Big dreams for Fort Benedict Store
BY Sarah smith
A native daughter has returned to purchase and run the Fort Benedict Store with her fiancée.
The couple has big plans for the store at a major intersection in Benedict, in eastern Hubbard County.
Paula James and Shawn Coil recently purchased the store from Vince Picha, who was seriously burned in a freak accident this spring and is still recovering. Picha owned the business eight years.
Paula Paterson grew up in Benedict. As most kids do, she left Benedict to pursue an education and other adventures. She was a nurse in Mankato.
She moved to LeSeuer, where she met Shawn Coil. a helicopter mechanic from Henderson.
When her father started having health problems, Paula began making weekend trips up north, soon accompanied by Shawn. Both loved the north woods area.
Penny remembered Shawn saying, “Boy, if a guy could make a living up here, what a great place this would be to live.”
An avid hunter, and former guide in Idaho, Coil was somewhat familiar with the area. He’d been to Mom and Pop places like Fort Benedict and they’d always held a special charm for him.
Paula knew Picha was thinking about selling before he had his accident, so she started making inquiries. He father passed away in March.
The couple, by now engaged, decided to take the plunge.
Not to the altar, mind you, but they made an offer and purchased the store.
They’ve spent the past few months cleaning, repairing and stocking.
They opened up the consignment area on one side of the store and overhauled the exterior and interior.
The result is a charming little country store with hanging flower baskets.
And Paula, being a native, know about the “coffee club” that was ensconced in the back room. She had no intention of evicting Benedict’s men, who gather once or twice a day to solve the world’s problems. Former Hubbard County commissioner Lyle Robinson is one of the gang.
The couple enlarged the space, decorated it with Coil’s trophy skins and made it downright homey for the guys.
A new bait station is right around the corner.
Eventually Coil hopes to start a small engine repair shop. He’s a tinkerer by trade and by hobby. The back room is perfect for a small fix-it shop. He’ll sharpen chain saws and the store will sell firewood.
To capitalize on all the Paul Bunyan Trail traffic of hikers and bikers, Paula began stocking high nutrient energy bars, yogurt and bottled water. They’re selling like hotcakes.
So is the blueberry waffle ice cream, which is hand scooped into cones.
They plan to use the vast parking lot to start a farmers market as soon as weather allows.
While Picha had a secret formula for gas prices, Paula says she simply keeps track of neighboring towns and keeps her prices a few cents a gallon under that.
The former movie rental room, since almost no one rents movies traditionally any more, will be converted into a craft consignment room.
Paula envisions hand-made jewelry, quilts, crocheted and knitted items, water colors and dream catchers. That’s what will occupy her and her mother this winter, she said.
Hats, scarves, rag rugs and handmade seat covers will give it a boutique feel.
The couple is working non-stop.
“You almost hate to sit down” when the momentum is rolling, she said.
Her son Ben has been working the counter helping out.
The store, on Highway 200 and Hubbard County 38, is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Eventually, Fort Benedict will offer bike and kayak rentals so visitors can become as smitten with the north woods as the new entrepreneurs are.