Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Update: Without financing, couple’s dream of opening a rural Minnesota coffee shop ends July 19, 2013

The former Sanger's Bakery, back on the market and photographed last week.

The former Sanger’s Bakery building, back on the market and photographed last week.

FOR DAVID AND MICHELLE, the dream of opening a coffee shop in an historic 1892 building in Michelle’s hometown of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota has become just that, a dream.

About three weeks ago the old bank and long-time Sanger’s Bakery property, purchased last year by the couple, went back on the market. It was a move necessitated by an inability to secure financing for restoration of the massive brick building.

The Van Engens had planned to use the original lunch counter in their coffee shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from October 2012.

The original plan called for using the original lunch counter in the coffee shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from October 2012.

They had planned to open Seven Sisters Coffee as a local eatery, community gathering spot, entertainment center and artists’ haven this summer in this community of 820 residents along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway in southern Redwood County.

The Van Engens began working on this back space last fall in an area intended for entertainment and an artists' haven.

The couple began work last year on this back room intended for entertainment and an artists’ haven.

The pair made numerous attempts, David says, to secure funding through several banks, all of which eventually classified the planned coffee shop as a restaurant and thus would not approve financing. Likewise, agencies such as the Redwood Area Development Corporation and local business coalitions could not provide the level of funding needed for the restoration, he says.

An Iraq War veteran, David is disappointed by what he perceives as a lack of support from the Veterans Administration and the Small Business Administration, through which he was working:

“We had completed exhaustive research on equipment, renovation, overhead, etc. All of the banks and organizations said our business plan and loan proposal were better researched and prepared than anything they had seen before.

The restoration and research was a joy. There is an enormous amount of history in that building. The end came as a dark and bitter disappointment. My wife and I are both hard-working, industrious people. Between her professional marketing acumen and my passion and skill sets; I thought we had a sure thing. The numbers were good…”

David and Michelle posed behind the original candy counter last fall. Michelle has sweet memories of coming here for candy as a child. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

David and Michelle pose behind the original candy counter last fall. Michelle has sweet memories of coming here for candy as a child. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Having met the pair last October during a tour of the historic building, I, too, thought if anyone could succeed, this enthusiastic and ambitious couple could. They were, at the time of my visit, sorting through 80 years of accumulated possessions inside the old bakery and have since removed hazardous materials, repaired the roof of the 3,250 square foot two-story structure and more.

The yellow sign in the front window advertises the property for sale through Scenic City Realty.

The yellow sign in the front window advertises the property for sale through Scenic City Realty.

A peek inside the old bakery last Saturday revealed half-painted walls and further restoration halted and that “for sale” sign posted on the front window.

“The coffee shop was a nice dream,” David says, “but it will have to wait for now. Despite the outcome, it was a good learning experience.”

To possess that positive attitude after months of hard work and time and money invested in the couple’s dream impresses me.

A side view of the massive building.

A side view of the massive historic building.

FYI: I spoke with Mike Kaufenberg, the broker/realtor who has the old bank/bakery listed at $37,000 with Redwood Falls based Scenic City Realty.

The building, he says, would provide a great place for a retail and online antiques business with room for additional retail and/or office space. Some antiques remain in the building and are part of the property offering. Two apartments are located on the second floor and could provide rental income.

To see the complete listing, click here.

I think this historic building has many possibilities for reuse, if you have the vision, drive, passion, time, energy and money. How would you reuse this building?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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