Ready to step back

Sue Pap prepares a drink for a customer Thursday at Central Park Coffee. The 10-year-old business is up for sale in advance of a large renovation project this summer. (William Morris/People’s Press)

OWATONNA — Pedestrians in downtown Owatonna might have noticed recently that a longtime local business is for sale, but the owner wants customers to know there’s no cause for alarm.

“When you put a ‘for sale’ sign in your window, lots of people are very concerned. ‘Oh my gosh, someone is going out of business,’” said Sue Pap, owner of Central Park Coffee on Cedar Ave.

On the contrary, Pap says that business is fine for the coffee shop. The decision to put the business up for sale is not about any problems for the business, but rather an opportunity, she says.

The time is ripe because the shop is on the cusp of receiving a state loan to pay for renovations, Pap said. The Minnesota Small Cities grant program, funded through the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, offers $30,000 in deferred loans and could be matched by up to $30,000 more through several low-interest loans through the city’s Economic Development Authority, said Nancy Bokelmann, the city’s housing coordinator.

Pap said the shop applied for the grant to address needed renovations and updates to the building, which is 150 years old. But it occurred to her as the shop went through the protracted application process that this is a prime moment for a leadership change as well.

“I got the idea that maybe it would be a good time to put the business up for sale in case someone else wants to get into this business,” she said. “Then they could choose the paint colors, and if they want to do something different than Central Park Coffee, we’d already have to get a new sign, and it would be a perfect opportunity for someone, instead of a few years from now having to do it all again.”

And while Pap, who turns 60 soon, isn’t feeling a burning need to step away, she says this is the right moment to start laying plans.

“I have to eventually sell, and I thought this would be a good time,” she said. “I have a full-time job at Subway all the time, too [as co-owner of two stores in town], and I’m just feeling that eventually … I can’t be in all those places at once.”

She says Central Park Coffee would be a great entry point for people hoping to enter the restaurant and coffee shop industry.

“We are locally owned, we have a great menu that we have a lot of gluten-free items, so that brings in a certain niche of people,” she said. “We try to be as conscientious as possible about the food we use, try to use the most wholesome food we have. All our drinks are handmade. ... We’re in downtown Owatonna, best place to be.”

The renovations planned for this summer include a new brick facade, fresh exterior paint, new doors and windows, replacing the awning with a new flat sign, and repainting and remodeling inside as well.

The Small Cities grant is available because the shop is in an area in need of a facelift, Bokelmann said.

“The city has identified an area with blight conditions,” she said, describing the zone as the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of North Cedar Avenue and the 100 blocks of West Broadway and West Bridge Streets.

Complicating the grant is the need to ensure the renovated building remains faithful to the historic nature of the downtown, which was listed to the National Register of Historic Places in Feburary.

“We do go through a number of agencies to approve these projects,” Bokelmann said. “That’s why it’s almost a 30-month process to get these projects approved and completed.”

But that process is nearly done now, and Pap is seeking buyers interested in stepping in to shape the renovations with their own vision. In the meantime, she says it’s business as usual at Central Park Coffee.

“It could take years to sell it, too, so we’re not going anywhere too quickly,” Pap said.

William Morris is a reporter for the Owatonna People’s Press. He can be reached at 444-2372; follow him on Twitter @OPPWilliam

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