The parking lot at Rochester's new Menards was packed all weekend as local residents prepared for spring by checking out grand opening sales. However, many paused near the front door to examine the man surrounded by sawdust.
John Gage, a chainsaw artist known throughout the Midwest, was brought in to help celebrate the store's opening weekend. Shoppers of all ages stopped to watch the Two Harbors native work, but it was a youngster who caught his eye Saturday morning.
Arlo Thurn, a 3-year-old from Fargo, paused Gage's work on an eagle carving to ask about its feathers. After talking with the boy for a few moments, Gage spared a few minutes to carve an eagle head on a spare piece of wood.
That gift, which likely will be hung in the boy's room back home, was carried around like a treasure as his parents finally went to get their vehicle. It's all in a day's work for Gage, who was at a Menards opening in Iowa last weekend and is booked for an Illinois store next weekend.
"Tease the kids a little, BS with the parents and then finish up," Gage said of his daily routine.
Full-sized carvings take Gage about 45 minutes. They were immediately on sale for at least $150, Gage said. Numerous customers made inquiries about the bear and owl that were on display Saturday morning.
The smiles Gage's unique line of work created have been a long time coming for Menards. The $12 million project has been stalled for years as it awaited the U.S. 52 interchange at 65th Street Northwest. A portion of Rochester's local-option sales tax helped complete the delayed interchange.
The new store will replace the 29-year-old store located at 5150 U.S. 52 North. Eric Ritter, store manager at the new Menards, said the building is about three times larger than the one it's replacing, which is running close-out sales until April 25 when it ceases to exist.
Menards also has a south Rochester store at 3000 S. Broadway.
Gage isn't the only attraction Menards has lined up for its grand opening. Former Wild player Wes Walz is slated for today, former Twins star Kent Hrbek has committed to Wednesday, former Gophers standout Ra'Shede Hageman will visit Thursday and one of the owners, Larry Menard, is scheduled for Saturday.
"It's something Menards typically does for every grand opening or grand re-opening," Ritter said. "They just like to bring some celebrities in."