The face of downtown changes

Moves and expansions highlight 2016

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen ABOVE: Attorney Mark Crimmins studies one of the hundreds of law books in the collection in the new offices of the Crimmins Law Firm. & Livingston. It is located at 706 First Ave. N. in downtown Fort Dodge.

New businesses are just one indicator that at community — or a commercial district — is vibrant. Positive changes in existing enterprises also demonstrate positive change.

Downtown Fort Dodge has seen a major influx of new commercial ventures in the last several years. During 2016, however, positive developments also occurred regarding several businesses that were already part of the Central Avenue world.

Fort Dodge Family Credit Union

The Fort Dodge Family Credit Union has a new home at 407 Second Ave. S. in a newly constructed building on the completed crosstown connector. It moved into the new facility in December 2015.

Long headquartered in downtown Fort Dodge, the decision to relocate from the 2,000-square-foot structure at 215 Central Ave. that had been the credit union’s home since 1999 was made necessary by growth.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Angie Peterson, the co-owner of LilyGrace on Central, at right, looks over a vintage flannel shirt for sale with her daughter in-law, Aeriel Peterson. The shop is located at 521 Central Ave. in downtown Fort Dodge.

“We were out of space,” said Julie Pingel, who has managed the enterprise for more than two decades. “The main floor of the new building is a little over 4,000 square feet. There is a full basement. It has a board room and a break room. Other than that it is for future growth.”

The credit union has been part of the local financial world since 1940.

“We are a closed field of membership credit union,” Pingel said. “We serve Boehringer Ingelheim — the Labs — and Nestle’s, Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, CJ Bio America and our newest addition is AML Riverside.”

Prior to 2004, membership in the credit union was open only to employees of the predecessors to BHI and their family members. In January of that year, Nestle Purina was added to the mix. Membership eligibility was expanded further to include the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in September 2010, CJ Bio America in April 2014 and AML Riverside in November 2015.

Membership has increased 50 percent in the last 15 years from about 2,000 in 2001 to a bit more than 3,000 today, according to data provided by Pingel. She estimated that about 8,000 area residents are eligible for membership so further growth is achievable.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Fort Dodge Family Credit Union manager Julie Pingel, right, stops to visit with member services Carolyn Chelleen at its new building located at 407 Second Ave. S.

Pingel said the mission of the Fort Dodge Family Credit Union has three components:

• Enrich members’ lives by providing economical products and services.

• Empower members with education.

• Engage members with credit union events and activities.

“We exist solely to provide financial services to our members,” she said. “That’s the only reason why we exist. We are nonprofit. We’re a pretty much a full-service financial organization.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Janelle Hotz, left, and Shawn Portz, co-owners of Real Deals on Home Decor, 319 Central Ave., pose in the new clothing section of their store

The entity provides checking accounts, savings accounts and loans. It has ATMs at the employer organizations it serves and at its headquarters. The credit union offers a debit card. It also affords members online banking options. Pingel said further enhancements are in the works with mobile banking expected to be in place by summer.

Real Deals on Home Decor

In 2016, Real Deals on Home Decor, 329 Central Ave., expanded the diversity of the merchandise it sells. On March 31, it launched a new section of the store that features clothing for women — the RD Boutique.

Real Deals in Fort Dodge is a franchise owned and operated by Janelle Hotz and Shawn Portz. The addition of the boutique is the result of a successful pretest of offering clothing at its stores by Real Deals corporately.

“They tested it in about 10 stores and it went over very well,” Portz said. “So, it became an option for us to bring to our community.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Fort Dodge Senior High students Drew Spencer, left, and Maddy Fleming model some of the clothing at RD Boutique.

She said patrons find attractive prices both in the boutique and throughout Real Deals.

“No. 1, our prices are warehouse pricing,” Portz said. “Products are coming in with very reasonable prices. There are about 75 Real Deals stores. We have national buying power. We have a better buying power because of the franchise.”

The new section of the store will feature assorted apparel and related merchandise.

“RD Boutique will offer clothing and accessories that are trending now in fashion,” Portz said. “From tops and tees, leggings and skirts, to scarves and jewelry. The clothing lines boast great quality at values that can’t be beat elsewhere.”

The target audience for the boutique is women from the teenage years to young adulthood and well beyond, according to Portz. She said just about any woman will find something that appeals to her.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Attorney Mark Crimmins studies one of the hundreds of law books in the collection in the new offices while framed by an arch that connects both sides of the renovated office space.

The boutique section features a distinctive decor that Portz characterized as an “industrial modern” look. A 500-square-foot section of the 4,300-square-foot store was remodeled to house RD Boutique.

Real Deals on Home Decor is a relatively new company. It began offering franchise opportunities in 2006, and has grown rapidly. Portz said there are about 75 outlets in the United States and Canada. The Fort Dodge store was the first in Iowa when it opened its doors on Aug. 4, 2011.

Attentive customer service is a key part of the game plan.

“We’re a mom-and-pop environment,” Portz said. “We’re there greeting them when they walk in the door. People are not coming just for the bargains but for the warm, exceptional customer service and festive atmosphere. We want our store to be inviting.”

A trip to Real Deals is more than a shopping excursion. It’s about having some fun while making purchases.

“It’s always a party at Real Deals,” Portz said. “We are always celebrating something. We always do coffee and goodies. We normally have a fun sale or event going on.”

In addition to the new clothing option, the store is stocked with an array of home dÈcor merchandise that is tantalizingly out-of-the-ordinary. Many of the items couldn’t be found elsewhere in Fort Dodge, according to the owners.

“We have everything from clocks, mirrors, lamps, metal wall art, some furniture,” Portz said. “We’re really known for our wall art, our clocks, our mirrors. And just your everyday home decor. We do a lot of different seasonal items.”

She said the inventory includes both traditional and contemporary dÈcor items. The goal is to have a vast selection that appeals to diverse tastes.

An important feature of Real Deals is that the merchandise stocked is constantly being refreshed.

“Our inventory does change weekly,” Portz said. “That’s why people come every week. They know we’re going to have new product. Our boutique will be the same way. We will have new product every week.”

Crimmins Law Firm

The Fort Dodge law office headed by Mark Crimmins underwent three major changes in 2016.

In April, the name was changed from Bennett, Crimmins & Livingstone to the Crimmins Law Firm. Simultaneously, it moved from 704 Central Ave., which had been its home since 1979, to a massively renovated building with a long Fort Dodge history at 706 First Ave. N. The third change occurred June 20 when Ryan Kehm, Mark Crimmins’ son-in-law, joined Crimmins a partner in the firm.

Crimmins said there were two main reasons for moving the office.

“First of all, we were on the second floor over there so access was kind of limited,” he said, noting that the new office is at ground level. “I liked being on the street level. People could see where we were at. It just made it more accessible for clients. Parking is much better. It is not metered on this street. The parking lot behind us is city-owned and it’s free.”

The new location is almost as convenient to the courthouse as was the former site. It’s only a block away. Crimmins said the old and new offices are similar in size.

A renovation that had transformed the building at 706 First Ave. N. into a spectacular showplace also was a factor in the decision to move, according to Crimmins.

In the early part of the 20th century, the building was the home of Mulroney Manufacturing Co., which produced clothing. The restoration work preserved many of the architectural features of the historic structure while creating contemporary office spaces that are open, light-filled and fully in sync with 21st century tastes and work-flow requirements.

A dominant feature of the new office is a massive bookcase displaying law books. It lines a wall in a central corridor. A sliding ladder makes it possible to reach volumes on the upper shelves.

A huge, walk-in safe that was used by Mulroney Manufacturing has been preserved and has been incorporated into the decor. It still displays the long-gone company’s name.

The office walls are lined with large photos from the early 20th century that show the clothing factory in operation. Crimmins said that one of those historic pictures can easily be dated by a calendar on the wall of the work area shown in the photo. It was taken more than a century ago in 1914.

The Crimmins Law Firm has diverse capabilities.

“It’s general practice,” Crimmins said. “We do any type of trial work. We do a lot of real estate work. We do probate work. … I do more of the trial work and Ryan will do trial work. That’s what Ryan is doing in Omaha right now. He works for a firm and is involved in a lot of trials.”

He said the firm welcomes clients with varied needs.

“We have a lot of experience in here,” he said. “I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years now. We’re an all-purpose firm. We don’t specialize in one area. We do anything from trial work to real estate work to probate to contracts.”

Crimmins, who has lived in Fort Dodge his whole life with the exception of the years he spent at Creighton University as an undergraduate and law student, said his legal career has been immensely satisfying for him.

“I like the fact that you can help people that need help,” he said. “When somebody comes in with a real problem who really needs help, most of the time that’s where I get my satisfaction. I know that they needed help and are appreciative.”

He said the office handles a significant amount of uncompensated work for clients who need legal help but cannot afford to pay.

LilyGrace on Central

LilyGrace on Central, 521 Central Ave., which opened more than five years ago on Nov. 3, 2011, is part of the rebirth of downtown. Its focus on reimagining uses for items some people might discard as no longer of use is very much philosophically in sync with the rebirth of downtown.

This unique store, which was launched and developed by Laurie Hagey, now has new owners. In August, Angie and Brian Peterson purchased the business from Hagey. After being closed briefly for some renovation and redecorating LilyGrace re-opened and its new owners are developing big plans to keep the marketing tradition Hagey began going and evolving.

“We still will be repurposing,” Angie Peterson said. “It will be like when Laurie was here. It has antiques and other things from earlier times … There are a lot of furniture items. That has been the store’s specialty. We’re branching out from the furniture. We’ll still do the furniture, but also we’ll have little things like floral arrangements and knickknacks. We have some apparel also that she didn’t have. We have vintage flannel shirts that we have currently. We’re going to see how that goes and then we might carry more clothing.”

The decision by the Petersons to buy the store came about suddenly when they paid a visit to LilyGrace after having learned that Hagey had put it up for sale. Angie Peterson said that when she walked in the door that day purchasing the enterprise wasn’t her plan.

“We came in that Saturday and I said ‘Oh, tell me you’re not really selling.'” Peterson said, recalling that encounter. “And Laurie said, “You should do it. She said, ‘Write me a check right now and it’s yours.'”

After some reflection and a family conference, Peterson said she concluded Hagey’s suggestion made good sense because she had a longtime desire to own exactly this type of business.

“I love to do stuff like this and I’ve been doing it forever and I’ve been doing a little bit online,” Peterson said. “Laurie had good quality stuff and I’d always wanted to do it. It was meant to be.”

For the Petersons, running LilyGrace on Central will very much be a family project. Angie and Brian Peterson and their adult children — Nick Peterson and Brittney Hindman — will all play a role in making the store succeed, Angie Peterson said. Their children’s spouses — Aeriel Peterson and Stephen Hindman — will also pitch in.

“We will all enjoy doing it together,” Angie Peterson said.

Angie Peterson will, however, be leading the effort, according to her husband.

“She’s really got the passion for it,” he said, explaining that his role will be more limited. “It will be mostly Angie.”

The new owners both said the transition between from Hagey to them went easily and they are excited to be at the helm of a thriving business.

“We were lucky,” Angie Peterson said. “Laurie Hagey had really good success. It’s an established company. There are people who come from all over just to come here. There are a lot of regulars.”

She said part of the secret of the success of LilyGrace is the inventory of unique items that customers won’t be likely to find elsewhere. But the store’s ambience also has been part of the story and that will remain a drawing card.

“It’s the atmosphere, I guess,” Angie Peterson said. “We have cool stuff — unique cool stuff. We’re fun. We like to have a good time.”

The new owners are both enthusiastic about the store’s downtown location. They said the collaborative approach of the other merchants along Central Avenue and the nearby venues has been especially impressive to them.

The 9,000-square-foot store occupies two buildings in the heart of downtown Fort Dodge.

The showroom at 921 Central Ave. features antiques, furniture and other items from earlier times that have been repurposed for continued use in the 21st century. The warehouse section is two doors west at 917 Central Ave. It stocks items that are still in the form they were when originally acquired by the business.

“People can buy something there and fix it up themselves,” Brian Peterson said.

Alternatively, they can select it and have the team at LilyGrace transform the item.

Hanson Asset Strategies

In 2016, William Hanson, who has provided financial advice and services in Fort Dodge for more than 50 years, sold Hansen Asset Strategies, 1329 First Ave. S., to Troy Thompson. Even so, he will still be part of the company well into the future.

“I decided that it’s going to be time for me to be doing less,” Hanson said. “Troy Thompson will be buying the business over a period of years. The wonderful thing with the arrangement is that it’s going to be a gradual transition. For the next year, both of us will be working here. After that, my involvement will be less.”

Both Hanson and Thompson said that clients will not be inconvenienced by the change in ownership.

“It will be seamless for all of my clients because there isn’t any paperwork that they have to do for Troy to start working with them,” Hanson said. “I will still assist them if they want.”

He said that since Thompson is a generation younger than he is, this change will ensure that people who are currently being assisted by the firm will be assured of the ability to continue that relationship long after he decides to retire fully some years hence.

The wide variety of financial products available through Hanson Asset Strategies makes it possible to provide choices that are customized to address each person’s specific requirements.

“We can help find the product that fits for each individual client instead of trying to sell one product to everybody,” Hanson said.

The mix of options is extensive.

“It evolved over the years to be much more investments than the insurance part, but still is a combination,” Hanson said. “On the insurance end it would be primarily long term care or life insurance. But 90 percent of the business, or maybe a little bit greater than that, is in financial products. And those could be fixed or variable annuities, the mutual funds, could be individual stocks.”

That diversity of products is part of what sets business apart from some of its competitors, but according to Hanson, there is a good deal more to the story.

“I’ll always treat clients honestly and I’m easy to work with,” he said. “I have a number of clients still living who have been clients for 50 years. So, the loyalty is extremely good.”

Those long-term relationships have made this work a pleasure for him, Hanson said.

“I enjoy working with the people and the satisfaction that I get with helping them,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons that I’ve worked longer than a normal length of time, because I thoroughly enjoy it.”

When Hanson decided to sell the business, he said he was determined to find a new owner who would provide the same type of caring, highly personalized service that has been his hallmark for five decades.

Hanson said it became clear that Thompson had exactly the qualities he sought.

Thompson owns Thompson Financial Management, 708 Keeler St., in Boone. That enterprise offers basically the same services as Hanson Asset Strategies, according to Thompson. The two businesses will continue with Thompson at the helm of both, dividing his time between Boone and Fort Dodge.

Thompson said the personal reward he derives from this profession is quite similar to Hanson’s experience.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from being useful to people and helping them,” he said. “That’s what it is all about. It’s about long-term relationships. … Both Bill and I give people an experience that is unique to them. … We want to do things as they want them done.”

Looking to the future, Thompson said he has two priorities.

“The first goal is to take care of the folks that Bill has cared for all these years and make them comfortable,” he said. “The second thing would be to grow from there. Once we’ve got our arms around taking care of the existing clients, the next step will be growing in the community.”

Hanson said he expects the ownership transition to be positive for him, Thompson and the clients.

“We’ve had a very good business, a stable business for a long time,” he said. “Our goal is that it will continue that way and that the clients will receive service that is outstanding. Troy and I will meet with all the clients together. I think they are going to be as pleased — or more pleased — with him than they were with me. The clients will get input from advisors who are from two different generations. I think that could be really positive.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen William Hanson, left, goes over some accounts with Troy Thompson at Hanson Asset Strategies recently.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today