By Deb Hadachek Telescope News
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Seven years ago, Courtland won a Community Development Block Grant to replace sidewalks, gutters and curbs.
But once the new sidewalks were poured, business owners began to notice their storefronts could use attention.
In the ensuing seven years, more than 25 projects have been completed to private and public spaces in the community’s business district.
“It just snowballed,” says Luke Mahin, Republic County Economic Development director.
“That made us look at our town differently and helped us see ourselves through someone else’s eyes,” Mahin said. One of the projects that assessment pointed to was the need for better signage to, and within, the community.
Grants assisted with some of the public spaces, but Mahin notes that there has been little infusion of outside cash into the business updates.
“Eighty-five percent of the things that happened took no special money outside of some bank loans businesses might have received,” he said.
Paint, new windows, updates to facades and elbow grease comprises the bulk of the work. Several empty lots became green spaces with benches and plants.
Courtland citizens take ownership of even the public spaces, like parks, says Mahin. “Courtland is pretty cool in that a lot of people take on volunteer roles,” he says. “We have 10 to 12 people who will take on leadership roles in different projects.”
One of the larger business projects was the rebirth of a former appliance building into 301 Main, which includes the Courtland Co-Working Space. The Courtland Venture Group headed by Troy Newman and Jenny Russell renovated the building into offices for their own businesses–Ag Marketing Partners and JenRus Freelance–plus business space that other companies can rent by the month or by the hour.
Their first tenant– even before the space was completed–was Lindsay Runft, who previously operated Prairie Public Relations from the ranch she operates with her husband, Cody. She is also director of marketing and communications for the Livestock Publications Council, an international organization that serves the livestock communications industry.
“The LMA’s office was previously based in Ft. Worth, and it moved to Courtland when I took over as director,” she says.
“We have clients across the nation and internationally,” she says. “People are surprised to learn that we can operate our offices from a small town of a few hundred people.”
In all, Russell estimates 13 full or parttime people are employed at businesses the operate from 301 Main.
“We love to provide jobs for people who want to move back to Republic County,” she says.
Old and New
One of Courtland’s oldest businesses and one of the newest business owners operate across the street from each other.
C&W Farm Supply (C&W stands for Courtland and Washington) was established in 1959, says Tyler Clark, the third-generation of his family to work at the business. In 2015 C&W added an 80×100’ shop area, and in 2018 expanded the parts counter. Today, C&W, a New Holland franchise, is the only implement dealer in Republic County.
Across the street, new proprietors Chris and Adriana Coffman took over ownership of a longtime standard bar and grill, Pinky’s–just as the pandemic hit.
The Coffmans adapted by providing carry-out meals and ordered in staples that community residents found in short supply. They are part of a family that operated an Italian restaurant in Denver for more than 30 years, and Chris says the couple’s intent is to bring a more restaurant-style dining experience to the business. Many of their fresh ingredients come from the nearby Depot Market.
The Coffmans discovered Courtland when they rented an Air B&B operated by Caleb and Gayle Mahin on a cross-country trip. They made Courtland a regular vacation stop, until one day they decided they wanted to move to Courtland, Chris said.
“It’s one thing to be a productive member of society,” says Chris. “It’s another thing to be part of a community.”
Major improvements in Courtland since 2013 include:
City: Sidewalks, gutters and curbs, new street lights, Christmas lights, new planters, directional signage, new city fire department building, improvements at the Courtland City Park/Pool; recent paint and window upgrades to the city office.
Business upgrades: C&W Farm Supply, Pinky’s, N’Spire Salon and Spa, Salon 417, Post Office, AnTeaQues, Sederlin Dog Grooming/Sederlin & Dahl Construction, Swedish American State Bank, Soul Sister Ceramics, NexTech Building, 301 Main Offices, Jensen’s Tire/Cantina; Depot Market.
Major upcoming projects: Heartland Game Birds recently purchased the former Victor Hurtig Vet Clinic buildings with plans to make a hunting lodge and other space for their business. The company recently received a $70,000 loan from the Republic County Revolving Loan Fund to renovate the building. AnTeaQues recently moved a blighted building from the downtown area and will use the lot for future business space. Depot Market has expanded their outdoor patio space, and hopes to eventually expand the interior of the Depot entirely for retail space.
Slideshow from the Launch & Grow networking and business tours last night in Courtland showing downtown changes from 2008 – 2020. Most photos are from Google Street View. It highlights a lot of business improvements funded privately and some city improvements funded with grants, non-profit funds, donations, and city funds. If your business or community is interesting in hosting the next quarterly Launch & Grow let us know! It’s been hosted in Belleville (twice), Munden, Scandia, and Cuba so far.