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Chile RPCV David Fisk a key player in downtown Wabasha, Minn., rejuvenation
Chile RPCV David Fisk a key player in downtown Wabasha, Minn., rejuvenation
Developer a key player in downtown Wabasha, Minn., rejuvenation
Aug 16, 2004
by Mike Dougherty
Aug. 16--WABASHA, Minn. -- When the fire siren wails at noon, it's a signal for lunchtime.
The angled parking spots on Main Street in front of Yu Zheng's Fresh Wok are nearly full. The booths and tables inside the restaurant are filled with a mix of locals -- including eight Wabasha sheriff's deputies and Wabasha police officers -- and tourists who are in this Mississippi River town on a recent Monday in August.
A little over a year ago, the dining offerings were much more limited.
There was no line at the lunchtime buffet at Fresh Wok, because Fresh Wok wasn't open. Down the street, the now bustling Cozumel Authentic Mexican Grill was just an empty storefront. A new French cuisine restaurant, Nosh, just opened in late July this year.
David Fisk, a Wabasha property developer who has been one of the leaders in a group of Wabasha citizens who are working to bring vitality back to this town's historic brick downtown Main Street, likes to call the stretch "Eat Street."
"It's starting to look good," said Fisk, who owns several of the properties where the new eateries are located. "Ten years ago, you couldn't find a restaurant open on Sundays."
The new vigor that the town's Main Street and nearby businesses are experiencing seems to be the result of planning, luck, perseverance and talented individuals finding a spot. It's meant finding businesses, or businesses finding Wabasha.
Fisk had been searching for a bakery or deli at one of his storefronts, but hadn't found the right folks until New Year's Day of 2002. That's when Catherine Gallenberger and Carol Schlueter peered in through the windows of the building.
The Milwaukee women were visiting Schlueter's parents in Alma, Wis., across the river, when a neighbor of her parents alerted them to the bakery location in Wabasha.
The pair reached terms on the location, moved to Wabasha in February and opened for business in March 2002. Gallenberger and Schlueter live in an apartment upstairs from the bakery.
"The best part of the whole thing is moving to the small town," said Gallenberger. "People are incredibly friendly. Coming from a big city, one of our main concerns was moving to a small town. The small town feel is something we love."
The support of the bakery has been strong, she said, with a good mix of local individual customers, wholesale customers and strong tourist traffic.
Gallenberger says business has grown 20 percent each year and is on target to continue that pace in 2004.
The bakery is often a stop among tourists who are visiting the National Eagle Center and the city's kimono shop, Wind Whisper West, which is run by Richard Fuller.
Fuller, from Chicago, found Wabasha on his own. He's created his own tourist traffic as well as customer traffic. He has thousands of brightly colored, hand-painted silk kimonos in stock. Many are hand- embroidered as well. The shop is a favorite not only for shoppers, but it's a regular stop for tour groups and others who visit town.
A few doors down is Robert Beadle, a former Twin Cities resident whose business, Beadle's Tracks, sells model trains and supplies.
Nancy Falkum and her husband, Craig, didn't lease space from Fisk, but Fisk's comments to Nancy one day sparked the start of her dream of owning and operating a bookstore, Book Cliffs.
"He said, 'Nancy, how would you like to have a shelf of books in the bakery/deli we want to open up?'" Nancy Falkum said. "It was the spark I needed to find out if it's what I want to do."
Book Cliffs continues to grow and is a gathering spot for locals and visitors.
Fisk's encouragement has inspired others also.
The owners of Nosh say that Fisk combines the ideas of salesman and the savvy of a businessman.
"He loves this town and this area, and he's very persuasive," said Tiffany Byrd, Nosh's business manager. She runs the restaurant with her fiance, Greg Jaworski, the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. "I think his mind is constantly going, and he's talking with people and interested in ideas. He's just so busy."
Fisk tried retirement, but it didn't sit well with him.
Retirement is why he moved back to Wabasha after living elsewhere for 30 years, but that lasted only three or four weeks.
"I couldn't sit still. I'll probably never retire," Fisk said.
The end of his short-lived retirement in 1991 led to the purchase of Slippery's, the waterfront bar and grill in Wabasha.
It had closed temporarily. Fisk took it over, and it benefited from the free publicity of its mention in "Grumpy Old Men," the Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon movie based in Minnesota.
He also developed 14 condominiums next door along the river, while he helped guide Slippery's into the black and to an eventual sale to a couple who had leased the property from Fisk.
Fisk's focus turned back downriver toward the downtown. He purchased several buildings and began the process of rehabilitating them. He's worked with Dewey and Sandy Lexvold, who own Eagles on the River Bed and Breakfast in Rochester, to market the lofts above his and others, in downtown storefronts.
More are coming on line this fall and cater to visitors who are staying for several days and would like to stay in a place similar to a condo.
The allure is the view out the back door of many of the suites.
"The goal for everything we're doing is to attract the tourist dollar and keep it here beyond the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. visit," Fisk said. "If they stay overnight, there are more dollars that get spread around this community."
The 2002 Spring/Summer Minnesota Office of Tourism Customer Survey results appear to support Fisk's idea.
The average expenditures for a travel party on a Minnesota trip in the spring and summer in 2002 were the following: transportation, $112; lodging, $360; food and beverages, $211; entertainment/ recreation, $159; and gifts, souvenirs, miscellaneous purchases, $107.
Fisk's current project is to bring a health and beauty spa into the town's old clinic building. It's another effort to capture the interest of overnight visitors.
Fisk's eye for development also looks at how it can complement the local community. That's where the new restaurants have fit in, as well as Flour Mill Bakery, which has been in town about two years.
The National Eagle Center, one of the city's new star attractions with its eagles and river views, is next door to the bakery, so the traffic flows nicely back and forth. A Hardware Hank store is just down the street.
Around the corner is a kimono shop that attracts buyers and visitors -- and gives Wabasha bragging rights as the only retail kimono shop in the United States. Many Wabasha residents start their response to the kimono with "Can you believe we've got the only retail kimono shop in the United States right here in little old Wabasha?"
But "little old Wabasha" is the sort of portrayal that town boosters would like to maintain while bolstering their businesses and enticing more tourists.
"We want to grow, but we don't want to turn this into something like the Wisconsin Dells," said Peter Klas, Wabasha's mayor. Klas defeated Fisk when both ran for the job in 2002.
He and Fisk had a spirited competition, but now say they mostly agree with each other's views on the direction of Wabasha. Klas won the race with 646 votes, compared to Fisk's 582 and a third candidate's 41.
Not all of Fisk's efforts have been embraced. Some in Wabasha have been suspicious of him.
Fisk notes that folks wondered about his financial backing when he first moved back to Wabasha after spending nearly 30 years working in poor Latin American countries, doing Peace Corps work and redevelopment consulting for the government and as a private consultant.
Others worry about his arrangements with the businesses who lease space, and whether they get themselves too far into debt.
Fisk discounts those concerns.
"There are some where I have to do a lot of convincing to get the people to consider the plan, but there are many others where they have to convince me that their plan will work," Fisk said. "There have been plans where I just can't see it working. And there have been a few where I was skeptical for a long time, but they eventually made a convincing proposal."
He also includes the option to buy in many of his building leases, as a way to eventually hand off full control of the business that most owners want but can't attain at the start of their operations.
"I'm 63 and I'm not going to be here forever," said Fisk, whose wife, Marta, who teaches piano lessons in Wabasha and Rochester. "I'd like to help these folks get on their feet and be able to buy their place so they can be in control."
The young people who've taken over some of the businesses in town will also help keep Wabasha going in the future, Fisk says.
"Our schools aren't seeing as many children, and that spells trouble for them," he said. "If we can get young people here in businesses that thrive, they'll start their families here and our schools will remain strong."
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.
|By Leonie V James (user-204-16-10-113.thecable.net - 18.104.22.168) on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - 12:07 pm: Edit Post|
Please someone put me in touch with David Fisk. My name is Leonie James who worked with him in St Kitts West Indies.
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org