BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Two weeks after a fire destroyed one Main Street business and damaged another, it’s still too early to say what the long-term fallout will be on Blooming Prairie, business leaders and residents say.
But one thing is clear: The loss of The Bakery and Sportstitch Inc., an adjoining sports apparel business, is being felt across the community. Both decades-old businesses, located in the heart of this 2,100-person town, were interwoven into the daily rhythms of this community.
“It hurts. It’s going to hurt our downtown,” said Greg Johnson, manager of B - Z Hardware, just down the street from the burnt-out bakery. “Anytime you lose (businesses) on Main Street of Small Town, U.S.A., it’s tough.”
Firefighters are battling a blaze at a popular Blooming Prairie business this morning.
“Obviously, it impacts us all,” Johnson said.
But amid the loss and uncertainty, Blooming Prairie is plotting a comeback. A community-wide benefit is planned for 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday to raise money for the stricken business owners, Gregg Fristedt of The Bakery and Linda Klemmensen of Sportstitch.
“Blooming Prairie is a survivor,” said Sandra Basness, a lifelong Blooming Prairie resident who was shopping downtown Monday.
Business leaders say the town’s response is emblematic of the community, described by residents as welcoming and generous, and as a place where everyone knows one another.
It’s not unusual for the small town to raise $80,000 for a cancer auction or an education fundraiser. Two downtown businesses will be hosting the benefit — Pizza Cellar and J & H Liquors.
“These people rally around each other,” Johnson said. “This is what this town is about.”
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined or publicly released. Douglas Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said in an email that the investigation remains open.
Uncertainty surrounds both businesses. Most communities the size of Blooming Prairie can’t boast of having their own bakery. Blooming Prairie has been able to do so for decades. The Bakery not only brought foot traffic to the downtown, which benefited other shops and stores, but it was embedded and linked to its culture.
The Bakery made cakes for birthdays and family celebrations, the bread for local restaurants and businesses, even the communion wafers for church celebrations.
It was a gathering place where men and women chatted over a doughnut and coffee, and children looked forward to treats during downtown trips.
“The guy made the greatest rosettes in the world,” Johnson said. “People would come from all over to get them.”
People who know and have talked with Fristedt about his plans say it’s unclear what he plans to do. The destruction of The Bakery occurred at a time when he was nearing or at retirement.
Fristedt was unavailable for comment.
“He doesn’t know yet,” Cheri Krejci, owner of Krejci Ford, said about Fristedt’s intentions. “It all depends on what happens with the insurance. It’s basically what it boils down to.”
The fire erupted early Jan. 28, prompting fire departments from across the region to converge on the town, 39 miles southwest of Rochester. At first, firefighters entered the two-story brick structure, hoping to contain the fire and save the building. But they were forced to retreat as smoke engulfed the interior and the blaze spread to the walls.
The Sportstitch building suffered both water and smoke damage. A structural engineer inspected the building to determine whether the building can be salvaged, but a final verdict has not yet been publicly rendered.
Residents say The Bakery and Sportstitch shared a common characteristic: Both generously supported the community, its clubs and the local school district.
“They themselves supported the community,” Basness said. “It’s only right that the community turn around and give back to them.”