It’s an understatement to say it’ll be a busy spring at Howg’s Gas and Service and Back Door Liquor in Laporte.
Not only are owners Lyle and Jessica Howg upgrading the gas station’s exterior and doing some interior remodeling, but Lyle — a member of the Army National Guard with 20 years’ military service — just deployed for a year to the Middle East!
Despite this, Jessica appears to have the situation under control.
“We are in the process of becoming a Sinclair brand station,” she relates. “We are installing brand-new gas pumps and will offer 24-hour ‘pay at the pump’ convenience. Our current pumps are more than 25 years old!”
Other upgrades will include a new LED gas price sign and an updated canopy. Inside the store, an eight door beer cooler will be added. Work began March 23 and should be finished by mid-April.
Less than three years ago, on July 1, 2018, the Howgs purchased the business from former owner Joan Miller. Jessica isn’t sure of its history before that, except that the present building was constructed in 1997. Earlier, she’s been told there was a small brick building with just one gas pump.
Lyle was born in Deer River and moved to Laporte in sixth-grade. Jessica was born in Elk River, and she also moved to Laporte in sixth grade. Both are Laporte High School graduates. The couple has three children: Autumn, Caleb and Aubrey.
Right after high school Lyle joined the Army and spent six years on active duty, followed by his National Guard service. He was recently promoted to First Sergeant.
Lyle was a mechanic in the military and also attended Northwest Technical College for automotive technician training — good preparation for his current business.
Howg’s Gas and Service is a full service station that can do everything from oil changes, tires, tune-ups and brake jobs to full engine and transmission repairs. In addition to the owners, the staff includes two mechanics and five clerks.
Back Door Liquor was added about eight to 10 years ago and carries a large selection of beer, liquor, wine — “and a great assortment of hard selzers,” says Jessica.
“We like to carry local products, so we stock Forestedge Wines from Laporte and most varieties of Bemidji Brewing beers.”
Without Howg’s and Back Door Liquor, Laporte area residents would have to drive to Walker or Bemidji to get the merchandise, products and services available at those local businesses.
The Howgs are very involved in the Laporte community. Both are members of the Lakeport Volunteer Fire Department. Lyle is a captain and has been the training officer for many years. Jessica is a lieutenant and assistant engineer, as well as the secretary. She is also a volunteer EMT and training officer for the Lakeport Emergency Medical Responders.
If that wasn’t enough, Jessica also serves on the Laporte School Board and was elected board chair this year. She is also a board member of the Laporte Area Take a Kid Fishing event.
The COVID-19 crisis had an impact on business at Howg’s Gas and the Back Door, she says, but not as much as at some businesses.
“We definitely saw a decrease in gas sales as well as auto repairs during the shutdown and while people were out of work. But it’s mostly returned to normal now.
“Our local community has been great!” she went on. “They have supported and encouraged us from Day 1; but 2020 was a challenging year. Our friends and neighbors really came together and supported ALL of the businesses in town. We couldn’t ask for better customers!”
Howg’s offers a 10 percent discount on all labor costs at the service station to all active duty military, fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel, as well as free coffee or cappuccino.
Howg’s Gas and Service, and Back Door Liquor are located at 10 Central Avenue, Laporte, right where Highway 200 makes a dogleg turn and crosses the Paul Bunyan Trail. Phone is (218) 224-2774.
Summer hours at Howg’s Gas and Service are Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Back Door Liquor is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.