Spring Grove, Minn. gave United States Senator Tina Smith a warm welcome Thursday, August 10. Senator Smith toured rural Spring Grove to highlight the town’s economic development.
Smith’s tour began 9:15 a.m. at Red’s IGA, 500 E. Main Street. Mayor Saundra Solum, City Clerk/Administrator Jana Elton, and a few others accompanied Senator Smith at this first stop.
The next stop on the tour included Spring Grove’s Cinema, 167 W. Main Street, where City Councilors Chad Rohland, Trent Turner and Karen Folstad joined the tour. In addition, KTTC News of Rochester, Minn., the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minn., Spring Grove Public Schools’ Superintendent Rachel Udstuen, Spring Grove Economic Development Authority (EDA) member Courtney Bergey Swanson, three of EDA’s board members, and a few others also took part in accompanying Senator Smith through Spring Grove.
At the Cinema, Senator Smith and the tour group had the opportunity to sit and watch a brief presentation that outlined what is going on in the city of Spring Grove. The presentation revealed the following:
Spring Grove’s real estate fund currently owns the former Mulqueen’s True Value Hardware Store site, former Doc’s Blue Moose/Norski’s Saloon, and the Chamber of Commerce building.
Thursday, December 22, 2022, a devastating fire broke out in the apartments above Mulqueen’s True Value Hardware Store located at 123 W Main Street in Spring Grove. The fire caused both the apartment units and Mulqueen’s to burn down, which left 11 people displaced and Spring Grove without a hardware store. The following has been implemented since then – state cleanup dollars secured, cleanup in process, initial financial feasibility completed and initial site plans created. However, there is a need to find commercial tenants, finalize the building design, and seek additional capital. Spring Grove EDA is launching another capital raise for the hardware store’s redevelopment. The city received $250,000 in state aid which assisted in covering the previous and current cleanup costs. Fortunately, building materials for redevelopment of the site is exempt from state sales tax.
The former Doc’s Blue Moose/Norski’s Saloon building now offers a successful Airbnb in the southern apartment and a renter occupying the northern apartment. There is a need though, to finalize a commercial tenant.
The current Chamber of Commerce building’s exterior update is completed, the chamber office is open, and five apartments are occupied.
In 2020, a housing study was conducted and showed Spring Grove is in dire need for all types of housing development. The city wants to work with both developers and land owners. Finding developers is a challenge due to rural communities being expensive to develop.
Once the presentation came to a close, Senator Smith and the others returned outside to continue touring the town on foot. Senator Smith and the group made a brief stop to check out the Chamber of Commerce building, then ventured to the next scheduled destination –Stratford Salon & Gulbranson Restoration located at 137 W. Main Street.
The group then passed the site where Mulqueen’s True Value Hardware Store once stood. A temporary plywood fence surrounds the site. The plywood fence surrounding the site consists of a beautifully painted mural that includes numerous green starling birds. EDA member Swanson shared the mural had been painted locally by Kaley Cross. Cross chose to paint starling birds as these birds move together; these birds represent that when the community moves, the community moves as one.
The group next migrated to Top Dog Custom Apparel located 102 E. Main Street. Owner Robin Bartell shared she has been in business for 12 years. She started out doing graphic designs that evolved into screen printings. Today, Top Dog receives orders from schools, organizations, small businesses, etc. Bartell shared that doing recent renovations without a nearby hardware store available is difficult as she needs to obtain needed supplies outside Spring Grove. Bartell needs to travel to either Mabel (approximately a 10-minute drive of 7-8 miles) or Caledonia (approximately a 12-minute drive of 10 miles) in order to reach the nearest hardware store for needed supplies. Bartell would much rather do business locally, saying, “We’re all in the same boat as having the hardware store as a resource. I think Spring Grove is a community of people that share a lot of the same vision. We want to see our friends and neighbors succeed!”
The final stop of the tour was Rockfilter Distillery at 113 Maple Drive. Owner Christian Myrah stated the distillery first started up in 2016 and slowly expanded. He was originally from Spring Grove and returned to the area after his time in the military. Myrah’s distillery distributes across Minnesota and a little into both North Dakota and South Dakota. The business owner is looking into distributing into Wisconsin and Iowa as well. Myrah ventures outside of town when supplies are needed due to no hardware store available locally. He enjoys doing business in Spring Grove, appreciating how supportive everyone is and how everyone works together. Myrah provided the group a tour of his own distillery and showed them samples of products he carries.
Outside Rockfilter Distillery, Senator Smith answered questions then closed with acknowledging Spring Grove’s housing shortage in that more capital needs to go into housing development in places such as Spring Grove. She visits areas such as Spring Grove to learn what is working and to build on that strength. In regards to the fire’s impact, Smith stated the community will be worked with to see what can be done.
Spring Grove bade Senator Smith farewell as she departed from Rockfilter Distillery. Her time in southeastern Minnesota was not over yet, as her day consisted of not only visiting Spring Grove, but Rushford and Rochester as well. In Rushford, Smith met with MiEnergy Cooperative to discuss federal funding applied towards broadband access for rural areas of the U.S. In addition, Smith visited Featherstone Farm of Rushford to highlight crop production in Minnesota as well as the new federal farm bill. In Rochester, Smith met with the city to discuss federal funding going towards Rochester’s public transit.