FIRE IT UP
In business, location can be everything.
Dave Neiman, majority owner of Arrow Ace Hardware in Owatonna, knows this better than anyone.
It all started last October with a phone call from Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz. The mayor had a proposal for Neiman, who took him up on the suggestion and began work on a new site for his franchise.
Neiman worked closely with Troy Klecker, Owatonna Community Development Director, in an effort that sought to tear down the Arnold House, an old building which had fallen into disrepair, and begin construction of a new Arrow Ace Hardware store in downtown Owatonna.
The former storefront had been purchased by Neiman in 1991 and was located at 208 N Cedar Ave. in Owatonna. Its new location is just a hop away, on W Vine St., behind where the old location had been. Both stores are currently operating, and the Arrow Ace team is still putting the finishing touches on the new store in addition to moving over product.
Arrow Ace is a member of Ace Hardware, the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the industry. Neiman, whose been expanding his business to include 10 stores, as he says “from St. Cloud down to Rochester,” is aware of the positive effect this relocation and renovation could have on the city’s downtown, and the economy at large.
When speaking of the city’s downtown, Neiman said that “it’s fun to see improvement being made rather than it going in the opposite direction.” He feels that “Owatonna has a large downtown area for retail space.”
Neiman also lauds the work that the city and its administration do to help revitalize and promote their downtown. He explained that “I think if they didn’t put a focus on their downtown, it would continue to fall apart.” He added, “The snowball is going to roll in one direction, improvement or decay.”
In Owatonna, local economic leaders are hoping for improvement. Neiman agrees with this prediction. When asked about the continued emphasis on cultivating and maintaining the city’s downtown, he says, “I think it will pay off in the future.”
Mike Schwertseger, marketing and advertising manager for Arrow Ace Hardware, concurs with Neiman. “I think you will see more local investment rather than big retailers, and that’s a good thing,” he said. Schwertseger offers that this localized revitalization will “give the city’s downtown more variety, which can help bring a lot of character.”
According to Schwertseger, the move could begin a miniature domino effect within the city’s downtown, which might help bring in more investors, and more sustainability to the location.
Of Owatonna’s downtown, he says, “I think it’s the heart of the city.” He explained that cities which seek to invest more into their central space often see dividends returned as the city will generally thrive after those sort of efforts. “If your heart thrives, so does your city,” Schwertseger said.
Although the Arnold House had stood there for 150 years, this once historic hotel had fallen into decrepitude and was much in need of renovation, or demolition. Schwertseger explained that “it just looked bad,” reiterating that “it had become an eyesore.”
Despite this, Schwertseger feels that “you always want to preserve historic buildings, but not when they are beyond repair.” He said, “A project like this one, which removes an eyesore, can open up other opportunities, and return the area back into more of a destination downtown.”
Brad Meier, president/CEO of the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, says, “it’s a big deal for Ace to invest in a new facility.” He, too, thinks that the move, and its corresponding benefits, will positively affect the town.
There are already a few additional projects planned for the future. Meier explains that “we’re beginning to see some good momentum,” and mentions the apartments slated to go up on Pearl Street. He echoes sentiments similar to those of Schwertseger and Neiman, saying that “there’s a lot of interest in our downtown, and we’re going to need investment to truly see our downtown thrive and grow.”
Meier knows that the history of the city’s downtown, as well as the inclusion of two large employers, J-C Press and Federated Insurance, have gone a long way in maintaining the space.
“That’s where it all started,” he says, adding that “Sullivan’s bank is a great anchor, and it’s just part of an amazing downtown with historical flavor.”
According to Meier, the city has a great opportunity to build a downtown that really thrives. Although it is already feeling like a central locus for the town, and is composed of a variety of big and small businesses, Meier feels that “we can still do better.”
With its acquisition and replacement of the Arnold House, the addition of this much larger, and much improved Arrow Ace Hardware facility might just go a long way in bringing Meier’s vision to fruition. “We have a lot of great history and character,” he says, “and if you can couple those with investment and ideas, it can be a very powerful economic benefit to the city.”