It seems it was just a short time ago this column was looking at what happened at the close of 2017, but years seem to now pass with greater and greater speed.
And 2018 was another year of significant change in the lakes area.
The year started out with Brainerd in the hunt for the $500,000 Small Business Revolution. A #MyBrainerd campaign was ignited in the community and a January 2018 reception for the Small Business Revolution visiting team included a packed and energetic Roundhouse Brewery reception. From thousands of nominations, Brainerd made it to the Top 10 but an early morning announcement in February dashed hopes of moving on to the final round or winning the money and opportunity to be featured for an online series. However, the momentum with the campaign helped unite the community, added interest in highlighting the area and continued the overall energy for downtown Brainerd revitalization.
Construction and redevelopment
At the start of the year Gander Mountain's future took a turn after the outdoor retailer closed its store in Baxter. On Jan. 3, Gander Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis reported via Twitter that he was reopening Gander Mountain as Gander Outdoors and the list of four Minnesota stores slated for reopening included Baxter. In addition to Gander Outdoors, Camping World and Overton's are expected at the site. And plans also solidified about the rest of the long-anticipated redevelopment, with a second building in the works next to Caribou Coffee and Aspen Dental.
Last winter, construction continued to change the business landscape with Casey's General Store and gas station bringing cranes to the intersection near Baxter Drive. The last store in the Baxter shopping development by Costco, Dick's Sporting Goods, opened its doors. Thrifty White Pharmacy transformed the corner of Washington and North Second streets in Brainerd.
Major renovations began downtown-in the Downtown Mall on Seventh Street and in the former Iron Rail saloon as Rumbly Hall came into being in the Koop Building, which was once home to J.C. Penney on Laurel Street.
The Northwoods Crossing development gained traction and built its first building on the site with the Select Comfort Sleep Number store opening in late 2018. Sears closed its store in Baxter and reopened next to Brainerd Glass and Anytime Fitness in the former County Market building by the East Brainerd Mall.
Corral Auto Inc. moved from northeast Brainerd to west Brainerd along Washington Street across the highway from Walgreens and just recently added a sign for the business.
New businesses, remixes and remodels
New businesses joined the scene-such as the Mexican restaurant Senor Patron's-in downtown Brainerd. And some long-standing businesses changed, like Country Kitchen becoming the Baxter Cafe. CentraCare opened its clinic in Baxter.
Walmart completed a major remodel. Prairie Bay updated, as did Boomer Pizza in Baxter.
Numerous businesses worked through the season of construction. And Grand View Lodge in Nisswa added a 60-room boutique hotel as part of its $30 million expansion, including the addition of a new wedding chapel, expansive recreation center among other changes. Sportland Corners, another long awaited redevelopment opportunity, finally appeared to be ready for an upgrade with plans for an American National Bank and Stonehouse Coffee in the former cafe after the Nisswa City Council approved a $570,518 redevelopment tax-increment financing district.
In April, Herberger's announced it was closing its stores and going through a liquidator in U.S. bankruptcy court. The massive Herberger's, a Westgate Mall anchor, represented Brainerd's last department store. And it marked an end for major chain stores shoppers may well have expected to last for years, as J.C. Penney and Herberger's both exited the lakes area micropolitan. The moves became a reflection of a changed consumer. J.C. Penney's store in Baxter does not have a visible new tenant. By August, just days after Herberger's stores were shuttered following prolonged closing sales, a Herberger's website announced the business was coming back.
Indiana-based technology firm CSC Generation was named the successful bidder in acquiring the intellectual property of Bon-Ton, Herberger's parent company, court documents showed, and the new owners stated plans on reopening stores in five states while maintaining a large e-commerce presence.
"The new Bon-Ton is a department store tailored to the expectations of the modern customer," CSC Generation co-President Jordan Voloshin said last year, adding the new enterprise's primary focus will be on e-commerce.
New businesses included the Purple Fern, winner of the first Downtown Brainerd Business Challenge, which opened on Laurel Street.
The Westgate Mall continued to go through changes as Hallmark, a store that has been in the community for decades, announced it spent its last Christmas in the lakes area and was closing in early 2019. The Evenson's Hallmark store listed everything at 30 percent off in the first days of the announcement the store was closing. The Evensons are closing additional Hallmark stores beyond Brainerd. The mall store manager in Baxter declined to be interviewed and the Evensons did not return messages seeking information on the closing. But the manager at the Evenson's Hallmark store in Willmar cited the changing retail climate at the mall and nationwide, losing the Herberger's store, Hallmark selling merchandise with other retailers, and online shopping as all being part of the decision to sell.
Closed businesses included the quiet and quick exit of mainstays like Erbert and Gerbert's sandwich shop on Washington Street and Burger King.
More options, looking ahead to 2019
Changed consumers are visible in how other lakes area businesses are moving forward. In the lakes area, those changes were visible as Food Dudes joined the lakes area services and Instacart added its delivery options to get items from Cub Foods and Costco.
Food Dudes expanded to the lakes area from St. Cloud offering to deliver from partner restaurants that didn't have that option for customers. Brainerd marked the 23rd location for the business and it has grown since its initial offering of restaurants in the Brainerd area. Customers start their order with Food Dudes and pick the restaurant of their choice and then choose from the menu. Partner restaurants include 612 Station, Sage on Laurel, Senor Patron, Poncho & Lefty's, Grizzly's, Boulder Tap House, Cherry Berry yogurt, Black Bear Lodge and Baxter's Bar and Grill.
As for 2019, the 13,000-square-foot Planet Fitness is expected to open soon-perhaps as early as this weekend-in part the former Herberger's store. The new fitness center will offer state-of-the art cardio and strength equipment, free fitness training, and a Black Card Spa which will include HydroMassage beds, massage chairs, and tanning beds/booths for PF Black Card members.
Planet Fitness caters to first-time and casual gymgoers who may have never belonged to a gym before.
Quality Inn & Suites is opening in south Brainerd along with a new restaurant called the Brainerd Family Restaurant. The property is independently owned by Twin Cities Hospitality LLC. under a license by Choice Hotels International. The new enterprise is two hotels in one property with rooms near the front lobby area Quality Inn & Suites and rooms that extend off the north side as an EconoLodge. The Brainerd Family Restaurant is contracted/managed by a local group.
Some rooms are finished and will likely open soon following a city inspection. Additional rooms will then be made available as the renovation is completed. No opening date was available for the restaurant. The pool area is slated to be the final renovation.
Most recently the hotel was known as the Brainerd Hotel and Conference Center, which closed in 2013. The 148-room hotel first opened in 1975 and has been operated under a variety of flags over the years, including the Holiday Inn.