Downtown Fort Dodge Renaissance
Diversity of options draws shoppers
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. There is more to the story, however, than just a retail rebirth. The array of new business ventures located in the city center is quite diverse.
Kingsgate Insurance Center
In late 2015, Kingsgate Insurance Center moved to a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of downtown Fort Dodge — 924 Central Ave. The agency is now located not far from where it was launched in 1990 by Ed and Denise Smith in the Boston Centre.
“We kind of came back home,” Denise Smith said of the return to Central Avenue.
Kingsgate Insurance has grown from a two-person startup into one of the state’s most successful independent insurance agencies. Today it has a team of 12 licensed agents and does business not only all across Iowa, but also in neighboring states and Arizona.
Growth has been a constant theme for the enterprise since the beginning. In 1995, to accommodate expansion, the Smiths moved what was originally named Ag Business Associates to 114 N. 25th St. — the Kingsgate shopping center — and adopted the present name for their flourishing venture.
The return to downtown took place because additional room for more expansion was needed.
“We had basically outgrown the space we had,” Ed Smith said, noting that the agency’s 5,000-square-foot new home is more than three times the size of its previous venue. Additionally, the Smiths now own the building their agency occupies.
Before the move, the downtown site was massively renovated.
“We basically gutted it,” Ed Smith said. “All new wiring, plumbing, windows, the whole works.”
The furniture is also all new and the agency’s technology has been upgraded. The result is an office complex that give the business ample room for expansion, Smith said.
“The interior has a modern feel to it as a professional office,” said Ryan Smith, who co-owns the business with Ed and Denise Smith, his parents.
Being back in the city’s historic commercial center was one of the attractions of the move, according to the Smiths.
“We’re encouraged by the direction downtown is heading — the crosstown connector, some of the other development that’s happening down here,” Ryan Smith said. “We just felt it offered the right opportunity and fit for us.”
Kingsgate Insurance provides an extensive array of options and services to both individual and commercial clients.
“It’s a broad mix of things, but revenue-wise commercial makes up probably 75 percent of the business,” Ed Smith said. “Property and casualty has always been our biggest source of revenue. We’re an independent agency so we’re committed to all lines.”
His son said the diversity of what the agency can offer is one of the things that distinguishes it.
“We want to be that one-stop shop,” he said. “We do insurance. We do financial planning. Our goal is always to be a complete solution for our customers — personal, commercial, benefits, financial planning.”
One of Fort Dodge’s newest businesses expanded so fast that less than a year after it was launched, it outgrew its original venue. Eastwood Realty, owned by Laura and Steve Eastwood, initially was based in the Eastwoods’ home. It moved in January 2016 to 10 N. 10th St.
“We were growing and started property management and needed to find a building,” said Laura M. Eastwood, who is the agency’s broker and chief executive officer.
The Eastwoods bought a historic building that has been part of the city center since 1900. The 3,000-square-foot structure was massively renovated and now has space for not only their evolving real estate business, but also a commercial tenant.
The decision to locate in downtown Fort Dodge was influenced by the couple’s belief that its future is promising, Laura Eastwood said.
“Downtown is kind of a unique place and we’re hoping it’s in the process of change to be a place people will come back to,” Steve Eastwood said.
His wife echoed that sentiment and said she is enthusiastic about her company’s new home.
“It’s just fun down here,” she said.
Eastwood Realty is positioned to contribute to the booming Webster County economy by assisting both newcomers and longtime residents address their housing needs, Laura Eastwood said.
“We sell real estate and help people in a fun, educational manner,” she said. “Creating a relationship is what it is all about. We not only help buy or sell real estate, but we also work to educate our clients and guide them through the process.”
Assisting buyers and sellers of both residential and commercial properties is the main focus of Eastwood Realty, but there is more to the story.
“It is a mixture of real estate and property management,” Laura Eastwood said. “I do residential and commercial property management. That’s a new thing. We started that in August 2015.”
That commitment to top-notch service is at the heart of the Eastwood approach in both real estate sales and property management, according to Eastwood.
“It’s a very personalized service,” she said. “I’m very passionate about my job. I work my hardest to meet what my client needs and wants. I’m all about making my client happy and making sure they know what we’re doing at all times.”
When the business was established, Laura Eastwood was its sole licensed real estate agent. Steve Eastwood has now joined her as its second agent. He received his license in May 2016.
Brothers Nate and Todd McCubbin launched ShinyTop Brewing at 520 Central Ave. in 2016.
The business, which had its grand opening May 18, 2016, not only makes beer, but also sells it through a taproom. According to Todd McCubbin this is the first time since 1885 that the city has been home to a brewery.
The inspiration for this venture came from his time serving with the U.S. military in Germany, Todd McCubbin said.
“Some of the best beers I ever had were in Germany when I was in the Army,” he said, adding that missing the taste led him and his brother, Nate McCubbin, to experiment with home brewing.
A decision was made to turn what started out as a hobby into a business. ShinyTop Brewing was born with Nate McCubbin at the operational helm and the two brothers as co-owners.
“Nate likes recipes and the science that goes into brewing beers,” Todd McCubbin said. “He got really good at making beer. So, we decided to go with this format, which is a brewery with a taproom. Nate is the face of ShinyTop.”
Both the brewery and the taproom are all about handcrafted beer.
“We’re just selling the beer here,” Todd McCubbin said. “It’s a draft beer. We just sell our own beer. We have eight varieties of beer. In the taproom, we have seven taps and eight beers, so there will only be seven on tap at any given time.”
Nate McCubbin said people who want to try beers with outstanding taste are invited to pay a visit to ShinyTop.
The McCubbins bought the building that now houses ShinyTop Brewing and massively renovated it.
“It was gutted,” Todd McCubbin said. “Basically everything is new. My goal in the design of this was to incorporate industrial with a warm feel. It’s warm and inviting, yet it has that modern, industrial feel to it.”
Todd McCubbin said the choice of Central Avenue for the brewery reflects the enthusiasm he and his brother have for the revitalization of the city’s historic downtown.
“We just kind of knew that this was the area where it needed to be,” he said. “Downtown recently has become beautiful. It’s had this major turnaround, a major shift. I see downtown continuing to thrive.”
Downtown is the home to a growing array of small businesses that each appeal to a specialized clientele. That was exactly the type of venue Maggie Hanrahan was seeking when she decided in June 2016 to open Spice Shack at 14 N. 11th St., just north of Central Avenue,
“My shop is a boutique type of thing,” she said. “It’s more of a specialty thing. When you think of that type of business you think of downtown Fort Dodge.”
Spice Shack sells spices, coffees, teas and home-brewing supplies.
Hanrahan said she had long been a purchaser of teas, coffees and spices for her family’s use, but had not found the things she wanted available locally.
Now shoppers can, because Hanrahan launched Spice Shack to address a major unserved market.
“It started with the spices, the tea and the coffee and then we moved into the home-brew supplies,” she said. “We’ve got beer, wine and baking supplies.”
The selection is huge and growing.
“I’ve got over 90 spices now,” Hanrahan said. “Anything from oregano, rosemary, thyme, dill weed, catnip and much more. I’ve got whole seeds such as anise, caraway. Stuff that everyone uses like garlic and onion.”
As a tea drinker, she has stocked her store with an eclectic selection teas to appeal to a wide range of tastes.
“I have 32 varieties of tea right now,” Hanrahan said. “I’ve got anything from black, mint, caffeine-free, green teas. Each tea has a little different flavor.”
Coffee devotees will find so many choices at Spice Shack that they may find it difficult to decide what to sample first.
“I have 20 flavored coffees and five unflavored coffees,” Hanrahan said.
Freshness is a priority at Spice Shack.
“You’re not going to get that freshness anywhere else,” Hanrahan said. “I want freshness. I want people to know that when they come here it’s not been sitting on my shelf for six months or a year.”
Spice Shack has only been in operation for a few months, but its proprietor said it is already catering to customers not only from Fort Dodge but from many of the neighboring communities.
Hanrahan said she is enthused about Fort Dodge’s future.
“I’m invested in Fort Dodge,” she said. “I want to be involved in helping the community thrive.”
New Age Media
Preserving treasured memories got easier in 2016.
Joel and Alisha Johnson have moved the business they had operated out of their home to downtown Fort Dodge and expanded its offerings. New Age Media Productions is now in the heart of the city’s historic commercial district at 12 N. 10th St. — just north of Central Avenue. The shift to the new venue occurred in mid-August.
“New Age Media Productions specializes in capturing your most memorable moments with professional photo and video services, and adding to your special event with our personalized DJ service playing the music you and your guests want to hear,” Joel Johnson said.
An array of videographic and photographic services are at the heart of what this rapidly growing local business offers. It addresses both the needs of commercial clients and individuals.
A key focus of the enterprise is helping people make sure that important current life events are recorded and that visual and audio recordings that have been made in the past are preserved in formats easy to access in the 21st century.
“My biggest goal is to save people’s memories whether it be capturing them out doing video for a wedding, an event, an anniversary or taking a VHS tape and transferring it onto DVD or digital media,” Joel Johnson said.
People long have been recording memorable happenings using various media. It’s common for households to have old photographs, home movies, videos in an array of formats and audio tapes tucked away for safekeeping in a closet or some other secure spot. Transferring those precious items to DVDs or various digital media is a major part of the mission at New Age Media Productions.
“I have a wide variety of services that I offer,” Johnson said. “We do video transfer, audio transfer. I can do VHS, VHS-C, mini DVs, Super 8, 8 mm — transfer from just about anything a customer might have.”
The transfer of slides and photographs to DVDs or digital is also available.
“We do photo corrections and photo restoration,” Johnson said. “We do photo montages.”
The company offers videography and both studio and location photography. The services the company offers are comprehensive.
“Not only do we do video, we do photography,” Johnson said. “We do still, video and I DJ. We are the only company in the area that offers all three services. We’ll do any private event. We can put together a package for all three things.”
Johnson said he was motivated to expand the business at this time because he believes there is a significant unmet demand in the local marketplace that New Age Media can tap.
“I know there is a huge need for VHS transfers,” he said. “There are people always looking for videographers, but there is nothing in the area. I took the plunge. Here I am.”
Potential customers who aren’t exactly certain what they should do with items that they might what to transfer to contemporary media are encouraged to stop by to discuss the possibilities, Johnson said.
“Come on in,” he said. “If you need something but aren’t sure just what you want, stop in. I’m more than willing to inform and give you the options and lead you in the right direction. It’s not about what I sell. It’s about what my customer needs. Give me a call or come down.”
The Picture Place
In contemporary America, just about everybody seems to have a cell phone capable of capturing photos. There are times, however, when something a bit more professional is desired. The Picture Place, 1301 First Ave. N., a locally owned business that was launched Sept. 6, can address that need.
“We basically are like a Sears Portrait Studio or Portrait Innovations,” said Christopher Mason, who is the manager of the enterprise and the photographer. “You come in, have about a 30- to 45-minute session and then immediately view everything and order. It’s just quick and easy. We do all of our own editing here and we send the photos to American Color Imaging in Cedar Falls to have them printed. We have about a 48-hour turnaround time. Typically, people will get their prints the same week that they have their pictures done. It’s very quick.”
Mason said the business is a subsidiary of Memories in Focus, 514 Central Ave., and was created to fill a void in the local marketplace.
“Since Sears had closed there really wasn’t anywhere to go where you could get quick, somewhat inexpensive photos,” she said.
Mason said The Picture Place offers professional quality photographic images at prices people on a budget can afford.
“Our clients are those who want nice pictures, but don’t have a ton of money to spend on them,” she said. “That’s basically our target customer.”
The range of projects Mason can handle is broad but children and family groups are major parts of the agenda.
“We mainly focus on kids — toddlers and tweens,” she said. “We also do quite a few families. I’ve had a couple of seniors come in. We can do passport photos, business head shots.”
While many of the photo sessions take place in the fully equipped studio, other options are also available.
“We do offer indoor sessions or we do indoor/outdoor where we go for some fun outside stuff,” Mason said.
She said she hopes the families she is getting to know will be long-term patrons of The Picture Place.
“It’s fun to see them grow up,” Mason said. “Hopefully, the clients will keep coming back as the kids get older.”
Mason said the career in photography she chose is a good fit for her.
“I love doing it,” she said. “I have a passion for it.”
She has a welcoming message for potential clients.
“We just want to make the people of Fort Dodge happy and get them some good images at affordable prices,” Mason said. “Our goal for this studio is to provide something for everyone in the Fort Dodge area at a reasonable price.”
Body Balance Chiropractic and
In September 2016, Dr. Trevor Peters, a chiropractor who grew up near Gilmore City and has a practice in Ames, opened a Body Balance Chiropractic and Rehabilitation office in downtown Fort Dodge at 21 S. 12th St. — above Studio Fusion.
In expanding his practice to Fort Dodge, Peters said he is bringing to the community an approach to chiropractic care that he views as distinct from what is already available here.
“There is nothing in Fort Dodge like the type of chiropractic that I do – the functional movement,” he said. “Living is all about movement. Poor movement of the body is often the cause of pain and/or dysfunction. I have had the opportunity to treat many different types of people, from small children to professional athletes. I want to provide the Fort Dodge area with this type of care, and educate the community on how to stay feeling great. Proper body motion not only helps reduce or get rid of pain, it also provides the body with its best ability to perform optimally.”
Addressing health problems that can be related to movement is Peters’ focus.
“I’m an athlete,” he said. “I’ve been involved with sports my whole life. I got really into movement. In school, I learned that there are a lot of different ways — different routes — of chiropractic that you can go. I got really into functional movement of the body. It’s all about moving the right way. Oftentimes, if you have pain it’s because you are either not moving where you should be or you are moving too much somewhere.”
Peters stressed that while people are often motivated to seek treatment because they are experiencing pain, one of his goals is to help patients prevent discomfort from ever developing. Consequently, he said patients will benefit from paying him a visit even if pain is not currently an issue for them.
“I don’t just treat pain,” he said. “I want to get those bad movements taken care of before they turn into an injury.”
Peters said what sets his practice apart is his emphasis on patient education and his commitment to highly personalized patient care.
“I feel like a lot of people go to the chiropractor and they just expect ‘Oh, he’ll crack my neck, he’ll crack my back and then I’m good.’ I really like to educate my patients a lot on what is going on, why it’s happening. I really give them tools to stay feeling better,” he said.
Peters said he strongly believes in highly individualized care.
“I take a very personal approach,” he said. “I take time with the patient. It’s not in and out the door. I think that’s what’s different about me. I don’t want to see them 100 times. … I’m usually with patients the first visit probably for 45 minutes or so and after that it’s 25 minutes or a half hour at least, depending on what the situation is. … It’s very in-depth. I’m not trying to get them to come back a whole bunch. I want to tell them what’s wrong, treat it and then give them the tools to keep themselves healthy.”
For Peters, the measure of success as a health care professional is quite straightforward.
“If I get them better and they aren’t back, that’s good for me,” he said.
The focus on the benefits of physical therapy is a distinguishing part of what Peters offers, but he also provides the full range of traditional chiropractic services, he said.
“I do adjust people,” Peters said. “Adjustments are very, very important. I look at it from a complete perspective. Some people are strict chiropractic. Then you have strict physical therapy. I kind of combine chiropractic and physical therapy.”
Peters said he enjoys interacting with patients and finds it rewarding to have a positive impact on their lives.
“I just want to get people moving and keep people moving the right way,” he said. “My goal is to be the guy to go to when you want to improve movement. I want to be known as somebody who cares about the individual. I want people to know that it’s very personalized care, very specific to them.”
The Fish Room
The Fish Room, 1232 Central Ave., is among the many enterprises that are restoring vibrancy to the town’s historic downtown. Owned by Tom Bethke, who operates the store with the assistance of his son, Ben Bethke, this unique shop got its start in mid-April as part of the now-closed Pet Central — Everything Pet Boutique, 1224 Central Ave.
“We went in and asked Amy (Collins-Lumpp, co-owner of Pet Central) to set up a 75-gallon tank and try to sell koi on consignment,” Tom Bethke said. “She had had lots of requests for tropical fish so asked us if we would be interested in taking over a room over there. So, we invested some money in that. A few months later, she’s out and we’re out. Luckily, this space where we opened for business on Nov. 1 opened up.”
The new location is within sight of the old Pet Central venue and shares the same parking lot. Bethke said it is much larger and offers the business the space to grow in the months ahead.
The Fish Room serves the needs of fish hobbyists.
“Primarily we sell tropical fish — all types of fresh-water tropical fish,” Tom Bethke said. “We currently have in stock hundreds of fish — 50 or 60 kinds, mostly tropical.”
In addition to a wide of assortment of fish for indoor tanks in homes and businesses, The Fish Room also carries fish suitable for outdoor sites.
“We carry pond fish, too,” Ben Bethke said. “Koi is the main one. We also have different kinds of goldfish.”
His father said they had learned during the course of their first several months in business that there is a significant demand locally for fish to stock decorative ponds.
Tom Bethke said the customer interest in the full range of what The Fish Room sells has been very encouraging.
The huge selection of fish is displayed attractively in tanks that line the walls of The Fish Room. Currently, there are 26 tanks and ample space is available to add more as the inventory evolves.
In addition to the fish, the store carries aquariums, heaters, food, decorations — just about anything a fish enthusiast might want.
Tom Bethke said the marketing game plan for this new venture will emphasize meeting requirements of existing hobbyists and increasing the number of fish enthusiasts in the region.
“We want to focus on the hobbyist,” he said. “Getting kids involved is important in the fish business. Ben is into getting them into the koi, the pond fish.”
He said people typically develop an interest in fish as youngsters and, with that in mind, outreach to that segment of the community is a priority.
Both father and son said they are passionate about fish both as a hobby and a business opportunity.
“I enjoy meeting the people,” Tom Bethke said. “I really like it when the kids come in.”
He has a message for anyone with an interest in fish as a hobby.
“It’s much easier than it used to be,” he said. “It used to be very difficult to keep a tank clean. With the filtration systems that are now available and the chemicals, it’s just not the problem it used to be as far as keeping a nice clean tank.”
Bethke emphasized that getting started needn’t be especially expensive. He said The Fish Room strives to provide affordable options.