In 1918 A.W. Johnson and his wife Aurelia opened the Leader. As the store evolved, each of their three children Don, George and Doris operated different departments. Don focused on clothing, fabric, shoes, and sporting goods. George focused on Furniture. Doris and her husband Orley Eastlund, ran the grocery store in the back of the building. Don Johnson eventually took over all operations in the building. He and his wife, Jeanne, had two sons. Bruce, born 1941 and Neil, born 1948. Neil joined his father in the operations of the store in 1969 and they operated it together until Don’s death in 1992. Those two dates proved to be significant for Don’s grandson Grant. Grant was born in Cambridge in 1969 and accompanied his grandpa on a farewell fishing trip to Alaska in 1992.
Fast forward to the spring of 2017. Grant Johnson, Chef Bradley Day, and Chef Erick Harcey were at an event in Minneapolis when their paths first crossed. Erick mentioned being from a small town up north but didn’t think Grant would have ever heard of it. To Erick’s surprise, Grant not only knew of Cambridge but was actually born there. Grant shared that his uncle still runs the Leader store and Erick responded, “Neil Johnson? I used to work for him in high school!” The two of them felt the coincidence was uncanny. In the Fall, their paths crossed again as Chef Erick had reached out to Neil Johnson about buying the Leader building and Neil passed on the news to Grant. Grant and Erick met in January 2018 and every day since then has been spent bringing their shared vision to life.
Grant, a 4th generation Johnson and his business partner, Chef Erick Harcey, are thrilled to continue the Leader heritage. The Leader building is a cornerstone to the historic Cambridge downtown. Hundreds of past employees and thousands of customers share fond memories of this building and its impact on the community. Grant Johnson and Chef Erick Harcey are building on that legacy with the complete renovation of the store and the opening of Willards in half of the Leader building. They look towards the future with eagerness to continue to serve Cambridge, the surrounding community at Willards and Leader.