For Theresa Woodward, former Crow Wing Food Co-op president and owner of CatTales Books and Gifts on Laurel Street in downtown Brainerd, it was the culmination of a long journey with many people involved to make it happen.
“It’s so heartwarming to see a community pull together,” Woodward said.
Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president and a new food co-op member, said he appreciated seeing faces not on a Zoom call as a group of people wore masks and gathered along the street and the sidewalk in front of the co-op March 3.
“It’s amazing what 40 degrees feels like in March versus what it feels like in October,” Kilian said.
He mentioned a host of business names: Five Rocks Distilling Co., Minnesota Makerspace, Loidé Oils & Vinegars with luxury appliances, Ya Sure Kombucha (formerly The Vice), Knotty Pine Bakery, Purple Fern Bath Co. and the food co-op.
“And what do they all have in common? They were all either finalists or winners of the Destination Downtown Business Challenge,” Kilian said. “And to me that’s just so amazing and I think what the food co-op’s claim to fame is they were actually the winner by public vote. They actually got more than 9,000 public votes, which means the community wanted to see this happen, right here, right now in this place, which is pretty amazing.”
Kilian said the contest was beyond any of their wildest dreams or hopes as a community group came together to provide an incentive for someone with a business dream who wanted to open or expand their business in Brainerd’s downtown. The goal was to elevate the businesses involved and have those entrepreneurs help lead the downtown resurgence. Kilian said he wouldn’t have believed this was all possible.
“Yet here we are, staring into the future, looking at a very bright future for downtown,” Kilian said, noting thousands of dollars were donated by area businesses for the business challenge along with hundreds of volunteer hours to make it happen. “So I’m very proud to see these businesses growing, the Destination Downtown Coalition forming and leading the charge has been amazing to see.”
Kilian said he was also a board member of Crow Wing Power Community Trust, which directs funds raised through Crow Wing Power’s Operation Roundup. The board donated $10,000 to the food co-op. Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union financed the co-op.
Don Hickman, vice president for community and workforce development at the Initiative Foundation, said he was first introduced to the food co-op by his wife, who moved to Brainerd 27 years ago and promptly joined the co-op. The Initiative Foundation provided gap financing for the co-op project.
Mitch Feierabend, owner/general manager at Hy-Tec Construction in Brainerd, said the co-op was a special project for the company.
“Thanks for allowing Hy-Tec to be part of it,” he said.
Ashley Martel, the project’s architect from Widseth, worked with Crow Wing Food Co-op President Jennifer Jacquot-DeVries on initial renderings for the contest and then on the project itself. Martel said DeVries has such heart and passion and soon she realized how much that was in everyone who worked on the project. Martel noted it was fun to discover the marble floors inside during renovations.
“They really brought this building back to life,” Martel said, adding she was grateful to be part of it.
Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux, who is also the Community Action executive director and has an office downtown, has watched the project progress.
“As a city we are really focused on looking for individuals who want to do the work. And I can’t say that enough. I continue to repeat that. I want to see people who want to do that. There are so many people in life that have a thousand ideas — and ideas are great — but it takes the people that actually want to step up and the people that want to do the hard work to get things done. And this is a fantastic example of that.”
“... We’re very proud for you guys to be a shining example of the type of industry and the type of business that we want to see here,” Badeaux said.
Brenda Billman-Arndt, owner of the Purple Fern and the first Destination Downtown contest winner and chair of the Destination Downtown Business Coalition, has been part of the downtown business community for three years. She said she’s watched it prosper and grow and the food co-op will be a positive benefit for the downtown community as the business owners continue to work together.