Downtown Chatfield is beginning to be a busy place once again as storefronts are revitalized. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Downtown Chatfield is beginning to be a busy place once again as storefronts are revitalized. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Chatfield's downtown is taking on a new shine as businesses fill up the main street. And the future for the entire city looks bright as Chatfield is primed for continued economic growth.

Not long ago, a notable share of Chatfield's storefronts were vacant and dark, a concern for the city as Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young pointed out "a traditional downtown is one of those things that people naturally point to as a sign of how a community is doing at any particular time, so, with that in mind, you know that it makes people feel good as the storefronts fill up once again."

Chatfield's downtown experience is similar to that of most other communities, large and small, throughout the nation, in that it was thriving and essential to the town's daily routines, but storefronts eventually emptied as citizens began working outside of town and doing their shopping before coming home at night.

"It was the combined impact of the shopping malls, the onset of the national chain stores and people's demands for convenience, broad selection, and cheap prices that caused downtowns to fall from favor, at least in terms of groceries, clothing, hardware and other stores that have traditionally provided our staple items," said Young. "While that evolution has been somewhat painful, that has opened up spaces that are very suitable for personal services, professional services, and boutique shops, all of which are blossoming in Chatfield today."

"There is no reason why we should not expect this trend to continue to Chatfield for a number of reasons: Chatfield has a history of slow but continued growth which will continue as manufacturing, health care, education, and other industries continue to prosper in the area, Chatfield is highly visible and accessible to the many tourists who are attracted to the Bluff Country region, and Chatfield has a long history of producing jobs."

Chatfield's Economic Development Authority (EDA) representative Chris Giesen agreed, saying, "Chatfield has a very diverse and vibrant business community, and this helps attract other businesses from other parts of the region. Over the past few years, we have also had businesses move to Chatfield from Rochester and businesses choose Chatfield as their home over Rochester. Additionally, there are many business owners who live elsewhere for many reasons but choose to operate their business in Chatfield, which speaks highly of the opportunity here. Just this past year, we have had realtors from as far away as Florida and Alabama take serious looks at commercial property in Chatfield. As the economy continues to recover and Chatfield continues to grow, we will continue to see this interest in the community."

Young and Giesen listed the recent business openings, relocations, reincarnations and renovations. Stevens Ford closed in late 2012, but the former dealership is now being renovated by Paul Novotny. The demolition of the Val-A Lodge made way for the new Kwik Trip. Jackie's Health and Fitness moved to the former Homestyle Pizza building. Just So Sewing opened in the Jonathan's building. Also, renovation is occurring in the building just south - between Just So and Dave's Barber Shop - as well as on the exterior of Chatfield Auto Body Shop.

"Although not right on Main Street, E-Z Fabricating started to construct their new home along St. Albans Place, which includes a grant of approximately $91,000 for infrastructure improvements and about $400,000 for a low interest loan," said Young. "Terry Bradt's company, Image Express, moved to Chatfield recently and, of course, Chris Giesen came to Chatfield in 2013."

Giesen added that "also, Hammell Equipment had a major expansion in the last year as well - even though they are not technically within city limits, Hammell's is a very big part of the Chatfield community. Furthermore, Hiawatha Broadband Communications has also begun providing wireless Internet services in and around Chatfield."

Giesen acknowledged that not all of Chatfield's economic growth occurred within 2013, but that the ends of some longtime businesses made way for the beginnings of others. Two years ago, 2012, was also a great year with many new businesses on Main Street, and most if not all that were new in 2012 remain in business today.

The city continues to work on the Twiford-Division-Main Street corner - across from the old Kwik Trip site - to bring a national retail variety store. Chatfield was one of seven cities in the state, most of which were much larger metro area cities, to receive redevelopment funds from the state of Minnesota to help improve city infrastructure and redevelop this corner. The city received a grant of over $233,000, and "we look forward to more activity in 2014. We hope to wrap this deal up in the next several weeks," said Giesen.

Young cited how citizens are particularly curious about the Twiford and Division redevelopment.

"Redevelopment is an inherently difficult and expensive thing to accomplish, which is why some form of government is always involved in that process," he pointed out. "This property had been designated as an area for redevelopment a few decades ago, but the time to act on it didn't arise until recently, and in order to prepare that area for business services, the many relatively small parcels of property need to be combined into fewer and larger parcels, the elevation changes on the properties need to be dealt with, utilities need to be moved, and so forth. Because of the time and expense involved in accomplishing those activities, it is unlikely that the property would redevelop on its own in the foreseeable future."

Giesen stated that the EDA is ready to lend a hand in assisting existing or new businesses in establishing themselves in town through the extension of loans for business owners.

"We are always available to help both new and existing businesses...whether on Main Street or elsewhere in Chatfield," he explained. "We continue to operate our own EDA loan fund which provides low interest loans for a number of needs - this year, we made $125,000 in loans to businesses and also secured a $408,000 loan from the state of Minnesota, and the city will be able to retain a portion of these state funds to lend to other Chatfield businesses in the future. It's always exciting to watch businesses grow. The most enjoyable part for me is to be able to help someone who has an idea, see them figure out all the details and plan the project, and then for them to make that idea into a reality."

Young is optimistic about Chatfield's downtown revival, and he encouraged residents to make suggestions to the city and EDA about what businesses are still missing downtown and on the highway, such as suggestions for a variety store, hardware store and motel.

"Business begets business - it always has and it always will," said Young. "As new businesses arrive, those businesses typically start to use the services of other businesses already in place. For instance, one of the first things they will do is hire carpenters or other tradesmen to modify the building that they move into, they will start advertising in the local newspaper, and they and their new employees will start having lunch in town and, of course, purchasing other services within the community. In addition to their own consumption, local residents will have one more business ready to serve their needs, which gives them all the more reason to enjoy life within the community."

The city clerk related that while the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA) has been a project long in progress, it has successfully contributed to Chatfield's economic health in numerous ways.

"The Center for the Arts hosts dozens of activities over the course of the year, all of which have potential to encourage business in Chatfield. Many of these activities have a need for printing services, advertising, food service, and alcohol service on site," he said. "At the same time, many of these activities draw people out of their homes in the evening and attract people from other places, which results in the opportunity to get those people into the restaurants, gas stations, and the bed and breakfasts. Other businesses that quickly come to mind include locksmiths, heating and air conditioning businesses, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, garbage and recycling haulers, convenience stores and so forth."

Additionally, the CCA has garnered business outside of Chatfield, creating working relationships between local businesses and those found in southeast Minnesota, in Rochester and the metro area. Over the past four years, the Chatfield Center for the Arts has purchased services from dozens of businesses in the area. While this makes no more than an incremental impact on any one business, there is no doubt that the impact is real and, over time, becomes significant, explained Young, who added it is estimated that more than $1 million has flowed through the CCA in the past four years in the form of ticket sales, capital improvements and operating costs. All of those dollars flow through to individual businesses somewhere.

Young also remaked that residential growth is certainly part of economic growth. Chatfield currently has lots available for sale in four different subdivisions, all with different prices, views and housing styles. Those subdivisions, together with the water and sewer services available, make the community ripe for growth as the general economy continues to grow.

"Whenever people are considering a new place to locate, they consider the services that are available in close proximity," said Young. "With that in mind, it is really important to know that virtually all of our basic needs can be accommodated right here, in Chatfield. When people know that they can easily access groceries, health care for them and their pets, banking, accounting and investment services, insurance and legal services, automobile mechanical and trade services, dining, boutique shops and many personal services without leaving town, well, that is a strong incentive for those looking for a new home community. Besides that, people like to be associated with success, and the vitality of business within a community is part of a successful experience."

Young concluded, "While the city and its EDA does what it can to help where it can, there is no doubt that the primary reason for Chatfield's economic growth lies within the individual people who recognize an opportunity to start or expand a business and have the will to pursue the opportunity. The economic future of this entire region is bright, the basic infrastructure is in place to accommodate a fair amount of growth within the community, and the city and its EDA will continue to use the development tools that are available as appropriate."