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Wrapping up the season

The last-minute Christmas shopping had people scurrying about the Brainerd-Baxter area this week. We won't know until the final sales are tallied how this season compared to others since the Great Recession shook up the world.

And we will have a better idea soon whether the Black Friday rush meant shoppers were getting things done early and were out in mass - it was the largest crowd ever in at least recent memory at Target for example - looking for discounts or whether consumers were reacting with pent up demand after years of cutbacks.

Now only time will tell whether consumers reacted quickly to take advantage of bargains or whether their confidence in the economy and reduced fear of layoffs is fueling their spending.

Baxter officials reported Olive Garden representatives have attended recent meetings in the city, confirming their interest in the restaurant pad in front of Gander Mountain. But news of the addition of an IHOP there may have been too optimistict. Work continues to create the Pizza Ranch space in the North Pointe Centre in Baxter. There are rumblings of a major big box retailer interested in the former Motor City site by Home Depot. Years ago previous developers were convinced the site would be a major draw for national brands like Old Navy.

That was before the recession when the lakes area was in a building boom. But concerns about the access appeared to outweigh the property's high visibility draw near the corner of Highways 371 and 210. Now land prices may have moved down significantly to make access woes less of an issue. Crow Wing County experienced an overall market value assessment reduction of $800 million. Countywide property values dropped about 7 percent.

Soon, area retailers will know for certain how this holiday season compared to others. It appears much also depends the day after Christmas where shoppers come in to get bargains, get things they didn't find wrapped beneath the tree, use gift cards or exchange items. J.C. Penney reports Dec. 26 is one of the busiest shopping days of the season.

It will be interesting to see how this holiday season compares to previous years. Retailers reported having more inventory than last year. There were questions whether the discounts were as deep this year as year's past but retailers reported putting out more door busters than ever on Black Friday. And door buster sales were touted throughout the holiday shopping season.

Maybe consumers have found a way to bundle deals, coupons and savings along with moderate expectations to avoid a spending hangover for 2011.

That may be one of the lasting lessons at a time when it seems the recession has touched everyone and left a significant impression.

Foreclosures in Crow Wing County are on track to post the highest numbers in five years. For 2010 to date, there have been 362 foreclosures with December's numbers yet to be included.

For past years, the foreclosure's numbered:

• 351 in 2009.

• 356 in 2008.

• 231 in 2007.

• 142 in 2006.

If there is a silver lining in all that, it may be from the notices of pendency, which indicate a foreclosure is coming. In 2009, there were 644 notices for the highest numbers since 2006 when there were 273. For 2010 - without December's numbers - there were 546 notices in Crow Wing County. So unless there is an explosive number in December, the notices will have dropped for the first time in five years after a history of staggering increases.

Love for Minnesota is closing in Nisswa. The store, on Main Street, would have stayed there but the lease was up and the business learned negotiations were made with others to take over the space. Janet Miller, vice president with Love for Minnesota, was reached in the metro area and she said the store is looking at possibilities elsewhere.

"We are looking for a new space," Miller said. "We just haven't found it yet."

The store employs four to six people. Miller said the expectation was to stay at the Main Street location in Nisswa.

"We've always enjoyed being there," Miller said.

Love for Minnesota has 23 locations in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan. On Black Friday the chain opened a store in the Mall of America.

The space may be outside Nisswa. Love for Minnesota's last day is Dec. 31.

Viking Coca-Cola Bottling Co. is putting a portion of its sales of Powerade drinks back to participating high schools in a new program.

Participating schools include Brainerd, Little Falls, McGregor, Menahga, Verndale, Onamia, Pequot Lakes, Pine River, Staples and Walker.

Money will be collected on all Powerade products sold throughout Viking Coca-Cola Bottling Co. territory and then divided to high schools based on a percentage of purchased beverages.

The program's goal is to support high school athletic programs within Viking Coca-Cola's franchise territory.

Wausau Paper declared a quarterly dividend of $0.03 per share on its common stock. The company, which operates the mill in northeast Brainerd, reported the dividend is payable Feb. 15 to shareholders of record at the close of business on Feb. 1.

PrimeLending, a PlainsCapital Co. is at 70 E. Broadway in Little Falls and was formerly Bell Mortgage.

A ReMax real estate office was opened at 118 11th St. N.E. in Little Falls by Jeff and Chris Kruschek in the Lora B's Plaza.

Trobec's Bus Service opened a Little Falls office at 62 E. Broadway. The Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce reported Trobec's primary business is in St. Stephen. The company has been in business for more than 70 years and is owned by Betty Trobec and managed by Tim Schubert.

Woltjer & Associates with Ron Woltjer reopened an office at 113 E. Broadway in Little Falls.

On a personal note, thank you for reading the Dispatch and bringing us into your homes and offices each day. It's a constant effort to reach contacts, gather information, write quickly and beat the clock to make the miracle of each day's publication. We enjoy the daily challenge of trying to bring our readers the news from notices of reading clubs to election night results and everything in between.

And it wouldn't happen without the people who are willing to share their stories in good times and in bad. So thank you to the people who returned my call when it may have been easier not to do so. Thank you to those who made time in their own busy schedules to help illuminate issues, events or lives. Thank you to the people in Wadena, who were facing their own immense burdens, but who were willing to stop and answer questions when I'm sure they were tired of the whole experience.

Each life, each moment, each story helps us all understand our community better. Sometimes we laugh, shake our heads or feel called to action. In the best moments, we are inspired. At other times we are saddened at the losses of our neighbors. The stories of the fragility of life and vagaries of fortune remind us to hold our own loved ones even closer and be thankful for what we have.

So as this year, which has been difficult for many, draws to a close, here's wishing 2011 is easier on us all with a brighter light at the end of the tunnel.

And may you and yours have a peaceful, happy and safe Christmas.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at or 855-5852.