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Clean-up blitz hits downtown

Brainerd Police Sgt. Joy Larson (front, left) and Amber Haapajoki-Hahn (back), B

They’re trying to improve downtown Brainerd one step at a time.

That first step was taken Wednesday when a group of downtown Brainerd business owners and community members armed themselves with large rolls of plastic garbage bags and working gloves. The group’s task was to clean up litter along Front, Laurel and Maple Streets from South Sixth through South Ninth streets.

And the garbage they found ranged from broken car parts, empty and full beer bottles, plastic bottles, broken twigs and branches and an abundant amount of cigarette butts.

Bonnie Cumberland, a Brainerd City Council member who helped organize the clean-up, helped out as a citizen. Cumberland said a group of residents and downtown business owners met to come up with ideas on how to change the negative perception some people may have of downtown Brainerd. Cumberland said the hope is to make downtown Brainerd more welcoming, cleaner and a safer place to bring more people to the area.

Amber Haapajoki-Hahn, Brainerd Main Street director, said the plan is to have the last Wednesday of the month be downtown Brainerd clean-up day. Haapajoki-Hahn said the monthly clean-up project will be under the wing of Brainerd Main Street.

“This is a positive start for us,” said Haapajoki-Hahn. “There have been some negative incidents downtown Brainerd and this (clean-up) is a positive thing.”

Haapajoki-Hahn said each monthly clean-up day will focus on a certain section of the downtown area to help accommodate people’s busy schedules. The time for the clean-up projects has not been set, but people who want to help out and pick up litter may contact her at 822-7126.

“One of our goals is to have a downtown Brainerd neighborhood watch,” said Haapajoki-Hahn. “We also want to get more events planned downtown. This will all be a good thing. This (downtown) district is important.”

A handful of business representatives got their hands dirty Wednesday. Paula Zelinske of Yesterday’s Gone said it was nice to see all the business owners working together for downtown Brainerd.

Matt Hanneken of Hanneken’s Insurance Agency said improving the cosmetics of downtown Brainerd is an investment. Hanneken said the business owners want the community to know that downtown Brainerd is a safe and clean place to do business.

Hanneken said the parking lot at the insurance company has been used by bar  patrons who leave trash that the business has to pick up.

“It’s not a lot, but it is continuous,” he said. “It disturbs me to see when the trees are knocked over.”

Judi Harting of Thrifty White Pharmacy said, “We pick up broken bottles weekly. Yesterday (Tuesday) we picked up three glasses of alcohol. It’s discouraging. We don’t sell alcohol and we always have to clean it up.”

Bob Nystrom of Thrifty and Mark Prince of Brainerd BN Credit Union off South Sixth Street were cleaning up Front Street. Both men said it’s important for all the business owners to get together to help clean-up downtown Brainerd, especially after the city spent millions of dollars in making street improvements.

“We want to make the downtown area more appealing for people,” said Nystrom. “We have a mix of businesses downtown that has changed over the year and we all want to work together and work with the bar owners to make downtown a better place.”

Prince said there will be more lights turned on downtown to make it a safer place .

Brainerd Police Sgt. Joy Larson, who has taken over some of the crime prevention duties after a department specialist retired, also helped pick up litter. Larson said having a safer and cleaner environment is important, as well as having the business owners establish relationships with each other.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.