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Biz Buzz - a look back at 2011

As 2012 begins its first day, it’s a crossroads moment and a good time to look back and look ahead.

Now that 2011 is officially passed, it’s fair to say it was like that uncle in the family who had a troubled youth but became a more reliable fellow in the end.

While the year started out without a lot of news in the retail and commercial side, there was plenty of speculation. The subject of the most speculation was the topic of conversation throughout the year — Costco. And by year’s end speculation for a store with hundreds of good-paying jobs in Baxter turned into an approved building permit for construction by Home Depot. Costco, and the sale of the Westgate Mall with the addition of Big Lots and Dunham’s Sports along with a 12-screen cineplex helped end the year on a much more positive note.

There were other bright spots, and this is not a comprehensive list but a look back at a few of them. Homegrown ChamberMaster continued to expand, signing its 1,100th chamber client and moving to Nisswa. Prairie Bay Restaurant, Baxter, announced a major renovation and expansion. Pizza Ranch opened in Baxter in March joining the other addition in the North Pointe Center, namely GameStop. Target completed a major remodel adding groceries and a Starbucks. The Center for Pain Management opened its clinic in Baxter and so did the Vein Clinic.

Hawthorn Inn & Suites, Baxter, became Crossings by Grandstay Inn & Suites. Caribbean Beach Tanning Salon opened in Baxter. Wendy’s constructed a restaurant in Nisswa and opened in the spring. PleasureLand Outlet opened on Highway 371.

But there were difficulties, closings and mishits as well. The renovation of the Gander Mountain building with the addition of Petco and Michael’s Craft Store and nearby the addition of Olive Garden in Baxter, first announced in 2010, unraveled in 2011. However, before the year ended, Olive Garden was back on the menu for entry into the Baxter market in a retail development by J.C. Penney.

Construction, a relatively rare sight during these past few years, was going on in Baxter for the North Pointe Centre addition and the Essentia Health St. Joseph’s-Baxter Clinic approached its completion. The clinic is slated to open in February. Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin completed a $21 million expansion. Tykes Carpets and Antiques doubled in size and added an antique mall. Brainerd Crafts found a new use as an indoor Brainerd Market. A number of eateries opened, Cowboy’s in Lake Shore, Bites Grill and Bar in Pine River opened. New owners took over the reins at Ernie’s on Gull Lake and Bar Harbor began a major renovation.

Castoffs second-hand store, expanded from Pequot Lakes where it has been for more than nine years, to include a location in Jenkins next to Underdogs Bar and Grill.

Other businesses saw a quick change. iBeach Tanning salon, which opened last winter in the East Brainerd Mall, is now sporting a sign that it is now closed until further notice. Northern Food King closed its doors in Pequot Lakes in March but its owners reopened the building as Lakes General Store. Empty spaces found new uses such as Stepping Stones Child Care Learning Center moving into the former Montana Furniture Store and Midwest Motion moving into the former furniture store and County Market building in east Brainerd. Hirshfield’s Paints moved into the former Sears store off Clearwater Road. Mill Avenue Furniture opened in the vacated furniture store space by Wausau Paper.

Throughout the year, there were second chances, dreams deferred and entrepenurial starts and businesses like Hunts Point Sportsman’s Club in Pequot Lakes and Zaiser’s in Nisswa, that rose from the ashes of fire damage.

On a personal note, again I wanted to take this opportunity to thank readers for bringing the Dispatch into their homes and offices and taking the time in busy lives to stay informed about their communities and lakes area neighbors.

It’s a major team effort to put out a newspaper every day with people working all hours of the day and night because they are dedicated to the idea — one that shaped this country’s earliest hours — that informed residents are in the best position to make decisions about who they choose to represent them as elected officials and how the nation’s business is conducted.

Without readers, all this effort to gather news, verify it and find context for it, would be an aimless exercise whether by print or electronic delivery.

There was a time when the young nation was so spread out and with little aparatus for communication, there was a great need for what news organizations could provide. I’d venture to say the same is true now when there is so much information people are buried with it, on all fronts, each hour of every day.

This year, even though the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, has continued to be a struggle for many. People have continued to be gracious at the most difficult times as they’ve watched a dream of operating their own business end as the seemingly endless recession or its after shocks continue to take its toll. Few have been as gracious as Tom Steiger, president and general manager of the Floor to Ceiling Store in Baxter, when the business was closing after more than 44 years in the lakes area.

So thank you for those of you who have shared the stories of your life, in good times and in bad. Thank you to those of you who took the time to provide me with tips and information about business changes so I could keep readers informed. Thank you to the workers and government officials who provided data and returned calls when they had busy days of their own. All of it is appreciated but perhaps not as expressed on deadline as it can be when the one year is contemplated and a new year begins.

Perhaps this will be the year when the economy actually makes a lurch and then steady progress forward. With all the recent activity, there is certainly room for optimism. Happy New Year and may 2012 be a brighter, better year for everyone.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter @Dispatchbizbuzz.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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