March 27, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


In the big city one of their biggest problems is that their older buildings tend to become shining examples of urban blight. In Ely over the last five years we have been lucky enough to witness a slow progression of seeing our older buildings rehabilitated. Many were done without government handouts or low tax subsidized loans. This has been happening on both Sheridan and Chapman Street. Someone who has not been to Ely in five years would hardly recognize it.

This vitality is good to see. It is even better to be a part of it. I remember when my wife and I started our first urban renewal project on what was known as the Word Church Building. It looked like an almost impossible task. Ill fitting single pane windows, totally un-insulated walls, doors that were hard to close, sagging floors and ceilings, rot, smelly carpets and leaking pipes. Blight sweet blight.

After hacking for days we removed tons of old walls, bad wiring and ugly décor. It was a big job. The results were worth it, and now the Sorensen Building is playing its part in Elyís revitalized economy.

It is that success that led us to buy the old Legion Building.

Once again, we were faced with the same problems of a building that had not received any tender loving care in decades. I can still remember how dark the inside of that building was. The bathrooms reminded me of those overused bathrooms at the Minnesota State Fair where there is more liquid on the floor than in the bowl. I think I need not say more.

Being a bigger building it has taken almost a year to finish the upstairs and two thirds of the main floor. Gone is the dank bar, the burnt out light fixtures, the uneven flooring and the faint smell of beer. In its place are two completed rental areas that are clean, bright and well light. One bay is rented and will soon be the new home of a familiar business. The second bay was just finished last week and is ready for another tenant that wants the high visibility of Sheridan Street.

Many people have thought that I was going to start a business in the old Legion Building. My answer is that I am too busy with the jobs I already have. Their response is usually to recommend some kind of business that Ely needs. It is amazing the diversity of suggestions and those only go to show that there are services and needs that are not being met in our community. Services such as a bakery outlet would be nice. One could easily make it in Ely if only they realized that the town expects a full time effort and a wide variety of products that taste better than grocery store goods.

Other suggestions show that Ely really does think with its stomach. Ideas like a cheese shop, candy store, or a real Duncan Doughnuts shop come to my mind. After food centered businesses comes dozens of ideas of businesses that are nonexistent or under represented in Ely. Such as: gun & archery shop, dry cleaners, attorney office, TV repair, barber shop, used sports equipment, small engine repair, copy shop, medical equipment rental, temp service, furniture repair shop, upholsterer shop, hearing aid store, insurance office, karate school, magazine shop, nail salon, shoe store, kitchen store, canvas sewing shop, travel agency, clock shop, weight loss clinic, computer store, paint store, nutrition store, guidance service, ceramic store or wood carving shop have all been suggested to me.

Some of these suggestions are good, some bad. I donít see Ely as a place where very many women are interested in a nail salon. Long nails donít last too long in the forest. Another bad idea is a travel agency. That industry is quickly shrinking due to the Internet.

But by and large, the list is not bad. I could see many of those businesses making a go if they had a northern accent to them. Businesses that would appeal to us locals as well as to the tourists would be very successful. I could see a wood carving shop that offered carved pieces for the tourist and carving supplies, classes and wood to carve would be interesting for Ely to have. I could see a business that caters to our aging population a winner as well. A magazine/coffee shop combo could be a winner. Yes the possibilities are unlimited to a good entrepreneur. I confess I am no expert. There are some new businesses in Ely that I thought would fail in two weeks that are doing great. Their owners saw a market that the rest of us couldnít see.

Ely, being a community that contains a large percentage of self-employed people, will continue to grow and diversify in this new century. It is by bringing new and different businesses to this town that we will create jobs. Diversity is the key. I am proud to be part of the solution to Elyís growth and proud that we did it without government help. Those who have fixed up their buildings the same way, I salute you as well.


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