Downtown starts new chapter

Businesses were fleeing or had already fled downtown in 1981 when Beth Kjelson and Becky Piehl opened their art supply store on Main Street.

Kjelson remembers buying the display cases from J.C. Penney as it departed for Dakota Square Mall.

“Our background was in visual arts. I don’t think we actually knew what we were doing. It never occurred to us it wouldn’t survive,” Kjelson said.

Now a downtown veteran, Kjelson has seen many businesses come and go and has learned what it takes to be a survivor. Artmain has expanded from art supplies to also sell clothing and other products.

“That’s one of the reasons we have lasted,” she said. “That’s the key to staying in business is changing.”

Change could be the key to downtown’s future, too.

Imagine Minot and local developers are working on positive changes designed to bring about the revitalization of downtown. In addition, an Artspace project under construction is expected to promote an arts-focused atmosphere.

Bonny Kemper, president of the Downtown Business and Professional Association, said there is revitalization occurring within the association of 92 members.

“We have a lot of new members who have a real interest in being investors in the downtown not just members,” she said.

Preserving downtown Minot shouldn’t be just a concern of those who live and work downtown, though, Kemper said.

“Downtown is the heart of the city. It’s the living room of a house, and we need people to know and the city to know that we can’t do all of this ourselves. That’s why we are so appreciative of the monies that have come about to re-invigorate downtown and make it the place that it used to be in the past,” she said. “When the downtown thrives, the city thrives.”

The association would like to someday have a paid coordinator because there are plans for more events for families and more art-related events, Kemper said. Imagine Minot’s plan for a future park has the association envisioning art fairs and garden shows and maybe even an amphitheater for musical or stage productions.

Chris Lindbo, a downtown property owner, would like to see the downtown association become more unified in light of the potential that the future holds. He is optimistic about Imagine Minot, which plans to offer residential and commercial property along with more parking.

“It really sounds good to me,” he said. “I really see some positives. I think there’s a lot of opportunities down here.”

Kjelson said the small, independent shops on Main Street are ideal for female entrepreneurs looking to find balance in their work and personal lives. When Kjelson and Piehl, who retired from the business last May, opened Artmain, their store was only one of two women-owned businesses on Main Street. Today there are many.

Ben Berg, who is renovating buildings that he purchased on Main Street, said the next few years will be critical for young people like himself who want to get in affordably on the growth that’s coming for downtown.

“I would love to see young entrepreneurs really look at downtown Minot and see the opportunity that’s down here,” he said. “There’s definitely space down here for people who want to open up a shop. There’s definitely opportunity for people who want to get something started.”

Berg would like to see a grocery and more retail, particularly an expansion of clothing merchandise to include menswear. Kemper agrees on the grocery store and also believes a pharmacy, dry cleaner, small movie theater and organic or health food store would go over well in downtown. More dining and a drug store are most frequently cited by downtown residents as businesses they would like to see.

Realtor Clyde Thorne of Minot said people are on the waiting list for the new retail space coming to the downtown. As of March, the only property known to be for sale was the Chicago Club, he said.

“If we had more space down here for lease or sale, I don’t think it would last very long,” he said.

If there is a concern for the downtown, it’s over Trinity Hospital’s long-range plans.

Trinity Health purchased land in southwest Minot and is looking into the feasibility of funding a new hospital campus. Trinity Health spokesman Randy Schwan said planning remains in an early stage.

At this point, there’s no guarantee the hospital will move, and it’s premature to speculate what might happen to Trinity’s downtown buildings under that scenario, he said.

“Trinity will have a presence downtown no matter what happens,” Schwan said. “We just don’t know how big that footprint will be.”

Possible changes by Trinity haven’t dampened the energy of those who remain excited for downtown. Berg sees downtown starting a new chapter.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I am excited to be a part of that and hope that others see the potential and opportunity down here and get involved as well.”