Emmaville Store, circa 1969

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Emmaville!

We hope this finds you all well, warm and surrounded by family and friends this holiday season.  Melinda and I are taking a break from renovations to spend time with Adam and Hannah, who are home on their winter breaks.  Both have brought home the latest viruses from their respective campuses, so we're going through quite a bit of Theraflu and Kleenex this week.

Much has gotten done at the store over the past few weeks. The heating system and new doors and windows are in - it's nice and toasty inside now.  The floor is done and we bought shelving, which will be set up next week. Our grocery stock will arrive on Jan. 6th. 

We got our liquour license in the mail last week, which is good for 2011.  Our liability insurance and the license will only allow us to sell 3.2 beer for now, but we hope that will be a good start.  Mike is nearly done refinishing the old bar- it's going to look great! 

We've been putting Adam's two Masters degrees in English to good use this week - unloading a huge freezer for the kitchen and figuring out how to put together the shelving.  Once Hannah is feeling better, she's going to be working on our new logo and other graphics.  Nothing like free labor from your kids to make you appreciate having family around for the holidays.

Stay tuned for some new pics of the renovations after the holidays - meanwhile, remember the reason for the season!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Month In: Plugging Away

Ok, it's been almost a month since we walked in the door, time for an update on progress.  The store is slowly emerging from the rubble - we've painted and stained all the walls and have started installing the new floor.  Mike is installing the new "old" countertop this week: we're recycling a wooden Sunday School table from the old Lutheran church in Nevis.  The counter will feature a display case for all the Emmaville memorabilia we've been finding.

The roofers are working their way across the building - all the snow has slowed progress here.  New windows are due to arrive any day now. The furnace guys are supposed to show up next week to put in the new heating and air conditioning system. We can't wait to turn off the hanger heaters we are currently using - ka-ching!

The petroleum equipment people tell us we will need to leak test the tanks and lines leading to the pumps (insert prayer here).  Looks like we'll be sticking with the old mechanical pumps for now. Sorry, folks, but you won't be able to pay at the pump in Emmaville - you'll have to come in and say hi.  We promise to greet you with a smile.

Last weekend, we had some extra help on hand when the kids came home for Thanksgiving.  Son-in-law Matt did some drywall repair (he's a pro) and some demolition work in the bathrooms.  Daughters Emily and Hannah boxed up all the kitchen stuff to get it out of the way and helped with painting the ceiling.  Much fun was had with hairnets found in the kitchen.  We also celebrated granddaughter Marley's 6th birthday. Happy Birthday Marley!!

We'll keep plugging away into Month 2 - still lots of work to do.  Right now, it looks like we will be fully operational in time to celebrate the New Year, although we hope to be pumping gas before then.

Thanks to all the folks who have been stopping in to wish us well, check progress and offer advice - we really appreciate it!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meet Clayton

It's hard to get a good picture of Clayton - he keeps moving.  Clayton is always on the go, raking needles off the roofs, cleaning gutters, clipping shrubs.  When we began looking the place over last summer, it was Clayton who gave us the "nickel tour" and answered all our questions. Clayton knows where all the breakers, switches, and valves are. More importantly, he knows the history of how Emmaville was operated. To us, Clayton is the essential man. 

Clayton came to Emmaville after his wife passed away in the early 90s.  When the store was up and running, it was Clayton who came in and got the coffee going, and organized the retiree brigade who assembled the morning newspapers to ready them for sale. When former owner Cal Jensen got sick, Clayton was there, helping take care of business and Cal.  When Emmaville closed two years ago, Clayton stayed on to keep an eye on things.  Clayton has been there when no one else was, somehow keeping Emmaville alive.

Emmaville has lots of local fans, many of whom have stopped in to thank us effusively for getting the store up and running again and to wish us well. They've given us lots of assurances that the place used to do a booming business and will again.  But Emmaville's biggest booster is Clayton.  Clayton believes in Emmaville, and, we hope, in us.

When we showed up the day before deer season as new owners, Clayton had all the motel rooms ready for the guests, and the campers checked in.  He made sure everyone was accommodated and we were lined out with keys to all the buildings, then he headed south for the winter, as he does every year. He doesn't go far - just to southern Minnesota where his kids live.

Clayton will be back in late April or early May to check on us and resume his duties as coffee maker, handyman and storyteller.  We look forward to helping him celebrate his 89th birthday in June.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh, boy....

"Ok, the banner's up - good luck, honey, I'm going hunting."
What a first week!  We took possession of Emmaville last Thursday and immediately had customers - deer hunters who have been coming to stay in the motel and campground for years.  Melinda scrambled to make sure they had the basics: linens, toilet paper and working lights.  Although the store, cafe and bar are not open, Melinda had coffee and baked goodies ready for mornings.  (Mike left for the annual family deer hunt - how convenient!)

Our hunting guests left earlier in the week, so it's been relatively quiet.  We caught our breath and had a chance to look around....we have some work to do.  Ok, we have alot of work to do. Emmaville has fallen on hard times over the past several years.

Our store on day 1.
We've spent the last several days just cleaning, sorting and fixing the immediate problems (e.g., new septic tank, fixing gas pumps, replacing windows).  Going through the accumulations of the past 20 years has been interesting - we've found a few old photos and other mementos from years past (more later on these). Two trips to the landfill so far, and the garage sale pile is still growing. 

Anybody know how this thing works??
We've decided the store and gas pumps are the first priority.  We expect snowmobilers to be coming through starting in mid-December, looking for gas and hot coffee or cocoa.  Hopefully, we can offer that, and maybe a beer too.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Emmaville's Famous Signs

Emmaville has long been a popular stop for tourists, many of which come to see the quirky signs.  Even though the store has been closed, people still stop and have their pictures taken in front of the signs.

We are planning to restore and maintain these signs to keep the original look about the place.  We will also be restoring the "main" sign in front of the store:

However, we'll be moving this sign to a new location to make room for our new welcome sign. Here's a prototype we designed, let us know what you think:

We'll be using this design as a logo for t-shirts, etc. and have some other design ideas we'll be sharing soon. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Just where is (and what is) Emmaville?

Emmaville is located about 12 miles north of Park Rapids, Minnesota on County Road 4 (Lake George Road).

According to Wikipedia, Emmaville is "a small, unincorporated community" that "is currently a ghost town."  The first part is true, but Emmaville certainly is not a ghost town! It currently has one full-time resident, Clayton Severtson, who serves as caretaker and unofficial historian.  Although the store has been closed for over a year, the motel and seasonal campground are still in business. 

Although official records are sketchy, Emmaville is believed to have been established over a 100 years ago, initially as a logging camp and boarding house (Park Rapids Enterprise, June 3, 2009).  It's not clear when a store was first established there, but in 1940, the owner, a Mr. Cleghorn, built a "new" store to replace the old one (Enterprise archive). This new store is believed to be what is shown on the postcard with VW Beetle parked in front. 

Emmaville was put on the map, so to speak, in the 60s and 70s by the owner of that era, Cal Jensen. Based on the stories Emmaville patrons have told us, Cal appears to have been a colorful character.  (Mike may have met him once, while on a fishing trip to Lake George with his Grandpa Ray, but that was a long time ago...).  Cal is most remembered for the numerous signs he had put up promoting Emmaville (more on these later).  Cal is also likely the first person to start billing Emmaville as the "Biggest Little Town in the World."  Tourists have been known to come from far and wide to visit the Biggest Little Town in the World and get their pictures taken next to one of Cal's signs.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beginning at the beginning

It all started with an article in the local newspaper, titled "Town for Sale at the Right Price," published in June 2009.  Not long after that, we were out for a drive and decided to check it out. Joe, the owner, was there mowing the lawn, and was nice enough to answer our questions.  Mostly, we just wanted to know why Emmaville was closed - what had happened?  Joe explained he had tried selling it contract-for-deed, but got it back when the buyer couldn't make a go of it.  Joe's health wouldn't allow him to continue running it.

Driving home, we talked about the possibilities, but quickly dismissed the idea.  Who would want to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week?

As the months went by, Emmaville occasionally came up in our conversations: "if we had Emmaville, we could...".  Out hunting rummage sales or returning from a shopping trip to Bemidji, we would find ourselves driving by: "Huh, still closed...what if...?"

In the spring of 2010, Mike had the opportunity to take a buyout from the company he cofounded 18 years earlier. As we contemplated what to do next, we knew we wanted to stay close to home - no more business travel.  Looking around the area, we didn't see many attractive opportunities to start or buy a business. Meanwhile, Emmaville kept surfacing in our conversations: "yes, it would be a lot of work, but it could also be a lot of fun...". The more we talked about it, the more ideas we had for creating something unique.

On the plane during his last few business trips, Mike began looking at a cash flow analysis - it was doable.  A business plan was drafted, potential show-stoppers (were the gas tanks in compliance?) were checked out.   We made an offer in September.  We'll close by the end of October.

Folly? Perhaps.  An adventure for sure.