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First-ever Frosty Fest celebrates holidays, Small Business Saturday
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Lonsdale’s Main Street will be transformed into the ultimate holiday oasis on Saturday, Nov. 27.

The new event from the Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce combines the first-ever Frosty Fest with the annual tree lighting and Small Business Saturday. Frosty Fest will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. and features events for the whole family, from horse-drawn wagon rides with lights and music to experience the store front holiday lights, uniquely created luminaries by Lonsdale Elementary students highlighting downtown Lonsdale, and food and refreshments available from local businesses.

Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanna Gutzke-Kupp says many of the businesses will have specials. There will be opportunities available to get photos with Santa, Frosty the Snowman and Elsa from “Frozen” at Something For All. The evening ends with the tree-lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. in Lions Park with Mayor Tim Rud sharing a few words.

JoAnn Erickson, owner of Something For All, looks forward to another holiday-filled day. Last year was their first year having Santa available for photos. Erickson said she felt badly because some kids weren’t able to see Santa last year since many events were canceled, and thought it would be a fun idea to put together. The event was held outside, and staff made sure everyone socially distanced.

“It’s good to just get people out on Main Street and enjoy the day,” said Erickson of the new Chamber event.

The event is in conjunction with Small Business Saturday, and Erickson adds shopping local is huge for small businesses.

“We depend on the community here to stay in business,” said Erickson.

Along with the photo opportunities, Erickson says they are also an Adopt-a-Tree event, where nonprofit organizations adopt a tree for free and decorate it. From there, it’s up to members of the community to vote on their favorite tree. Sweet treats and hot beverages, provided by Something Tasty, will also be available for attendees.

Gutzke-Kupp said the Chamber is trying to add new events and ensure opportunities for residents and the community to see what’s available, and also provide a fun during the holiday season when there isn’t much else to do locally. Along with food specials, businesses will bring in other businesses to sell different products, like the Chamber, which will have make and take trees for $5 from Hillside Gift and Garden Center.

The Lonsdale first! loyalty program that started Nov. 1, runs through Dec. 31. The program is designed to stimulate local spending, where the community can shop at local participating businesses and get special cards stamped. With each completed card, an individual gets a chances to win up to $700 in Chamber Checks, announced at the annual dinner Jan. 25. Individuals can fill up more than one card, giving them multiple chances to win.

From what the Chamber was able to track, Gutzke-Kupp said, last year $550 was awarded to local community members.


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Supper Club converts to mental health, substance abuse treatment center
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Owners and brothers Joshua and Jonathan Buelke are opening a new location for the Inspire Services outpatient clinic. Currently located at 100 Oak Ave SW, Montgomery, the clinic is moving to a larger site at the former Lakeside Supper Club on Lake Pepin. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

One of the few local options for mental health care is about to be bigger.

Inspire Services, of Montgomery, the only ARMHS (Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services) provider in Le Sueur County, is moving to a new location with a greater capacity to treat clients. In about a week, Inspire will finish construction on a new mental health and substance abuse treatment center with more space for clients and staff than their current clinic.

Once construction is complete, the Lakeside Supper Club, north of Montgomery and west of Lonsdale, once a spot for casual dining on the shore of Lake Pepin, will become a center for psychological screenings and evaluations, individual and group therapy, substance abuse counseling and mental health services.

Owners and brothers Joshua and Jonathan Buelke drew up plans earlier this year to move the Inspire Services outpatient clinic at 100 Oak Ave. SW, Montgomery to the former supper club. The 7,600-square-foot property dwarfs the 1,200 square feet available in the current clinic and will allow Inspire Services to boost staffing and dramatically increase the number of clients served.

Inspire Services is converting this area of the former Lakeside Supper Club into a lounge area for staff. (Carson Huighes/southernmnn.com)

“Right now, our current space is really limited; there’s just not enough space,” said Joshua Buelke. “Our goal is to serve more individuals. We would like to make more dependency treatment available to people, but we’re kind of limited right now with where we’re at.”

Jonathan Buelke said the current location didn’t have enough space for a full group, but the new site has room for up to four therapy groups of different sizes if necessary. The site also offers more offices for staff, a staff lounge area and a training area. Inspire Services has a total of 61 staff, but around 10-12 would be in the building on a daily basis. The mental health care provider is also interested in adding more therapists and licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

Visitors entering the building will find an all new interior, very different from the supper club. Through the primary entrance, clients will walk into a reception area and a waiting room. What was once an open dining area is segmented by walls into hallways and rooms to provide private spaces for staff offices, work stations, a staff lounge outfitted with living room furnishings, and a gym that can be used by clients and staff. A dedicated space has also been reserved for a skills training area where clients affected by mental illness can build home skills like meal preparation and organization.

Most of the building has been completely redesigned, but the area reserved for a staff training room remains largely untouched from its days as Lakeside Supper Club. It showcases familiar carpeting, wood-paneled walls and chairs for patrons.

At first glance, a former restaurant building and an outpatient clinic may not seem to go hand-in-hand, but Johnathan Buelke said the site’s location by the lakeshore was ideal for creating a serene atmosphere.

Work on the new Inspire Services outpatient clinic added new walls and rooms to the interior of the former Lakeside Supper Club. Offices now sit on the right while rooms have been carved out for skills training, group therapy, a gym and other services. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

“When we noticed it was for sale, it really fits with what we’re trying to do as an organization and provide services to those with needs in regard to mental health,” said Johnathan Buelke. “[It’s] a relaxing environment for those seeking substance abuse treatment, and it’s a way for people to get outside of themselves and relax. It’s a beautiful setting.”

Outpatient clinics, like Inspire Services, are a critical service, but mental health providers are especially sparse in rural Minnesota. A 2017 report from the Center for Rural Policy and Development found almost all regions in Minnesota lacking in at least one critical mental health service. In rural parts of the state, the report found a ratio of 1,960 people per mental health provider, compared to 340 per provider in metropolitan areas.

“I think rural areas are under-served, and what I’ve observed is a lot of the places in rural areas, they’re not necessarily up to par with our other clinics,” said Joshua Buelke. “So our real goal is to have an outstanding place to provide access to what they need.”

While completion of construction is just around the corner, Inspire Services won’t be fully moved in immediately. The clinic will transition from its current location to the lakeside location in phases, as licenses and certifications are transferred.

“It’s a slow build,” said Jonathan Buelke. “We’re going to move here quickly, but getting it completely over is going to take some time.”


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Lonsdale liquor profits up, though pandemic's impact varies for local munis
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In the face of tumultuous 2020 transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, statewide profits for municipal liquor stores continued to grow.

On Oct. 28, the state auditor reported that municipal liquor net profits totaled $36 million in 2020, a near 30% jump ($8.2 million) in profits over 2019. The trend was linked to record off-sale profits, which soared by 65% over last year.

A number of local stores felt that effect, although it varied by location.

Lonsdale’s off-sale only municipal liquor store received a similar boon. Total sales leapt from $1.64 million in 2019 to $2.11 million in 2020, generating approximately $164,000 in net profits. The store raised nearly $100,000 more in net profits over the $64,630 produced in 2019.

Approximately $100,000 of the liquor store’s profits were spent on the construction of Trcka Park, which opened last year. But City Administrator Joel Erickson said these extra dollars came at the expense of local bars and restaurants.

“I know that every time the governor was going to go on and say this is closed or that’s closed, we experienced extreme increases in sales on those days,” said Erickson. “Definitely the draconian laws, as far as masks and businesses closing down, definitely had an impact on our sales.”

In the city of Le Center, the on and off-sale municipal liquor store achieved $1 million in sales, almost 20% more than the liquor store sold in 2019. When factoring in operating expenses, Le Center’s net profits stood at $47,000, below the $72,000 the liquor store raked in the prior year.

Residents in Le Center get alcohol at the municipal liquor store. (File photo/southernminn.com)

City Administrator Chris Collins said the boosted sales were because of, not in spite of, the pandemic. When Gov. Tim Walz implemented pandemic restrictions last year, bars and restaurants were ordered to close their doors to indoor and outdoor service.

“Everybody, I think, was up 10-20% in their sales, because of the pandemic, and nobody could go to bars and restaurants,” said Collins. “I think our sales this year in 2021 will be over 2020. We’re up now and our two biggest months are coming up in November and December.”

Northfield’s off-sale liquor didn’t experience a bump in sales like Le Center and Lonsdale. In 2020, sales totaled $2.8 million, slightly below the $2.9 million in 2019 sales. But the liquor store earned $276,000 in net profits, almost double the $143,000 in net profits in 2019.

But the upswing in off-sales is only half the story. Like any other business, on-sale revenues for municipal; liquor stores slumped last year. Statewide, on-sale liquor revenues declined 11%. A total 37 cities reported losses last year and 36 of those cities are located in greater Minnesota.

One of the cities that saw a net loss in profits was Cleveland. The municipal liquor store went from raising $32,000 in profits in 2019 to costing the city $17,000.

City Administrator Dan Evans placed the blame squarely on the pandemic and pandemic restrictions.

“When the governor forces your municipality to shut down, it’s really hard on sales,” said Evans. “Where we make our money is in on-sale operations. The off-sale did stay open during that time, but it wasn’t enough to offset our loss in revenue.”


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Commissioners get a peek at plans for new jail, but supply shortages loom
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Matthew Verdick is well aware of the supply shortages that are impacting the construction industry.

That’s why the Rice County parks and facilities director plans to ensure certain building materials that are currently hard to come and that will be used on the county’s new law enforcement center are ordered ASAP. Verdick, who’s helping oversee the project, set to break ground sometime next year, said Tuesday that steel and precast concrete panels, which will likely be used in the new facility, will get moved to the top of the list when it comes time to order supplies.

Currently, delivery of steel for construction is taking 50-60 weeks. Those sorts of timelines not only means delays in construction, but could very well mean added costs.

Verdick, on Tuesday, said the Board of Commissioners’ decision to hire a construction manager for the project will help accelerate the ordering process for certain materials that are now in short supply. Instead of going out for bid in a single package, a construction manager can have bids awarded piecemeal, he said.

It’ll be a few weeks before the board approves a final design for the law enforcement center, which will include a $49.2 million, 76-bed jail and Sheriff’s offices. A preliminary schematic and renderings of the exterior shown to the board Tuesday drew a few questions, most about costs and exterior materials.

Commissioner Jim Purfeerst wondered about maximizing jail space for the inmate population which can fluctuate over time. Not only do inmates need to be separated by gender, those with special needs and requiring more intense supervision also need to be segregated others.

The jail space is flexible, said Danielle Reid, with Klein McCarthy Architects, and can be easily adjustable according to the inmate demographics.

Discussions about preferences of the exterior finishes were more subjective, with architects showing the board a front facade covered with Kasota stone, clear glass and brick, and one with brick — possibly a dark, almost black brick — and precast concrete panels. In either instance, the remainder of the building will likely be made of precast panels.

But while using precast panels has traditionally been a cost-saving measure, Verdick says that more recently brick has been cheaper. For now, he said, the architects and county-appointed task force will consider different options and bring them to the board for a final decision early next year.

The law enforcement center, which was approved by the board in May, will replace the existing Sheriff’s offices and main jail downtown, along with the jail annex on Hwy. 60 just east of the interstate. The board hasn’t yet determined what will happen with those buildings once they’re vacated, though the annex could return to the federal government, which owned the building previously. An agreement to purchase the annex included a stipulation that it needed to be used for law enforcement purposes.

The new jail was approved after the state Department of Corrections threatened to limit the number of days inmates could be held in the main jail, which houses medium and maximum security inmates, because it didn’t have the required amount of space for recreation and programming. Those limits would put a significant squeeze on the Sheriff’s budget, former Sheriff Troy Dunn told the board, and increase the time deputies need to spend transporting inmates to and from jails in nearby counties as well as keep they tied up and away from the other obligations with the county.


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