A record-setting crowd of more than 500 people, an unexpected visit by a talking Paul Bunyan and award presentations were all part of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. With a strong representation of plaid flannel, the chamber's Celebration of Excellence event presented two top awards and the efforts of entrepreneurs in the community. Matt Kilian, chamber president, said he was looking out on a room full of entrepreneurs.
For a man who built a business employing hundreds and making millions from nothing, one of the most endearing memories he has regarding his legacy came in a checkout line. Arnie Johnson said a young man approached him recalling Johnson's talk at a college. "He says, 'I want you to know you changed my life,'" Johnson said. Even retelling the story brought strong emotions back for Johnson.
Purple Fern Bath Co. is the winner of the inaugural Destination Downtown Business Challenge. Brenda Billman-Arndt's vision to create a retail store she believes will draw people to downtown Brainerd gained the support from the contest judges. The winner was revealed before a record crowd of more than 500 gathered for the annual Brainerd Lakes Chamber Celebration of Excellence award dinner Thursday night at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake.
An iconic bar and restaurant in downtown Brainerd is a familiar haunt, but what customers are used to seeing only scratches the surface of the red brick building. Owner Ed Mattson wants to change that and his vision made his project a finalist for the Destination Downtown Business Challenge.
BAXTER—With $1,400 in assets—combined from a couple hundred dollars in cash and inflated value of home furniture—Arnie Johnson started his business. Years later, he sold it for $85 million. Johnson made his way on perhaps an unconventional path. He graduated high school and served in the Army. After he got out of the service, he worked in the woods as a lumberjack and later in the iron mines. He spent five years working in the mines in Babbitt.
Imagine walking into a downtown boutique and not just buying soaps to give to friends and family, but making them. It could be on a whim while window shopping or a planned experience bringing family or friends together. That's part of Brenda Billman-Arndt's vision for the business she wants to create called Purple Fern Bath Company. Billman-Arndt is one of three finalists for the Destination Downtown Business Challenge. The winner will be unveiled Thursday at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber's Celebration of Excellence annual dinner.
When their youngest child graduated from Brainerd High School in May, Lisa and Bill Desrocher had a fresh opportunity to take a new look at longheld goals. And a business contest with a goal of creating an additional draw for downtown Brainerd came just at the right time to help them fast-forward their dream. "We wanted to own our own business for a long time," Lisa Desrocher said. "We raised three kids and we are almost empty-nesters now so we talked about what business could we do together that would use both of our skill sets."
An HGTV series that aims to help people find dream homes on the sand will feature a Brainerd High School graduate this weekend. Cristina Harty, her husband Joshua, and their four daughters and a son, ages 12, 10, 9, 5 and 3, will all be on the show. "It was such an amazing experience because we didn't know what to expect," Harty said in a phone interview. A camera crew of about 10-12 people followed the family around for three days. "So it was a pretty cool experience," Harty said. "It was three days of straight filming and our kids absolutely loved it."
Three entrepreneurial dreamers are now the finalists for the Destination Downtown Brainerd Business Challenge. The final three were picked from a field of 49 applicants who responded to the business contest, looking to bring a new or expanded business to the city's core. The trio of businesses represent a combination of retail and experience-based attractions to add to the city. All three made final presentations and took questions before a daunting group of about 25 people last week, including the contest judges.
BAXTER—With water already in the basements of an estimated 18 homes on White Sand Lake, other homeowners fear those numbers may climb this spring. Water held at bay by white sandbags, retaining walls or dismantled docks may find its way closer to homes once the spring thaw moves the lake ice expansion, or spring rains add to the existing high water. Residents sought assistance from Baxter City Council, appealing to council members during the council's open forum Tuesday.