Downtown Brainerd has a host of new stores and more changes coming as recent Destination Downtown Business Challenge contestants continue to open storefronts.
One new occupant this year is Visit Brainerd, which relocated from a bank basement in Baxter to a sunny storefront with an eye-catching awning and a resident four-legged helper named Georgia.
Visit Brainerd, which is celebrating its 25th year in 2020, is the official destination marketing organization and visitor’s bureau for the cities of Baxter and Brainerd. The nonprofit represents tourism and hospitality businesses within the cities of Baxter and Brainerd.
The new storefront features Brainerd lakes shirts, caps and memorabilia for gifts and visitors.
Mary Devine Johnson, Visit Brainerd executive director, said people were able to find them as they looked for visitor and tourist information when they were in the bank basement, but the move to downtown Brainerd provides more visibility and they were attracted by the energy from the revitalized downtown area.
"Visit Brainerd is the convention and visitors bureau for the cities of Brainerd and Baxter and we moved to the downtown location so we can better provide visitor information and access to Brainerd branded gear for gift items or for tourists, or locals or corporations, anybody who is looking for something that has a little bit of Brainerd flair," Johnson said.
Johnson and Holly Holm, destination services specialist, were staffing the store Friday. Visit Brainerd moved to 706 Laurel St. in January and were planning an open house this spring before the world changed with the coronavirus. Even so, people are finding them, with Johnson estimating 20-30 people were in the store almost daily last week between visitors and residents looking for information or mementos.
"We've been working with some local artisans and we are bringing new gear in all the time," Holm said. "It's been fun. There is some pretty cool Brainerd swag here."
Holm said with everything going on in the world right now, it's been fun to have the doors open and have visitors in the area who are stopping in and asking questions.
"We're here to help and help plan trips and give them advice on what they can do -- Brainerd, Baxter and beyond in the area," Johnson said.
Visit Brainerd provides visitor information, a calendar of events, convention and meeting planning services, cooperative advertising, market research and free website directory listing. The nonprofit organization has mainly put its efforts using the lodging tax into promoting Brainerd and Baxter and attracting people to the lakes area to visit so it may not be as well known as a resource in the local community as people are looking for what to do in the area. Greater exposure on that front would be one of the benefits of moving to a more visible spot in downtown Brainerd. For Johnson, it’s an opportunity to do both — attract visitors and be a resource for the area locally.
“It’s a good move,” Holm said.
Other moves downtown include Loidé Oils and Vinegars, which is moving into the former Utrinkets space on Laurel Street. New businesses in downtown include Open City Thrift, 214 S. Seventh St., just across from the new Minnesota Makerspace, and Dragon Forge Games, 217 S. Eighth Street. Belle Creations salon moved across South Seventh Street as Loidé Oils and Vinegars is using that space in the Parker Building where E.L. Menk Jewelers is located.
The Crow Wing Food Co-op is also moving into the former Hockey House space on Laurel Street. Johnson noted the number of new businesses in the downtown sparked by the Destination Downtown Business Challenge contest.
"We have like the best neighbors," Holm said. "Everybody is so cool and so easy and if you need something from one, you ask and it is reciprocated five times over. It is super cool. Everybody is just in it together, honestly."
The Destination Downtown Business Coalition is selling a retail box to help support downtown Brainerd businesses. The box bears the Here for Good saying with the coalition’s logo. The retail box is described as “a curated box of fun treasure from your favorite stores like The Olde Open Window, Loidé Oils and Vinegars, Dragon Forge Games and more. Each box will feature items from 4-6 different downtown Brainerd destinations that can be delivered directly to your door or picked up curbside.”
Customers can order the retail box online or stop in to Visit Brainerd and purchase one. The mystery retail box sales then help support the coalition marketing efforts and hosting events in downtown Brainerd.
Also in the box is a Downtown Brainerd Passport with savings that can be used in stores through Aug. 30. Boxes cost $50. The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce reports those sales not only help downtown businesses but helps the coalition “host events to continue the revitalization of downtown Brainerd." For more information, go to www.downtownbrainerd.org.