the weekends just like his father. Art worked all during his school years including his days at college.
In the years to come, William attended a beer wholesaler meeting in Minnesota. He mentioned to his fellow attendees if anyone was every interested in selling their business within North Dakota, he was looking to buy. He wanted to purchase another business for his sons to expand into. It so happened that two different opportunities arose. A company in Minot, ND, which sold mainly Grain Belt and Pabst, was thinking of selling and also a company in Hettinger, ND, which sold Schlitz, was for sale.
While William's youngest sons Chuck and Peter continued working at Jerome Wholesale Inc. in Devils Lake, William's eldest sons Art and Mike bought the company out of Hettinger, ND. Thus, Jerome Distributing Inc. was created. Art and Mike then went onto opening another branch of Jerome Distributing in Dickinson, North Dakota in 1972. In later years they acquired Johnson Distributing in Dickinson and sold the Hettinger location.
Expanding to Other Locations
Art’s two sons, Bill and Arthur Jr., started working for the business at the age of 15; stacking beer, loading trucks and running routes. Bill and Arthur Jr. worked through their school years and became the equity owners of Jerome Distributing in 1997. In 2002 they purchased the remaining shares from Art Sr. and his wife Mary Beth.
Jerome Distributing purchased Premium Beverages in Bismarck, ND in 2005. In April 2008, a new 50,000-square-foot building located at 3420 Miriam Avenue was constructed in Bismarck. A building renovation / addition in Dickinson was completed in 2015 resulting in over 50,000 square feet of warehouse space.
The synergy between the locations is key to success. Suppliers who partner with Jerome Distributing love how the Jerome system works. They enjoy the cost saving of delivering to one location but covering the Southwest 1/4 of ND geography. By having one team at Jerome Distributing, suppliers don't have to deal with setting up two distributors. Having an owner in each location is vital. Bill lives in Dickinson and Arthur in Bismarck. Their children may someday share interest in the company.
Within the Jerome family, there are five different wholesale locations including three in North Dakota and two in South Dakota. What started out as one man's dream has become somewhat of a family tradition. After all, besides the quality of our products, the most important thing we have is each other. Contact us today for wholesale beer.