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Trading Post has been around nearly a century, serving generations of residents, visitors

Bill Simpson's family, and various extensions, have operated this Main Avenue business for nearly a century. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

     Nostalgia and family tradition have contributed to nearly a century of success for a downtown Park Rapids business.

     The Trading Post is an institution among seasonal residents and tourists. And when proprietor Bill Simpson greets them by name and asks how the winter in Iowa (name your state) was, he has cemented a relationship that’s gone on for generations.

     Fort many, the store is their main connection to Park Rapids.

     Simpson loves it when grandparents stop in to buy their grandchild that first pair of Minnetonka moccasins. The older generation, too, grew up running around in Minnetonkas. Some even still have their sturdy shoes.

     The store has been under the ownership of three families since its inception in 1921.

     Simpson and his family are closing in on 30 years of ownership. It’s all been good, Simpson said.

     Besides moccasins, the store sells souveniers, trinkets, magnets, loon, pottery and other treasures. Although the inventory has evolved over the decades, it has changed very little.

     Native dolls, T-shirts, cedar boxes, Black Hills gold and figurines have been a staple.

     Then there are the family reunions that come in to buy matching rings to commemorate the occasion.

     Simpson still has the massive container that used to grace the front window.

     It was a measure of local notoriety to have your fish displayed there on ice.

     In the mid-80s the Simpsons got out of the fishing tackle business to concentrate more on souveniers.

     The store still sells some sporting goods and for the last seven years has been open all year round.

     “It makes Main street look better if we’re open,” he maintains.

     “But the heart of our business is June through September, July through September,” he said. Cold Junes and warm falls have shifted his busy season a bit.           

     The family’s Hubbard County business experience includes ownership of Deer Town when it had live animals, and 13 years as owner of Pine Valley resort on Boulder Lake.

     Currently he works at Heartland Homes while juggling business at the Trading Post.

     Hockey tournaments in the winter help business, he said, along with swim meets and the snowmobile race held two weeks ago.

     Crafting and quilting retreats held at area resorts also draw cusromers.

     “They’re laughing and having a good time,” he said.

     His favorite times are during crazy days, when merchants line the sidewalks with bargains and merchants pull together for a common goal.

     Last summer live music on Second Street drew hundreds, even thousands to the downtown area. It livened up downtown as THE place to go after hours.

     The Downtown Business Association has been “a huge success in bringing people together,” he said.

     But there has always been a camaraderie among merchants rather than competition. Fellow business owners are used tom telling customers, “Well, I don’t carry that but the Trading Post does.”

     It’s a spirit of teamwork fostered by the Chamber of Commerce, the DBA and resorters.

     As a former resorter, Simpson believes it’s self-limiting to focus on protecting just the lakes.

     “This is an outdoor wonderland,” he said. “It’s not just lakes. We should maintain our woodlands and trails as much as our lakes.”

     But as a local stakeholder, Simpson believes preserving what assets Hubbard County has for the future is a special responsibility he takes seriously.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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