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"Crazy, but we love it." Near + North owner Ann Hudson opens seventh Minnesota store in four years

Hudson said she wanted to bring back the small-town feel in her store with affordable prices and personalized customer service. She thinks that experience is a big reason they’ve seen such quick growth.

Near + North logo
The Near + North logo is shown on the building at the new Pequot Lakes location, which opened in spring 2022. The building on Government Drive most recently housed Fun Sisters.
Megan Buffington / Echo Journal
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PEQUOT LAKES — When she and her daughter opened their first boutique, Near + North, on Main Street in Nisswa in 2018, Ann Hudson never thought they would open seven locations in four years.

Hudson has a long background in retail and was waiting for her kids to get close to finishing high school before opening her own business. She and her husband own a home on Sibley Lake in Pequot Lakes and have always loved the area.

That recently resulted in the opening of their seventh store, this one in Pequot Lakes.

After the first amazing summer in 2018, business quickly took off.

“I’ve always wanted to have my own boutique,” Hudson said. “Since 2018, we’ve averaged one new store every six months, which is crazy. But we love it.”

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Hudson said the broad demographic their store appeals to helped spur its popularity.

“Both moms and daughters are able to shop for the latest trends at a really reasonable price point,” Hudson said. “I think that was what was really exciting for a lot of people in the area.”

Near North Nisswa
The Near + North shop on Main Street in Nisswa was Ann Hudson's first store, shown here June 7, 2022.
Megan Buffington / Echo Journal

Hudson wanted to bring back the small-town feel in her store with affordable prices and personalized customer service. She thinks that experience is a big reason they’ve seen such quick growth.

“The feedback we consistently get is that it’s just such a warm, friendly environment and we love offering that to our customers,” Hudson said. “They’ve kind of become our family and our employees have become our family and we just love creating this fun atmosphere for people to shop.”

We love making it a family affair. My husband's involved. My daughter's involved. My brother, my son, everybody has a hand in it.

While for Hudson the term “family” has expanded to include customers and employees, family has been a part of the business since Day One.

“We love making it a family affair,” Hudson said. “My husband’s very involved. My daughter’s involved. My brother, my son, everybody has a hand in it.”

Hudson’s niece, who was the social media director at the Mall of America and is married to a Minnesota Vikings football player, recently joined the business as well. She’s responsible for the social media management and involved in Near + North’s Wayzata location.

Hudson said the expansion of the business from one location to seven wasn’t the goal when she started, but rather was the result of opportunities presenting themselves.

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“The overwhelmingly positive response to our concept and tremendous customer base and support really allowed us to experience this sort of growth,” she said. “We have an amazing employee team and managers at each store who really personalize the experience for the customers.”

After the first shop opened its door in April 2018, another Near + North store followed in Sartell. That location also serves as a warehouse and distribution center for the business.

Two longtime, iconic downtown Nisswa retail stores are closing this fall.

Then came Pink Paddle, also on Main Street in Nisswa.

Hudson said Twin Cities residents visiting the lakes area loved the store and wanted something closer for them. So, she opened a third Near + North in Wayzata, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“It was kind of slow, slow to take off.” Hudson said. “But once everything kind of calmed down a little bit with COVID, then that business really built and we had so many customers that were working remotely from their lake homes that discovered us and became very loyal customers here in this area.”

Nisswa shops
Hudson owns three stores on Main Street in Nisswa: Hudson and Company, Pink Paddle and Near + North
Megan Buffington / Echo Journal

That renewed loyalty prompted the opening of another business on Main Street in Nisswa, this one called Hudson and Company. Another Hudson and Company opened in St. Joseph soon after, a community Hudson said is thriving and she is excited to be a part of.

The overwhelmingly positive response to our concept and tremendous customer base and support really allowed us to experience this sort of growth.

The opening of their newest Near + North location in what used to be Fun Sisters in Pequot Lakes this spring was the result of another opportunity and a need for more space after a few years of sustained growth.
“We’ve outgrown our Sartell location in terms of our warehouse space,” Hudson said. “So we’ve been operating with multiple storage units out back and my poor husband hasn’t had a garage in three years.”

The 5,000 square feet in the Pequot Lakes building at the corner of Government Drive and Main Street provides much needed storage space for Hudson’s thriving businesses. It also brings them back to the community where they spend their summers.

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“We love Pequot,” Hudson said. “We see this re-emerging as another great small business and shopping area.”

Near North Pequot Lakes
The exterior of the new Near + North location in Pequot Lakes.
Megan Buffington / Echo Journal

Looking ahead, Hudson would love to partner with organizations to help give back to their adopted community. She’s also looking forward to getting to know the local customer base.

“We’re really looking forward to this store coming into its own and developing its own personality and getting to know the customers here,” she said. “We’ve been a part of the community for a number of years having lived here, but to own a business and become more involved in the community is really exciting for us.”

Megan Buffington, Echo Journal intern, may be reached at 218-855-5854 or megan.buffington@pineandlakes.com . She is a 2021 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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