Things have really begun to change at the Gays Mills Mercantile Center in the last few months.
The biggest change is usage—there’s been much more use of the building in the last six months. Rental of space is at an all-time high in the 14,000-square-foot mini mall built off Highway 131 north of Main Street in Gays Mills.
Some of the original tenants remain in the Mercantile Center, which opened officially four years ago. All three, Lana’s Family Haircare, Robert E’s Barbershop and the Independent-Scout newspaper were established businesses that moved from Main Street to the mall as part of the floodplain relocation effort.
Both the beauty shop and the barbershop signed lease extensions with the village recently, according to Gays Mills Village Clerk Dawn McCann. The Independent-Scout also intends to extend their lease when it expires.
Several businesses that used to be located in the Mercantile Center have since stopped operating there. That list includes Skin Envy, a spray tan salon; Studio Nouveau, a photography business; Rural Mutual Insurance; and the Gays Mills Arts Collective, a cooperative art gallery.
Two dance studios also no longer operate in the Mercantile Center, but one operates in Prairie du Chien and Viroqua. This month the Crawford County Fair will close a small office it was maintaining.
Although businesses have closed and moved away, renewed interest in the mall has filled more space than has ever been filled at one time previously.
The resurgence in interest started with a real estate company owned by Josh Dudgeon, which moved into the former Skin Envy space near the main doors in January of 2015. More recently, Dudgeon has told the village he wants to rent the adjoining former photo studio/insurance company space. That space is a little more than twice as large as the current 384-square-foot space he is currently renting.
Last spring, entrepreneur Jessie Brandt moved her mail-order business, EcoFriendlyMamaUsa.com, into one of the former dance studio spaces. She shares part of the space with Todd Osman, building planner and designer. Osman likes the internet connectivity and office space, while Brandt also enjoys the storage and package-assembly space for her assortment of eco-friendly baby/family quarterly buying club products.
This past fall, three other tenants have taken up residence in the Mercantile Center. It started with the Gays Mills Area Food Pantry, which found itself in need of a new home when the building in which it was housed was sold. The sale of that building on School Street also left the Appleland Community Closet, a low-cost charitable clothes resale shop, without a home. Like the food pantry, the community closet sought a space in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center. Both charitable endeavors are currently renting spaces in the mini-mall from the village. The Gays Mills Area Food Pantry rents a 786-square-foot space and the Appleland Community Closet rents a 596-square-foot-space.
The newest tenant moved in November 1. The business, Transportation Insurance Professionals, offers specialized insurance for commercial transportation businesses, like limos, motor coaches, taxis, medical transportation services, truckers and party buses.
The insurance company was supposed to be run from a home-based office on a farm in Seneca. However, when internet connectivity proved inadequate, a search for that connectivity led the owners to the Gays Mills Mercantile Center. The company now occupies the other former dance studio, a 1,288-square foot space on the southwest corner of the mini-mall, formerly occupied by 5-6-7-8 DANCE.
In addition to the spaces currently rented, a Westby dentist has spoken for another space intended originally to be a laundromat in the northeast corner of the mini-mall. The dentist has plans to remodel the 914-square-foot space into a satellite office of his Westby practice for patients who live in the area.
While large parts of the Gays Mils Mercantile Center are now rented or “spoken for,” two of the largest spaces remain unrented. They include the 1,932-square-foot space, which formerly housed the art collective in the southeast corner of the building and the 1,956-square-foot space on the northwest corner of the building that was going to house the “bistro” in the original plans.
Interestingly enough, the former art gallery space was rented recently to a family for a kids’ birthday party, when the village’s other two spaces were rented for a funeral and another activity. The family had originally rented the Community Room at the Community Commerce Center. However, they gave it up to the funeral wake and the village housed them in the art gallery space. The village’s other major event space the former Gays Mills Community Building, known as 212 Main Street, was also rented.
The birthday party went off without a hitch and the daily rent for the almost 2,000-square-foot space in the Mercantile Center was only $37 considerably less than the Community Room would have been.
Many people do not realize that the village has rates for daily, weekly and monthly rentals of the space in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center, as well as rates for long-term multi-year leases.
In addition to the two large spaces still available, there are two smaller spaces also empty at the moment. The former county fair office located across the hall from the Independent-Scout, will be available on January 1. The 394-square-foot space will rent for less than $150 per month.
Another smaller space is a 596-foot portion of the room being rented by the Community Closet. This half of the room could have a wall installed, if anyone showed interest in the space, according to village officials. Rent would be slightly more than $200 per month.
Another major selling point for tenants in the building is the relatively low costs for heating, cooling and electricity to date. With efficient delivery systems and well-insulated spaces, costs are contained.
If the current spaces being rented remain rented and the two spaces that are spoken for are rented, the village will have two-thirds of the Gays Mils Mercantile Center occupied. That will be, by far, the largest amount of space rented in the history of the four-year-old mini mall.
Tenants and village officials both seem excited at the possibilities going forward. None are probably more excited than Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz.
“It’s really starting to pay for itself now,” Heisz said. “Before the village was paying for all the (empty) rooms.”
Heisz can see more of the space renting as people see what’s happening in the building. He is quick to point out that the larger rooms can be split and reconfigured, if there is interest in smaller spaces. The village president thinks the former county fair office would present a young person with a new business a perfect starting point, Heisz noted.
The internet connectivity is excellent in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center, which has fiber optic service providing good speed and bandwidth through Richland Grant Telephone Co-operative. It’s what brought the insurance company to rent space there.
Jay McCloskey and his family intended to run the specialized insurance company from their farmhouse. A service provider, other than RGTC, assured them that they would have adequate internet speed, but that was nowhere near true, according to McCloskey. This led them to the Mercantile Center and they couldn’t be happier with the choice.
While the company’s main office remains in the Twin City suburb of Coon Rapids, the family’s plan is to eventually move the main office to Gays Mills in five or six years. They currently have a five-year lease on their space in the Mercantile Center. They would ultimately like to turn the Twin City office into the satellite office.
How good is the internet connection in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center?
“I have faster internet here than I have in the office in Coon Rapids,” McCloskey said.
One thing that’s different for the initial tenants is the amount of activity in the space now.
“It’s great seeing the number of cars there,” Heisz said of the Mercantile Center parking lot. “Sometimes, the parking lot is full.
“I’m feeling a lot better about the place,” the village president said of the current situation. “I’m seeing us getting ahead.’
Independent-Scout ad manager Bonnie Olson has noticed the difference, too.
“For awhile, there would only be three cars out there on Mondays,” she said. “Our three cars parked in front of the main door. Now, you go out there and there are a dozen cars, sometimes a lot more than that. It really feels different.”
Stacy Schmidt and Christina Anderson work in the real estate business, located in the Mercantile Center. After some problems with the heat last winter when they moved in January, they’ve enjoyed the year in the building.
“I like the modern building,” Schmidt said. “It’s a newer nice building. Sometimes, you might see us working in the dark, but that’s just because the motion sensors turned off the lights.”
Both girls laugh at the thought of the motion sensors. The motion sensors and the timers for the lights amuse many in the building. Although there have been some adjustments made, they still seem to turn off more than is necessary.
The real estate office staff also is in an unusual situation located next to the main doors into the mall hallway.
“It’s interesting,” Anderson explained. “Local people seem to think we are the office of mercantile center, so they stop and ask us questions, like where is the Crawford County Independent?’”