Despite experiencing some of his best business in years, Walter Hoehn is selling his business.
Walt’s Hook Line and Sinker, along Ottawa Road, just outside of St. Peter, is up for sale.
But while the COVID-19 virus pandemic stay at home order has been going on, more people are going out fishing, so that has brought in more business to Walt’s. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the sale of fishing licenses is up 36 percent over 2019.
It also helped that Hoehn has been offering a going out of business 10 percent discount on tackle in early May when he put the place up for sale.
Hoehn said his sales are up 40 percent. He only had two rods and two reels left for sale in June, and he had to order more tackle, even though he had planned to sell as much as possible before selling the place.
“Tackle has been flying out the door,” Hoehn said. “With only being able to go fishing, everybody wants to get out of the house, so license sales have been way up. People that haven’t gone fishing in years are going fishing again, so they’re picking up stuff that they needed before.”
He added, “Everything is getting jammed up all the way back to the suppliers. They can’t keep up with our orders. I ordered some line, and it took 10 days to get here. Normally it’s a two-day turnaround. The warehouse is that far behind because there are so many orders. We’re all in the same boat.”
Normally, Hoehn said he gets low on supplies in the end of July. But this year it’s been low in the first week of June.
“And it isn’t just one item,” Hoehn said. “It’s a little bit of everything.”
Live bait sales of minnows, angle worms, night crawlers and wax worms have been very good, too, Hoehn said: “Wax worms have been going out because families are taking the kids out fishing. It’s easy for them to use. Minnow sales have been tremendous. We pretty much have been able to get everything we wanted as long as you don’t over order on suckers.”
Hoehn, who turns 70 this year, is moving to Webster, South Dakota, where he already has purchased a home. He likes the area because he has good fishing, something that he hasn’t had much time to do in the last 13 years running the bait and tackle shop.
He has fished the lakes near Webster, South Dakota, for about a dozen years.
That doesn’t mean Hoehn won’t miss the customers.
After working in factories for 20 years at Onan in St. Peter and five years at Door Engineering in Kasota, Hoehn welcomed the chance to be around more happy people.
“The attitude here is totally different,” Hoehn said. “Most of them are happy. They’re going fishing. They’re not going to work,so they have a really good attitude. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.
Thirteen hours a day here seem like five. Eight hours at the factory seemed like 15.
Hoehn owned the property, constructed the log cabin bait shop and built an addition where he now lives.
While he will miss the people, Hoehn said he will welcome the chance to go fishing whenever he wants. He has been working virtually every day of the year from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a few vacations and parts of days off.
“I’ll shut down early on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Easter,” said Hoehn, who works portions of all the holidays. “You don’t get holidays and weekends off here, because that’s when everybody goes fishing.”
His son, Justin who just graduated from South Central Tech in HVAC and boilers and is looking for a job, and the retired Chuck Bomboy, of Kasota, fill in and give him a break sometimes for vacations and to pick up supplies.
Hoehn took his first vacation in about a year (a whole three days) this June. He missed spring, fall and winter fishing plans.
“Every time that I was able to sneak out and go fishing, something would come up conflicting,” Hoehn said. “So I decided that I needed to go fishing full-time.”
The city of St. Peter Outdoor Pool will open this summer at limited capacity.
After being introduced to an opening plan at the June 15 council meeting by the Recreation and Leisure Services Director, the council officially voted 5-2 June 22 against a resolution to close the pool. Councilors Brad DeVos and Emily Bruflat voted for closing. The vote means that city staff has the authority to go forward with opening this season.
Recreation and Leisure Services Director Joey Schugel said ideally staff will be able to open in nine to 14 days, after staff can be properly trained, so a post-Fourth of July opening is likely.
It wasn’t unanimous, but the council ultimately decided that staff had a plan to control capacity at the pool, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the benefits of a public pool to kids and families in the community were important enough to warrant potential risk. Councilor Keri Johnson, who expressed some concerns about the opening, ultimately decided that the plan from staff was solid.
“I feel better about the pool opening after hearing (Schugel’s) presentation,” Johnson said. “I know that, after talking with (staff), they take this pandemic very seriously, take the responsibility very seriously. I think one of the biggest impacts in mitigating risk will be the reservation system.”
She added, “I’ve heard a lot from both sides, and overwhelmingly it seemed to be ‘Open it’ and they brought up swim lessons and equity and a lot of valid arguments.”
Councilor Shanon Nowell agreed: “I think a lot of planning has gone into this. I feel quite persuaded that staff has a plan. My biggest concern was lack of compliance, and I’ve been assured that pool staff has a lot of experience and knows how to discipline, for lack of a better word, people who are not compliant.”
Councilors DeVos and Bruflat felt that opening the pool for a few months, simply wasn’t worth the risk, as COVID-19 cases are again surging in some states that reopened relatively quickly.
“I’ve heard from quite a few number of residents regarding the pool, and I will say it’s very spit on whether or not to open the pool,” Bruflat said. “I am not in favor of opening right now; I think it’s prudent to wait. I think we need a few weeks of data from other municipalities. Maybe we can reexamine this in a few weeks, once there is more data out there.”
DeVos said, “I’ll just say that for the month and a half, or two months, of service, this is a big investment for what we’re actually getting from the pool opening. I think it would be best to defer until next year. I think, for this year, what we’re facing, it’s not our best allocation of resources.”
The two, though, were outvoted, and staff will proceed with its opening plan, although Schugel said the situation will continue to be monitored, and staff is prepared to make changes quickly if needed.
The first and most significant rule change for 2020, when the pool opens, is a restricted capacity. The goal is to have around 33% of the regular capacity at the pool grounds, although the specific numbers are actually even lower than that.
The pool can be divided into two areas: the lap pool/diving area and the wading pool.
The wading pool, a good place for families with young children, normally has a capacity of 65 total individuals, but that includes the deck and waiting areas. Since the actual pool area would not normally fit 65 individuals, the Recreation and Leisure Services team worked backward, Schugel said, and came up with a 10-person limit. That could increase slightly, if family members are standing next to each other. There would be one lifeguard and one staff member screening at the gate and monitoring distancing.
The lap pool and diving area, meanwhile, has a normal capacity of 447 total individuals. The recreation team is recommending a maximum of 125 individuals for 2020. That includes a maximum of 30 on the pool deck with 6 feet social distancing, except for members of the same household. There will be six lifeguards, including one head guard, along with two staff members enforcing protocols on the deck.
“We’re going to work really hard to make sure guidelines are enforceable and make sure staff is comfortable in what it’s being asked to do,” Schugel said. “We’re also going to rely on the community to help us on that. Some of the proposed restrictions are that kids 12 and under need to be with an adult. We’re going to ask adults to help with that, to police themselves, and keep the pool open for the community.”
The new rules don’t stop there.
Under the current plan, reservations will be required. While limited swimming lessons will still be available, the usual adult programming will likely be axed.
Masks/face coverings will be recommended, but not required, on the pool deck. Concessions will be limited to pre-packaged items, such as ice cream bars and bags of chips. Locker rooms will have a capacity of 10 patrons for women and seven for men. All patrons will be screened for potential illness at the gate, and all patrons will be required to shower before entering the pool deck. Patrons will also be asked to come dressed in their swim suits and will not be allowed into locker rooms upon leaving (so bring a towel).
The pool also will not provide any deck chairs and it will not loan out life jackets, goggles or equipment of any kind. The landline phone will be for staff use only. There will be no floaties, no designated family swim. Basketball and Wibit inflatable pool items will not be in use this summer.
Hand sanitizing stations and social distance signage will encourage residents to take action in preventing the spread of germs. Staff will regularly disinfect, including a one-hour period, between open swim and swim lessons, used for disinfecting the facility top to bottom.
While there are many ways to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, the easiest option for the city certainly would be to simply keep the pool closed. The facility generally operates at a small loss, anyway, and any potential liability for spreading the virus would be wiped out, if the pool remained closed.
But Schugel, his staff and the majority of the councilors agreed that it’s an important enough community amenity to find a way to get open.
“Our pool is a huge part of what summer is in St. Peter,” Schugel said. “It’s been around for a long time, and we want it to be around for a long time to come. We want people to have an enjoyable and affordable experience to keep cool during the hot summer days.”
The cost of opening, Schugel said, wouldn’t be much different to a normal summer.
“We’re kind of looking at it like a standard budgeting year for the pool,” he said. “We know there would be a slight increase in expenses with some of the safety measures, but there will also be cost savings with not being open during June. The pool is not a moneymaker, so we operate at a loss. It’s about providing an opportunity for St. Peter residents.”
Whether people might have to be turned away, due to the facility reaching its lowered capacity, Schugel said it was certainly possible, but he doesn’t anticipate significant issues.
“So much depends on weather and things like that,” he explained. “But I think when we looked at the capacity requirements, I think we looked at limits that are very manageable, but also would allow for the public to use the pool. I don’t see a lot of people turned away, and we’re going to work on educating the public on how things are different this summer.”
A Le Sueur man acknowledged to police investigators that he left the St. Peter bowling alley he co-owned while a fire he started burned inside, according to charges filed in Nicollet County District Court.
Dwight Lee Selders, 47, was charged with first- and second-degree arson, both felonies. The charges are related to the Feb. 16 morning fire in south St. Peter that burned down KingPins bowling alley. One minor injury to an emergency responder was reported from the fire. There was no damage to adjacent buildings, but the bowling alley was listed a total loss by the St. Peter Fire Department.
According to the complaint, the first officer on scene reported seeing the south half of the building engulfed in flames. That officer noticed the fire moving north at a “very rapid pace.” The St. Peter fire chief reported the fire was “very large, blowing out fire approximately 30 feet into the air.” The chief reported the roof collapsed from the south and the entire roof subsequently collapsed in just 30 minutes.
According to the complaint, surveillance video shows Selders, who co-owned the business, walking out and locking up the night of Feb. 15. The next morning, Feb. 16, at approximately 7:24 a.m., according to the complaint, Selders was reportedly seen on surveillance video unlocking and entering the facility. He was reportedly the only person seen exiting or entrancing the building between those periods.
Upon entering the building Feb. 16 morning, Selders allegedly walked to an area behind the pin setting machines, shown on surveillance video. The video reportedly then showed a light, later identified as fire, coming from behind the pin-setting machines. Selders then allegedly walked away from the pin-setting area and was seen on the surveillance video looking back “toward the pin-setting machines area as fire continues to build …” He left the building at 7:30 a.m., according to the complaint.
When Selders and the other KingPins co-owner spoke with investigators on the morning of the fire, Selders allegedly did not tell them that he had been to the facility earlier that morning, and he “initially reported learning of the fire from text messages from friends …”
Interviewed later Feb. 27, Selders allegedly initially indicated he had no knowledge of the fire when he left KingPings on the morning of Feb. 16. When questioned further, he reportedly told investigators the fire must have been caused by a trouble light he used. He then said he used a small propane torch in an attempt to do work on the machine, according to the complaint.
As investigators continued to question him, Selders reportedly indicated that he was trying to fix the machine using the torch and “it got out of hand.” He reportedly said that a rag caught on fire, and he threw it in the orange plastic bucket. He also reported that he used a fluid to loosen the nut prior to using the torch.
The complaint continued, “Defendant described the fire as ‘not very big’ when he left the back of the building. Defendant admitted he ‘saw a glow’ when he looked back at the pin-setter area as he walked away. Defendant acknowledged there were fire extinguishers located on each end of the galley behind the pin setters and he walked past one when he left the area. Defendant admitted he knew something was on fire when he left the building.”
Selders then reportedly admitted that he knew about the fire when he left KingPins, and he confirmed there was no one else in the building with him.
An investigator later determined, according to the complaint, that the fire origin was behind one of the pin-setting machines, and the first material ignited was vapors from an ignitable liquid, and that an open fire instrument was used. The investigator determined the cause to be incendiary material.
According to the complaint and to property records, Selders and Jessica Ann Tonsfeldt purchased the property in 2014. Tonsfeldt has not been charged in relation to the fire.
The two had been in a relationship for 12 years prior to purchasing the business. According to the complaint, they had hoped to quit their other jobs upon purchasing the alley, but neither party was able to do so, as the business was only “breaking even” and profits were just enough to cover bills and pay employees.
The original loan taken out in 2014 was for $300,000, signed by both co-owners, according to the complaint. Selders reportedly took out subsequent loans, and the total outstanding debt on KingPins was about $418,000. The co-owners had an insurance policy on the business.
Tonsfeldt reportedly ended the relationship in October 2019, and in early February 2020, Selders moved out of Tonsfeldt’s home.
Selders reportedly said that the two considered selling the business in January 2020, but the probability of doing so was low, as several alleys were up for sale in the area.
Four days before the fire, on Feb. 12, according to the complaint, Tonsfeldt resigned her position. She said that Selders then texted her repeatedly. Through a search warrant, investigators reportedly found a text from Selders to Tonsfeldt on Feb. 12, saying she cannot quit and that is “not how it works, sorry.” Investigators reportedly found texts from Selders to multiple different people between Oct. 22, 2019 and Feb. 15, indicating his frustrations with the business.
According to property records, the former KingPins building was first constructed in 1962 and had undergone a number of renovations since. It had served as a bowling alley for nearly 60 years, previously named Bowlero Lanes and Sioux Trail Lanes.
Selders had a lifetime connection to the alley. He started bowling there at age 5.
“There’s not any other bowling alley I’d like to own,” he said to the St. Peter Herald in 2014.