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Brainerd General Rental settles into new building, sees strong future in rental industry

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Brainerd General Rental opens in new building in Baxter, which was constructed next to the original business building during the winter. Landscaping work continues and crews were busy with final touches before a grand opening last Friday. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 4
Steve Mau, owner of Brainerd General Rental, celebrated the location's history during the business grand opening in its new building and is optimistic about the future. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 4
Crews work on final touches in preparation for Brainerd General Rentals recent grand opening. The screens will provide options for product videos and how-to videos. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 4

BAXTER—Steve Mau's new corner office provides a much different view than the one he had in the former Taco Towne building, where he did his work for 26 years.

Gone is the cramped interior room. Last week, the view from his office included a sunny afternoon, landscape workers installing trees, lines of rental equipment and a window washer. The newly opened Brainerd General Rental building had action in nearly every corner Thursday, May 16, as workers prepared for a grand opening event set the next day.

Mau, Brainerd General Rental's owner, is used to having a lot of irons in the fire and multiple demands on his time. As he worked on his computer Thursday in an office with a healthy looking hanging plant and items stacked against the wall waiting to be installed, Mau took questions and updates on final touches and the open house. He worried about having enough doughnuts and food for the event, which included doughnuts from The Center and tacos in honor of the restaurant responsible for the Taco Towne name.

Mau, his staff—and whatever items they kept from their former location—all recently transferred to the new office and sales building. Hy-Tec Construction of Brainerd was behind the project that started late last fall to construct a new Brainerd General Rental near its original building. Since the business kept operating in the original building through this spring, Mau said it really came down to one final day to move. Customers who rented from them a few weeks ago came to their old location at the start of the day and returned items in the new building by day's end. The storied and cobbled-together building that served them for nearly three decades was torn down May 6.

"It's worked out like we hoped," Mau said of the new building. "It's great. It's just a lot to absorb."

While the former building served them well for many years, Mau noted it was so cramped they had to shuffle inventory just to get to rental units, creating twice the work. With the original building now torn down, the view is significantly altered along the curve of Highway 371 near Applebee's and Menards as the rental business shifted to the north in the new building. Mau hopes the upgrade and the landscaping will have a positive effect on the neighboring properties.

For the building itself, Mau said they wanted to create something that could be called industrial modern for the design with a clean look in a setting that fit their business and its clientele.

"The feedback has been phenomenal," Mau said.

It's also important to Mau that the business retain what the original structure, for all its challenges, provided—a place where returning customers felt at home hanging out.

The former Taco Towne is believed to have had its roots in the late 1940s and was host to a number of businesses, reportedly a drinking establishment, Shallbetter's sporting goods and bait shop and a rental business complete with party supplies. While many years have passed since the party supplies were there, the name for the room stuck. It was still called the party room up to the building's last day. All the various uses had an impact on its history. When it was first constructed, the site, out on Highway 371 and long before the commercial strip was developed, was considered a bit of a trek from Brainerd. The original building had various additions through the years, including a railroad boxcar.

Mau had a piece of torn and yellowed paper found after the demolition. It had the box score for a 1946 World Series game between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals with the lineup including notables of Stan Musial and Ted Williams. Job opportunities included an ad offering good pay for grain shovelers along with one from a 25-year-old mother of two who was willing to work for room and board with a return phone number of AL 4893. Uncle Sam was also looking for men who wanted a future and was willing to pay up to $3,000 a year plus paid vacations.

Taco Towne's grand opening in the fall of 1967 brought up major names with Twins baseball great Tony Oliva and infamous manager Billy Martin. The restaurant had a 14-year run. And the building continued to serve and allowed Mau to grow his business there for 26 years.

"Hopefully, this will serve us the next 26 years and beyond," he said of the new building.

It's all happening at a time when the future of rental businesses appears to be strong. Mau noted industry trends looking at a shared economy and what that will mean for the future. Trends point to new generations growing up with a mindset to rent things when needed instead of owning and having to both store and maintain equipment. That's been a mindset change as rentals previously could see their use rise and fall with the economy's strength. In a strong economy, companies felt confident about buying and keeping equipment while that philosophy would shift during a downturn. With a generational shift in how people may now feel about keeping more things, Mau said the growth in rental has been phenomenal and it continues to rise.

The industry is also working to get its story out as a place where people can have a successful career. Mau just hired four additional staff members and now employs 15.

The new building offers additional ways to connect with consumers, both online and in the structure with a room set up for training on equipment use.

Additional improvements for Mau's work are visible in new cloud-based software allowing him to use his phone to keep tabs on everything from staffing needs to which rentals are used most frequently. With that information, he has more data to decide when more units of a particular rental unit are needed to meet demand.

Watching ongoing landscape work outside his new office, Mau said the Brainerd lakes area is a special location, which is why people want to live and vacation here.

For Mau, the recent construction project is even more than a business journey. The proud son of a Navy fighter pilot, Mau moved around a lot as a boy. Growing up with a transient lifestyle, Mau said he felt a need to find a place to belong and become part of the community.

"Belonging," he said, "is important to me. That's probably why I'm in business more than anything else is the feeling of being connected."

Renee Richardson

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