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Longtime Park Rapids business owner sells Bruhn Optical

(Submitted photo)

Mike Bruhn of Park Rapids has become the face people expect to see when they enter Bruhn Optical for their exams and adjustments. Now, after nearly 30 years in business Mike is passing the baton to Dr. Jamie Kueber, who officially took over ownership on Dec. 16.

Bruhn graduated from Minnesota State University in 1981 with a degree in Business Administration and started working as a management trainee for Duling Optical. He was a company employee from 1981 to 1988 before opening his own franchise here in Park Rapids.

"I needed a job, that's pretty much all it was," Bruhn joked about why he started his business. At the time, he wanted to run a business that was technology based. "Obviously there is plenty of technology going on in eye health."

After the 10 year franchise agreement expired in 1998, what was then Duling Optical became Bruhn Optical.

In the early years of business, Bruhn did not have any full time employees on staff. He owned and operated the business mostly on his own with Dr. James Hess. According to Bruhn, it was a successful business and as business picked up, there became more available hours and the need for more employees.

"I didn't know what to expect and the phone started ringing right away. It's always been a good experience for me," Bruhn said about his first week in business. "And now I have an abundance of memories."

In 2002, Bruhn bought the building and in 2013 he faced more changes when after 25 years of working together, Dr. Hess went back to working full time at his own business in Bemidji. That change ultimately helped facilitate the sale of Bruhn's business.

"It's hard to find optometrists, there's a shortage of optometrists in Minnesota statewide," he said. "Getting replacement doctors can be difficult."

Bruhn was not actively trying to sell his business when he got the offer; it had been listed for a period of time but the listing had lapsed.

"It came out of the blue, I wasn't expecting an offer on my business but then two months ago this all came to be a possibility," Bruhn said regarding the sale to Kueber. "This made the most sense to me, she was interested in buying me out and I don't have to worry about having to find another doctor."

According to Bruhn, Dr. Kueber is originally from Park Rapids and wanted to raise her family here. She had worked for Bruhn after Dr. Hess left in 2013, while she also worked in Bemidji.

"Dr. Kueber will take the baton and run with it for the next 25 years, I hope. I sincerely hope that she has that business and she builds it up into something that she needs," he said.

"I'm so excited about this, you've got Park Rapids graduates moving back into our community to be a part of our town. We need to attract more young adults to take over businesses from old geezers like me," Bruhn said. "The town needs to get a strong base to survive in the future. We need young families living here to work and make Park Rapids grow in new and unforeseen ways to help perpetuate the town. I'm happy I've done my part and that it worked out this way. Selling to corporate would have been an option I guess, but to me this is the ideal situation."

Moving forward, Bruhn is going to miss the interactions with his longtime customers, stating that he has now been serving three generations of families after so many years in business.

"That's what a small town is about," Bruhn said referring to the loyalty of his customers. "It's about generational business."

"My little rhyme is 'make them leave your place with a smile on their face,'" he said. "And if you can do that chances are you've done a good job keeping them as a customer."

Bruhn says he started out wanting to operate a retail business and during his retirement he won't miss dealing with the insurance aspect of his job.

"The changes over the last decade have taken away from some of the personal relationships," he said about losing customers due to lack of insurance coverage through his business. "You can do everything right and still not get their business because of insurance coverage."

"This next year I'm going to take a bit of a break. What I'd like to do is volunteer a little bit and to do something different that doesn't involve health care or insurance," Bruhn said about what he has to look forward to now that he's closed this chapter. "I plan on enjoying myself and staying active and enjoying family and friends for a while."

"I'm kind of proud of what I did," Bruhn said reflecting on what he has accomplished. "This is a good start for my end and I hope for her it's a very successful run."