Spring Valley's Broadway Avenue has undergone revitalization in the past two to three years, thanks to assistance from the city, a federal program and the EDA.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Spring Valley's Broadway Avenue has undergone revitalization in the past two to three years, thanks to assistance from the city, a federal program and the EDA. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Downtown Spring Valley: Looking a little uptown.

"When the town looks good, people feel safe and have a sense that the community is in harmony, not in disarray," said Spring Valley economic development director Cathy Enerson, describing the start of something good that happens when nine businesses establish or re-establish in downtown buildings, thanks to assistance from the Economic Development Authority and the city.

The director listed the progress that has occurred in the past year or two, noting the number of buildings along Broadway that now have lights in their windows and provide reasons for Spring Valley residents to shop locally.

"The bowling alley is an example of succession, (Jenn Slifka of) Chateau de Chic went out on her own and now rents another storefront for Sparrow's Closet, The Pizza Place is a chance to run their own building using existing skills - that's so exciting, The Salsa Guy has a chance to live and do business in a small downtown with lower overhead, Sheldon's moved back to town from the country and offers an opportunity to fill the void for a new appliance store, affordable office space and continue with the service business they are good at, right in the downtown, Salud Massage shares space with another business, at H&R Block, she now has a chance to own her own building, we have a new professional office with an attorney, the eye doctor was able to bring about succession, we have new professionals in that office, and there is a nice variety of eating establishments downtown. I have heard of one business looking to expand, but their negotiations are private."

The EDA's role in assisting potential and existing business proprietors in making their ventures successful has been a carefully-plotted one, working in conjunction with the city's downtown revitalization committee. The EDA's downtown revitalization group has been meeting at least quarterly with a purpose of stimulating growth during the economic recovery.

Main Street planning has four steps, explained Enerson, and the EDA is the organizer and works on developing economic tools. Planning was done by the building owners, marketing is the next step, and that will be done together with purposeful planning.

Larger communities often spend more on Main Street development and may hire a 20-hour-a-week coordinator, said Enerson, but the Spring Valley EDA and the chamber share the cost of an associate membership in Minnesota Main Street, a group that provides aid in downtown economic development, and make the best of the information available through that membership.

"It normally works best to let the business owners work at their own speed and negotiate on their properties privately," she said. "The EDA provides them with information needed to make connections. They are informed that the EDA can assist with site selection, needed gap loan financing, financing for machinery and equipment or remodeling financing assistance."

Receiving federal Small Cities Block Grant money makes quite a difference for existing and aspiring business owners who wish to make downtown Spring Valley their working homes, said Enerson. She pointed out that such grants and loans assist with façade reconstruction and code and energy improvements that help the building owner directly with their monthly overhead costs, especially, the grants that are helping with roofs and windows, and then "there is less chance of major expenses hurting the owners' bottom lines."

She added that Spring Valley's revolving loan funds through a special program of the EDA aid in purchases for gap funding or repairs. Many existing owners are replacing roofs and windows and adding energy efficiency to their buildings to keep up with costly repairs and lower their overhead.

"We are lucky that the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and our legislators support revolving loan fund startup money and the Small Cities Block Grant program," she said. "Without those programs, the cost of the repairs are not feasible and affordable for the average small entrepreneur. The next step of Main Street development is marketing, and that again will be a community effort."

She credited people who are willing to take a chance with giving the street its newfound vitality. "The entrepreneur has a chance to earn a living doing the things they love. Many of these items are services that we cannot do ourselves because we do not have the skills or the time. It is a win-win for the entrepreneur and the community to have local services. Doing business with people you trust and want to see succeed is comforting and a part of the reason people choose to live in a small town."

Furthermore, she stated, "Entrepreneurs are gifted with knowledge and with skills. They see what is needed, they do the hard work and research to open their doors, they market themselves and build loyalty. To see their hard work bring them results is exciting."

The director observed that not only do Spring Valley's storefronts have new businesses or uses, but there are out-of-state investors taking on endeavors on Broadway, including Glad Gatherings, located in the former Pattrich house at the top of the hill at the north entrance to downtown.

"Glad Gatherings is an example of a partnership that includes people from out of state, but most of the activity is from southeast Minnesota. Glad Gatherings is going to bring people to Spring Valley that have never been here before, people that will bring new dollars into the community and perhaps new investors or entrepreneurs," she said. "Four Daughters, the A&W car shows, and events like Christmas on Broadway and the Almanzo race bring in new visitors as well."

Enerson took a pleased step back to survey the progress, saying, there are only a few buildings left without activity, places that are not occupied, but you can't force this. Building owners have to want to participate, and the timing has to be right for them as well.

"I believe that there is energy downtown and the business owners appreciate the positive feedback from the community," she said. "Having the library downtown is important as well, and having weekly meetings, exercise and recreation opportunities downtown are important. The community putting their downtown to work is an example of why there is progress."

The investment in Spring Valley's businesses has yielded changes in quality of life for many people, as well. She noted that being able to work in the community is very important to many local people. Every time there is one more dollar spent in the community it helps the overall economy. For example, $1,000 more spent locally by 100 people can make a very large impact.

"Tax base and jobs are the measure of economic growth. Retaining jobs and the new jobs that have been created will help sustain the economy," she explained. "Downtown buildings were bought reasonably during the horrible economic downturn, but those buildings will be improved and there will be a gradual build up in the tax base again."

Not only are there benefits for people who own businesses, but also for those who enjoy the community itself. Outdoor seating, bike racks, concerts, annual events and the business pocket parks all are ideas discussed at the meetings to further a welcoming environment to the community and to visitors.

"The Vintage Point Artifacts owner and Chateau de Chic are great examples of businesses that put a few items and or music to the sidewalk," she said. "It really draws people over to check things out."

Enerson concluded that the growth of local businesses is caused by and the cause of a ripple effect.

"To me it is a combination - first, if we strengthen the ability of the existing business owners, that brings in energy, and more will follow. People will be excited about owning and doing business in Spring Valley," she said. "Positive energy from the city, chamber and service groups that have been supportive of the entrepreneurs and Main Street revitalization is vital. Chamber events, music in the park and the festive decor downtown, with community participating provide that positive energy. The people in Spring Valley show dedication and respect for their community. A positive step is to see that young entrepreneurs are developing during the growth. They are the future."