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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Tiny's wins sizable raves

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 23, 2004

If you have two dollars, three minutes and a wicked hunger, Tiny's is the perfect place for you. Wedged in between Goodbye Blue Mondays and the First National Bank on the east side of Division Street, this Northfield stand-by offers a nice hideout and some good hot dogs.

The first Tiny's was opened by a man of the same name in 1947 across the street from the present location -- the space the Northfield Community Bank's parking lot now occupies. From a frame on the wall, a cowboy hat-wearing Tiny smiles benevolently down on the present owner, Tim Sellers. Sellers doesn't go by Tiny, but he won't correct you if you call him that.

A hot dog doesn't take much time to cook, but the joint does not serve what you would call "fast food." Sellers never seems rushed. His are not Kwik Trip dogs -- each one is cooked, and each bun warmed, right when it's ordered. The hot dog comes plain for $1.50, or, for a few extra cents, can be ordered with cheese, or Coney-style, or Chicago-style.

A Chicago dog comes on a poppy seed bun with onions, peppers, tomatoes and a deli pickle, sprinkled with celery salt. Tiny's also offers Vienna Beef dogs and polish dogs for $2 and $2.50, respectively. Relish the color of Kryptonite, ketchup, mustard and a sweet, spicy Special Sauce are all complimentary, and Sellers lets each customer decorate their own dogs.

Sellers will also make a sandwich for the same low fees. All are standard fare -- turkey, ham or tuna salad, on white or wheat. But there is something comforting about watching him make it right in front of you. He lays out all the ingredients on the counter before preparing it, the way your dad might in the kitchen at home.

The Special Sauce is a relic of the first Tinys, as is much of the décor at the well-kept diner  but more than just the location is different now. The long, narrow space is divided into smoking and non-smoking; the latter is found in the back, complete with a snooker table and rows of pool cues. The front counter resembles a general store. It now holds a wide variety of cigarettes and cigars as well as flasks, lighters and cigarette cases, which face the two soda coolers.

"In the `40s and `50s, this was like a pre-convenience store," Sellers said. "It used to be jam packed with stuff -- things like bread and cigarettes that would be sold until midnight, when the place closed."

Up to and continuing after the store changed locations in the 1960s, Tiny's was a local hangout for the boys in town. Pool tournaments were held in the back, gossip was exchanged; even drag races usually began in front of Tiny's. "If you wanted to know what was going on in town," he said, "you would come here. Heck, when I bought the place one of the cops told me that if a drug deal was going down [in Northfield during the 1970s], you could find it in the back of Tiny's."

In fact, the store actually sold drug paraphernalia and hookahs throughout the 70s. In the `80s, however, the city cracked down on these sales. Even the number of cigarette smokers diminished, and Tiny's stopped being a hangout for kids.

A Northfield native, Sellers, who has owned Tiny's for two years, once worked in the agriculture business. He and his wife recently moved to Northfield; Sellers now helms Tiny's counter by himself, with a little help three mornings a week from an older gentleman and a noontime checkout girl during the week, but Sellers has big plans for the little dog shop.

"This summer we're really going to expand," he said. The menu will soon include hot Italian beef sandwiches ("They're really, really good," he said), fries, and a peanut butter menu. As excited as Sellers is to revitalize the business, he knows that change is warily met in this town.

"There used to be a magazine rack where you're sitting now," Sellers said, referring to the two tables and tall stools opposite his candy-topped counter. "I took that out and thought people were going to freak out. One of my regulars, a dentist in town, came up to me afterwards and said, 'Tim, you really [have] got to give us some warning.'"

Sellers smiled and chuckled with a townie finishing his dog at the counter. "People come back and this place is something they really remember." He's hoping it will continue to be so for generations to come.

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