When the JCPenney store moved from downtown Fergus Falls in 1982, it left for better opportunity in the newly constructed Westridge Mall on the outskirts of town near Interstate 94. What stayed behind was an empty building.0325.biz.riverfront.1

Archived Story

Thriving square

Published 11:33am Monday, March 25, 2013

But walking through what is now known as Riverfront Square, you would never be able to tell it was once known for one business leaving, not several thriving together.

“I think the most important thing is to get the word out that the building is back as what they tried for in 1983 when they wanted it to be a mini-mall downtown,” said Owner of Nordic Galleri Lise Viken. “It just feels very positive and optimistic for the whole downtown and gives me hope for a better future for the downtown businesses who struggle.”

In 1983, what was referred to as the JCPenney building long after its vacancy became the project of two local developers who planned to transform the building into a business community for smaller shops.

Thirty years later, the word community seems to resonate through the doors of each store. With the building nearly full, that transformation has been a successful one.

“It’s a very friendly and open building,” said Sandy Kutzke, who opened her thrift store As is Thrifty in Riverfront this past February. “We watch each other and watch each other’s back.”

One thing that Kutzke said she has noticed in her first few months in the building is how quickly different owners help customers find and often promote other shops located in the building.

That attitude might be what has returned the building to its old splendor.

“I think that the people who are here in the building right now really want to work together,” said Catherine Wilde, who is a partner at Lincoln Avenue Antiques. “A lot of the time people wanted to do their own thing, but everyone is coming together now for meetings and coming up with great ideas for the building.”

But in a city like Fergus Falls, with families rooted for generations, old stigmas can be hard to get rid of, even in the best of times.

“A lot of people still know this as the old JCPenney building,” said Kutzke. “I think if people came in they would realize there is a lot more to do in this one building.”

Lois Windom, also a partner at Lincoln Avenue Antiques, however, said the association with the old JCPenney business gives the building history and a sense of longevity.

“I don’t regard being known as the JCPenney building as a negative thing, but I see it as more of an identity,” said Windom.

With heavy traffic from Lincoln Avenue passing everyday and a large space for parking at the back of the building, owners feel confident that unique identity will keep attracting customers curious about what the building and its shops have to offer.

“Every town that has a Walmart, Kmart, or big box store, you can go to one anywhere,” said Windom. “It’s these little unique shops that bring people from miles because it’s not like anywhere else.”

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