Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
LEADER -- Although the scale's decidedly different, Gary and Glenda Dauer demonstrate the imagination and energy of New York City's Donald Trump.
The energetic couple knew if they were to make the small town of Leader their business home they would have to make it a destination stop for customers -- a reason to stop along their north-south stretch of State Highway 64.
That's where pig racing came into the picture.
The Dauers draw hundreds of people to their weekend pig races with a homemade race course right next to Bear's Den's deck. Buying, caring for and training 60 pigs proved to be an education for Gary, a city boy from New Ulm.
"It's something I had to learn," he said. "I was scared to touch 'em, at first."
In addition to being a draw for families from throughout the area, Dauer said pig racing has been the source of memorable stories.
One little piggy got loose while being transported between the Dauer's livestock area and the Bear's Den. Dauer quickly retraced his steps only to find the prodigal pig heading toward the races on Highway 64 with an obliging and amused Wal-Mart truck driver slowly following behind.
"There, No. 12 was running down the center line," he recalled.
The community has been supportive of their business ventures, the Dauers said. One customer gave them the chance to buy carpeting at a reasonable price that made the wedding reception area project cost-effective.
The owners of Little Moran Hunting Club often bring their hunters to the Bear's Den for a meal after hunting. Dauer told the story of how an important executive with Anheuser-Busch once visited the Bear's Den and offered to buy everyone in the bar a Budweiser. When the response of the bar patrons to that particular brand was somewhat tepid, the executive quizzed them on their reasons and encouraged them to try his product. It wasn't long after that, Dauer said, that a Budweiser representative arrived at his bar and decked it out with free promotional signs, mirrors and clocks designed to boost Budweiser sales in Leader.
Here are other innovative ideas and small but important touches the Dauers have pursued to generate more interest in their businesses and in Leader:
* They moved the former Leader Mennonite Church, which dates back to about 1910, closer to the center of town and hope to have couples renew their wedding vows there some day.
* With the help of relatives and friends they built an addition that can accommodate wedding receptions.
* Part of the Leader Amoco is designed in a 1950s motif, with a life-size statue of Elvis.
* Clean bathrooms are a must, Gary Dauer said, if a gas station/convenience store is going to attract repeat business.
* A separate entrance was built for families who wanted to enter to attend the pig races without traipsing their kids through the bar area.
* The Dauers heat the Bear's Den with corn-burning stoves, a move that Gary Dauer figured netted them a savings of about $3,000 to $4,000 each heating season.
MIKE O'ROURKE, associate editor, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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