Brainerd Lakes Chamber expands Welcome Center store

The store recently finished a complete remodel, and celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house Tuesday, May 9.

A woman at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber stores helps a customer.
Manager Jessica Vogt helps a customer Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in the Brainerd Chamber's Welcome Center store on Highway 371 south of Brainerd.
Pete Mohs / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center on Highway 371 is the first Brainerd lakes area experience for visitors traveling north.

And the chamber’s goal is to make a good first impression for anyone stopping by to use the restrooms or shop for a souvenir in the Welcome Center store.

“Our goal has always been to make a great first impression,” said Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber president. “When people wander in to use the restroom, they’re often surprised to find a cool gift shop, and lots of information about how to make their family vacation better.”

A Brainerd Lakes Chamber sign sits above a fireplace.
The Welcome Center store fireplace is surrounded by merchandise.
Pete Mohs / Brainerd Dispatch

And to upgrade the experience, the Welcome Center store recently finished a complete remodel, and celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house Tuesday, May 9.

“Like any business, we needed to update our entire experience,” Kilian said. “The Welcome Center was built in 2004, with not many significant changes over the years. Besides T-shirts and hoodies in the gift shop, we added lots of fun, up-north items like games, toys, home décor, and a few common things that people forget at home. We also added a life-size Bigfoot statue that draws people in.”


Another significant change is the Welcome Center hours, which were increased over the summer months to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Friday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

“The gift shop is just one small part of the Welcome Center,” said Kilian, who added the Brainerd Welcome Center is the only rest area in Minnesota that is staffed by a chamber of commerce. “The most important role is welcoming people. We want to be a source for tourism information and referrals to our area businesses.

“Many people ask us what to do, where to shop and eat, and how to get around the area. If we don’t know the answer, we will do everything we can to find it for them. We also receive dozens of calls from people asking about lodging options. Our staff keeps track of availability, and really works hard to find people a great place to stay in the Brainerd lakes.”

Jessica Vogt, Welcome Center store manager, said the changes have been popular with visitors since the remodel was completed May 8.

“Our changes have been well received,” she said. “We doubled our inventory and fully revamped the store. We added a lot more clothing and some grab-and-go food. People say the store is totally different. We wanted to bring the experience of the Brainerd lakes to our store. We want to be a destination stop for visitors.”

People cut a ribbon to open the Brainerd Chamber's store expansion.
The Brainerd Lakes Chamber hosted an open house and ribbon cutting Tuesday, May 9, 2023, for the Welcome Center store.
Pete Mohs / Brainerd Dispatch

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