MCINTOSH, Minn. -- Four new businesses have opened in McIntosh, Minn., a move that has helped revitalize the town and may help show the way for other rural communities to follow suit.
Andrea Stordahl moved to the rural location between Crookston and Bemidji two years ago, with her husband, Bryce, a contractor, and their two young children. They moved to be closer to Bryce’s family. What Andrea Stordahl found was a downtown business district in decline, and, through her actions, the area has seen the opening of four businesses and several remodeled buildings -- completely changing the dynamic of the area.
“We kind of decided that when we moved back and we started living here again, it was pretty apparent that everybody thought the town was dying,” said Stordahl, sitting on a stool in her shop.
Businesses on Cleveland Avenue in McIntosh had either been closed for a long time or had recently closed, leaving a void in the community.
“There wasn’t one building on this entire street, on this side, that was open,” Stordahl said. “And once the (B & B) cafe closed, it was really hard for the community.”
Stordahl, already a business person with a vintage and antique shop called Minnesota Rust, took action when a storm blew the roof off of the McIntosh location where she kept her goods. She bought a long vacant building on Cleveland Avenue, the former McIntosh Bakery, and after a remodel, moved into her business location about a year ago.
She didn’t stop with one real estate purchase. After securing a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture through a revolving loan fund for rural development, she bought more buildings on the same street. The result is four businesses run by four women, with a fifth business on the way, a new cafe that will open in 2020.
“What can you say, I mean they have a vision for this town,” said City Clerk Melissa Finseth. “They saw potential and they took initiative and they saw it through to the end.”
Two doors down from Minnesota Rust is the gift shop The Red Poppy, owned by Megan Palubicki. She also owns a greenhouse in Fosston, Minn., where she is from. She said she loves working with the other new business owners, but didn’t know the effect it would have on the community when she first began in the summer of 2019.
“Fosston is always going; we’ve never died,” Palubicki said. “McIntosh died for a long time, and it means so much to these people that it’s revitalizing. Yeah, unbeknownst to me, when I first started, I thought I was just renting a spot. People are pretty excited.”
After her first building purchase, Stordahl realized she needed some assistance to help her realize her vision of what the area could be, so she consulted with Grant Oppegaard from The Northwest Minnesota Small Business Development Center, in Bemidji, Minn.
“What I did mainly was just make sure it all made good business sense, and help to prepare cash flow and stuff like that,” said Oppegaard, who said he handles many other communities that are fighting the same battle as McIntosh -- namely, finding businesses to open in vacant buildings in rural downtowns across Minnesota.
“I don’t think she realized how extraordinary it was for her to take and open a whole block,” he said. “I suspect there’s going to be a lot of small town leaders that are going to be driving up to (McIntosh) to buy her a cup of coffee and try to understand just exactly how did you do this.”
Changing perceptions of what the area could be was a challenge for Stordahl.
“Really the only thing that was hard at the beginning was overcoming that this was the bakery,” said said about her shop. “Once this was done being the bakery, the whole block changed, because I think it showed them that it could be something else.”
Not forgetting the past is also an important part of her vision for the area.
“The biggest challenge was honoring what this block was, while still creating something new, because this has been a big deal to a lot of people,” Stordahl said.
According to the shop owners, business has been good, with The Beauty Room, opened by Ashley Thomas, adding a second chair.
The Howard Soap Company sits between Minnesota Rust and The Red Poppy. Owner Katherine Howard has been making soaps and candles for around 10 years.
“It’s really good; I sold out this weekend,” Howard said. “I have to hire help now, because I can’t do it all by myself.”
The future holds holds more possibilities in the form of apartments for rent, located above some of the new shops. The ultimate goal is to reinvent McIntosh as a destination for shoppers, as well as create an environment in which their children would want to come back.
“There's no events here at least in rural communities, there's no businesses, there's no job opportunities,” said Stordahl. “So we decided that that was something that was important to us -- that our kids had somewhere to come.”