The economy remains sluggish nationally, but a proliferation of new business ventures in Fort Dodge during the last 12 months demonstrates great confidence in the commercial potential of the community.
Fort Dodge's downtown business district was once the heart of commerce in the community. After decades in the doldrums, Central Avenue and nearby venues are experiencing a significant renaissance. This retail revival features an array of small shops many of which are unique, heartfelt expressions of the specialized interests or talents of their owners. An assortment of new businesses opened their doors in 2012. This influx of businesses is, however, not limited to the city's core. An array of new enterprises have appeared in recent months all across the town.
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American Antiquities co-owners Joe Gargano, left, and Jim Polzin look over the sign for heir storefront. The recently opened store, 1100 Central Ave., sells a variety of antiques and furniture
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Ann Miller, owner of Spherion, tries out a promotional marble game in the lobby of the office in the Trolley Center on Central Avenue in downtown Fort Dodge.
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Jan Dencklau, owner of Design Two, 1109 Central Ave., tries one of the scented hand lotions she has available for sale in her shop.
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Heather Vandi, left, and Stacy Wearda pose with one of the perks that came with their Neighborhood Realty offices at 706 Second Ave. N. — a walk-in safe.
As 2012 began, Hemann Martial Arts, located in the Trolley Center - 900 Central Ave., had new owners and a new name, Midwest Combat Arts Center. Mitch Pearson and Jeff Stanek took the helm of the business on Jan. 1 with plans to broaden and enhance its offerings.
"We offer martial arts," Stanek said. "We have three different disciplines. ... The first one is tae kwon do. The second one is ni shurite kempo. The third is sogo ryu Bujutsu. ... You'd have to go to Des Moines to find this much variety."
The Center also offers self-defense classes and a cardio class targeted at people who are primarily interested in fitness. Options are designed to appeal to an eclectic cross-section of Fort Dodgers. Classes are open to both men and women and the age range of existing and potential students is broad.
Lilly's Floral and Gifts opened Feb. 1 at 11 N. 10th St.- just north of Little Joe's Computers. Owned by Alice and Don Schmidt, the new store is overseen primarily by Alice Schmidt, who brought to the venture many years in the local floral world.
Lilly's Floral and Gifts features a broad selection. It has fresh flowers, silk flowers, green plants and blooming plants and assorted home decor products.
"I'm going to try to carry things that the other stores and shops in town don't carry. ... Unique flowers," Schmidt said, stressing that she is ready to assist shoppers in search of that special floral arrangement or plant not in stock elsewhere.
Neighborhood Realty, owned by Stacy Wearda, opened at 706 First Ave. S., in April. Wearda, who has been in the real estate world since 2004, founded Neighborhood Realty in Webster City in 2007. Wearda is bullish about the housing market in Fort Dodge and said she expects her local office to expand because the economy here is already thriving and poised for even better days in the years just ahead.
"Our primary specialty would be residential real estate," Wearda said. "We also sell commercial, agricultural, investment properties."
Spherion Staffing, located in the Trolley Center, has been part of the human resources world in the Fort Dodge for a decade, but was transformed in 2012. Ann Miller, of Owatonna, Minn., expanded her southern Minnesota-based Spherion franchise by adding 17 Iowa counties, including Webster County. She became Spherion's representative in north central Iowa on April 30. Miller now has offices in three Minnesota cities - Faribault, Mankato and Owatonna - in addition to her Iowa headquarters in Fort Dodge.
Miller said her Spherion franchise combines the strengths of a large company with the community-oriented, small-business perspective of local ownership.
"(Spherion is) a very strong corporate organization at the top level, but we are a community of owners," she said. "We have all the support of a great national organization, but we have the ability to make local decisions."
American Antiquities was launched in May at 1100 Central Ave. by co-owners Joe Gargano and Jim Polzin. The store features antiques, used furniture, collectibles, the buying and selling of gold and jewelry and help for people who wish to market items on eBay. The owners both said their decision to launch this venture was precipitated principally by a growing demand in Fort Dodge and Webster County for high-quality used furniture.
The furniture American Antiquities sells is a mix of items the owners have acquired at auctions or purchased directly from homeowners and others and consignments. Polzin said the store accepts consignments for 60 days. If the items sell, he said the owner receives 60 percent of the selling price and the store retains 40 percent.
The goal at American Antiquities is to stock attractive items at affordable prices. Keeping prices modest is a key part of the marketing strategy for the store, Polzin said.
Bridal Visions by LD, 1208 First Ave. S., was opened by LaDonna High on July 9. Certain occasions - weddings, proms and formal balls - are made more special when the clothing participants wear is absolutely perfect. Making sure that happens is the mission at Bridal Visions according to High. Attire for weddings is a major focus at High's store but that's just part of the agenda.
"Wedding gowns, bridesmaids, mothers, flower girls," she said, reflecting on the range of apparel she offers. "I will be carrying prom. There's special occasion and tuxes."
The gowns are for sale. Tuxedos are available as rentals, but High said she has vendors that can provide them for purchase if a client wants that option.
Bridal Visions by LD occupies 3,800 square feet of space in the recently renovated commercial complex that also is home to Studio Fusion, Tillies Quilts and Xessorize.
Hodge Podge Gifts & More opened July 10 and is poised for growth. Owner Kathy Ford said her new business accepts consignments, has rental space for a multitude of vendors and markets a variety of handmade products that are the work of the owner. The merchandise personally designed and made by Ford includes candles, signs, ornamental pictures, wreaths and a variety of craft items.
"It's kind of a hodge podge of vendors," Ford explained. "I have about 15 different people in here that bring in their own wares or their own crafts. A lot of it is homemade. Some of it's boughten. We've got national brands - Avon, Watkins ... Rada Cutlery. Then I've got purses and jewelry. And I've got homemade quilts. And I've got home-painted glasses, wreathes, candles."
Design Two & Maxine's Coffee, a business venture owned by Jan Dencklau, has been serving customers for several years, but now is part of the rebirth of downtown as a shopping mecca.
Dencklau said she decided to relocate her business ventures to Central Avenue and 12th Street because it is a marketing advantage to have her shop close to the other specialty stores on 12th Street between Central Avenue and First Avenue South - Tillies Quilts, Studio Fusion, Xessorize, Faith Works and Bridal Visions by LD. She said this grouping of complementary, boutique-style stores is helping make that part of downtown an appealing shopping destination for a diverse customer population, thereby, helping all the shops succeed.
Design Two, 1109 Central Ave., features an array of gift and home decor merchandise. Additionally, Dencklau said there is a selection of kitchen accessories, gourmet food, jewelry, scarves, personal items and much, much more. The store also has a children's department and has an ever-changing selection of seasonal products.
Maxine's Coffee does business through the drive-through window at The Dariette, 17 S. 12th St., which is just across the street. It features a selection of beverages and baked goods.
Clarice's Fashions, owned by Clarice Thompson, welcomed its first customers in March. The 3,200-square-foot suite it occupies is near Younkers. Thompson said her store addresses a need for an increased availability in Fort Dodge of sophisticated and trendy clothing for women who aren't satisfied with routine, mass-marketing options.
She said her own shopping experiences and those of her friends convinced her that the demand for what Clarice's Fashions provides is great.
"It's basically clothing for women - shoes, jewelry and scarves," Thompson said. "That's including pants, blouses, some jackets, dresses. ... It's a range of things. I'm gearing it toward 25 and older. It's American and European designers It's mid- to high-end. ... You can buy designers in a mid-range. There are designers in a mid-range and then there are designers in a high range."
Studio M.O.V.E., owned by Amper Garland, opened in Crossroads Mall in mid-May. Garland said she aims to prove to Fort Dodgers that fitness can be achieved while having a good time.
"Zumba" is a term created to represent an approach to fitness developed in the 1990s by Beto Perez in his native Colombia that has now become popular not only in the United States, but internationally.
The terminology is trademarked by Zumba Fitness LLC based in Hallandale, Fla. Garland became certified by the company in August 2009 to teach its assorted programs. She has been teaching classes since November 2010.
She said the studio at Crossroads Mall will allow her to offer classes at a convenient location and expand her business.
Mid-Iowa Dermatology, 22 N. 27th St., was launched in July by Dr. Scott Green, a board-certified dermatologist, who has practiced in Fort Dodge since 1996.
"The focus will be medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology," Green said. "Some dermatologists do strictly surgery, like mole surgery where they specialize in cancer surgery. Some will focus strictly on cosmetics, cosmetic procedures. We kind of do all of it."
Marco's Pizza, 1513 Second Ave. N., opened in September. It operates in tandem with Family Video. A Feb. 8 Marco's press release, indicated that Family Video is expected to hold the franchise to operate as many as 350 Marco's Pizza stores as part of its 735-store movie rental network.
Marco's features an authentic Italian pizza. The sauce recipe and cheese recipe were brought over from Italy by the founder's grandmother, according to information provided by the company.