Emmaville Store, circa 1969

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.