With just short hours left before 2012 is history, it’s a good chance to recap what came and went in the past year.
Some of the top news-getters of 2012 were also on the minds of residents as 2011 drew to a close and speculation for retail development after a long drought brought on by the Great Recession finally turned into building permits. In 2012, those building permits turned into store openings — and, importantly for the region, jobs.
The biggest development in size and scope arrived at the corner of highways 210 and 371 after an aggressive spring and summer building schedule had Costco opening its doors on Oct. 24.
A vacant grass field, once home to a car dealership, was transformed into the membership warehouse. Construction crews were busy in south Baxter with hammers going at Costco and nearby Olive Garden, both of which opened in October. Rounding out the neighborhood was construction to build Discount Tire, which opened in December.
In other cases, properties were redeveloped. Big Lots and Dunham’s Sports opened in the Westgate Mall in the spring.
Spring also brought new life to the former Floor to Ceiling Store in Baxter as the Radco Truck Accessory Center’s new Baxter facility opened in March. Radco, a division of Silver Star Industries Inc., retained its company headquarters and a manufacturing division in east Brainerd near the intersection of highways 25 and 18, while the retail and warehouse facility moved to Baxter. The move provided not only the greater visibility for the retail area but considerable cold storage space in the building’s second floor.
Space on the main floor was turned into offices and a large conference room, which is used for training.
Brian Skogen, company president, said the company is proud of the investment in its employees visualized in the training center.
“This is our lifeblood and the heart of our operation,” Skogen said of the training facility.
Radco officials did ask the owners of the Floor to Ceiling Store to leave one interesting item — a large safe which appears to have been hauled to destinations via a rail car back in the day. The safe’s date of creation was lost but it has a deposit slip of $429.98 for Nash Finch at the First National Bank dated May 27, 1927.
There were expectations for a 25 percent increase on the retail side with the greater traffic on Dellwood Drive off Highway 371. In reality, Radco reported, the increase surprised even them and was closer to 50 percent.
Also gained in the move, they said, was an increase in efficiency for staff and warehouse and distribution with improvements in traffic flow for semitrailer.
Skogen and vice presidents Robert Joyce and Phil Reece presided over a tour of the facility with Baxter City Council members and other officials.
Joyce said one of the most rewarding parts of the move was seeing the excitement of employees who embraced the challenge of the move. They credited Nor-Son’s work for helping with the smooth process and community support right down to people like the Starbucks’ worker who would express interest in the new store.
“It all came out nicely for us,” Skogen said.
Skogen said their move along with all the activity such as Costco’s addition, the redevelopment of the former Paul Bunyan bowling alley into the Mills’ shooting range and others all adds confidence in the local economy.
“The redevelopment of this corridor is pretty substantial in the last 12 months,” Skogen said.
There were other signs of change such as new ownership of the former Trus Joist plant in Deerwood by Crow Wing Recycling. Some businesses like Easy Riders Bicycle and Sportshop and Applebee’s updated their facilities. ATEK manufacturing company in Brainerd expanded and renovated its facility on the city’s east side. Dondelinger’s began construction on a new auto dealership off Pine Beach Road and Highway 371. Glynlyon Inc., the technology business with academic curriculum and eLearning products, opened its facility in the former Furniture North store in Nisswa. Cherry Berry self-serve yogurt shop opened in Baxter in the strip mall with Starbucks off Woida Road.
Manufacturing showed strong signs with Cross-Tech in Crosslake doubling its facility. Magnum Machining expanded its operation into the former Davis Engineering building outside Deerwood. Clow Stamping continued to expand in Merrifield, adding 72,000 square feet for more production space in its largest expansion to date.
Lakes 12 Theater in Baxter and Bar Harbor restaurant in Lake Shore were among the list of high-profile upgrades as major renovations altered the facilities. Lakes 12 Theater expanded as well with two large auditorium additions, stadium seating and 3D movie screens.
Steve Mann, owner at Mann Theatres, said they’ve been pleased with comments from moviegoers and with how the renovations were completed. It appears customers who were going elsewhere to get 3D or stadium seating experience are now taking in movies closer to home.
“Box office has improved considerably,” Mann said.
Brock White moved from Forthun Road to the former Stock Lumber building off Highway 210. Stock Lumber had been closed since 2008. The TeeHive, a screen printing and embroidery company in Brainerd, moved into the former Team Industries building in Baxter’s Industrial Park. Park Avenue School of Cosmetology opened in south Brainerd.
Essential Health St. Joseph’s-Baxter Clinic hosted its grand opening off Isle Drive.
Others gained new owners, including the Lodge at Brainerd Lakes with USH Brainerd Ventures, which purchased the hotel and water park in Baxter for a sale price of $4.3 million with $2.7 million for real estate and $1.6 million for personal property. The hotel was given a new name — Arrowwood Lodge. Updates to the facility included new bedding and new flatscreen televisions, among other renovations. The Quarterdeck Resort on Gull Lake gained new owners with Lakeshore Properties Inc. managing the resort and overseeing construction and sale of new townhomes. The Deerstand reopened in Deerwood with owners Shane and Jenny Miles. Sherwood Forest Tavern in Lake Shore also reopened and announced plans to be open all year.
There were repeats as well. The renovation of the Gander Mountain building with the addition of Petco and Michael’s Craft Store first announced in 2010 and unraveled in 2011 was back as a project with potential in 2012.
Other businesses closed their doors, some after long and difficult decision making like Pam’s Hallmark in the East Brainerd Mall.
“If the economy was doing great I think everything would have been fine,” said owner Cindy Hedlund in April. “We were just hoping it would turn around. We hung on as long as we could.”
Others closed seemingly in the blink of an eye like Famous Dave’s, which shut its doors on a Sunday night in November after being delinquent in paying taxes on liquor sales and leaving paychecks that bounced. The property returned to bank ownership and several parties were reportedly looking at the space for a future restaurant.
Downtown Brainerd lost two long-standing businesses with the closing of the Bead Box and Downtown Art and Frame Co. as owners Rhonda and Brian Smith moved to North Dakota.
Others celebrated their longevity like Larson Boat Group in Little Falls as it marked 100 years in business. AT&T opened a new store, consolidating two others to open the new one in the freshly constructed retail building at the North Pointe Centre in Baxter.
It’s not an exhaustive list. There were many others that changed hands, tried and failed, or found new life. But the overall feeling was of increased optimism as developers noted Costco’s move into the lakes area also sparked the interest of others who may have been on the fence. Costco’s entry into the lakes area economy also points to the micropolitan’s ability to draw people and to the wealth already established around area lakes.
And as we welcome to 2013, thank you for bringing the Dispatch into your homes and offices, sharing your stories of triumph and tragedy and in doing so helping a community understand more about itself. Thank you to the business owners and managers who talked to me when they would have rather done anything else and for the busy city officials who took time to return calls and help answer questions all aimed at keeping readers informed on important subjects big and small.
May 2013 be a brighter year with more opportunities for joy and much less heartbreak. It’s been a long, cold recession and luke warm recovery. We’re all ready for a break and maybe, next time when we look back at 2013, it will be with warm enthusiasm for a gentler and better year for all. Happy new year.