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On the Dull Side: Changes in Sauk Centre

One of three (*yawn*) exciting sections

Sauk Centre Changes - 2004

After 24 years as a postal carrier in town, Rich Tabatt retired.

Retrostyling on Sinclair Lewis Avenue moved along. Many of the new, old-fashioned, street lights were put up in early January. By Friday night, January 9th, new lights were shining near downtown. By the middle of May, both rows of Sinclair Lewis Avenue's new orange-yellow "acorn" streetlights were installed and in use.

The First Lutheran Church at Sinclair Lewis and Elm, had a "Future Expansion" sign up in the early months of the year, with a picture of what the new and improved church will look like. In June the church was missing the south part of the building.

The Sauk Centre Post Office got a new computer system on Tuesday, January 27. In March, they were still getting used to using it.

A letter went to Sauk Centre residents in late February, from the owner of "Oak Ridge Campus," up on the north side. This place, where the old "Home School" was, may become an "adult non-violent offender facility."

By early March, the St. Michael's addition had steel work up on the second floor.

In early April, Sun Daze Airbrush Tanning opened in the storefront formerly occupied by B + K Hobbies. April 1, Blue Star Realty opened its doors on Main Street, where a barber shop used to be, south of Main Street Theatre (the barber shop closed years ago, when the Pamida store roof collapsed).

"Main Street Cafe" on the corner of Sinclair Lewis Avenue and Main, became the "Hometown Cafe."

Also in early April, The Palmer House Hotel opened the first Internet Cafe in Sauk Centre.

Mike Pfeffer, of Pfeffer's Country Market, died on Wednesday April 21st.

People moved into the new City Hall on April 27. On April 28, the city council met for the first time in their new chamber. At some point, some of the contents of the old City Hall cornerstone were moved from the city hall built in 1951 to the current one.

In November a Sauk Centre tradition ended. Instead of voting at the Armory, we voted at the new City Hall.

In early May, Jitters Java and Main Street Coffee Company had tables set up outside. I believe that these are the first two outdoor cafes in Sauk Centre.

Up the road, in Osakis, a downtown landmark disappeared. Demolition work on the old Empress Theatre on Central Avenue in Osakis began May 4. The big marquee in front, with its Art Deco lettering, hit the pavement at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon, May 6. By May 16, there was just a vacant lot next to A.J.'s Restaurant, on the west side of Central Avenue.

Also in May, Sauk Centre City Administrator Coralee Fox resigned. She's been city administrator since 2000.

There's construction going on in several places. Centre Auto had the site of an old fast-food place on south Main, south of the Subway on Cass and Main, cleared and leveled in June, with part of the building in place by mid-July. An "Assisted Living Facility" is being built on the south side, near the Interpretive Center. On the next lot west of the "Assisted Living Facility," another sign proclaims that the River of Life Church will be next door. Besides that, there is a major addition to St. Michael's Hospital, a major expansion of the First Lutheran Church, a new office building at 2nd and Main, south of Sinclair Lewis Avenue, and renovation on the old city hall. I understand the old city hall will be made into apartments. People started building on lots in the "LakeRidge Community" development between the old correctional facility and Sauk Lake. Even Carefree Travel, in a refurbished building east of the Armory, did a full-building makeover.

In June, the lot south of the Subway on Cass and Main was cleared and was being leveled. That was the site of an old A-frame building that used to be a fast-food place. Construction on the lot began about a week later, on the new Centre Auto location.

Fishing on or near the Sauk River Dam in Sauk Centre isn't allowed any more, as of June of 2004. The city government was worried about getting sued: not an unreasonable concern, these days. So, now we've got "No Trespassing" signs up on both sides of the dam, and locked gates going up along the top of the dam.

Sauk Centre's Main Street Theatre became a six-screen movie theater in July.

An unusual number of elms had to be removed this summer. One of the diseased trees was in my family's yard. I understand that dry conditions over the last several years made elms around here more likely to get Dutch elm disease.

Traffic sensors were embedded in the westbound lane of 12th on the east side of Main in July. This was part of a road project that added a central turn lane on 12th, from Main to Ash Street. The new lane is just painted markings on the new pavement: no curbs. Still, it should make driving easier there. The lane markings started going on in late August.

Sinclair Lewis Avenue was finally paved all the way through town, with new old-fashioned street lights.

There's been a Jerry's Northstar on west Sinclair Lewis for 31 years. As of October 1, it's just "Northstar." Dale and Joan Donnay are the new owners. They're keeping the same full service: Joan told me that someone will still fill your tank and clean the windows.

Sauk Centre Changes - 2003

A few years ago, I started hearing Spanish spoken when I went out for groceries. For some time now, Coborn's has had about 10 feet of shelving devoted to products such as tamarindo, ajonjoli, and abuelita. What really caught my eye were the devotional candles there: including one featuring St. Jude Tadeo (St. Jude Thaddeus, I usually call him). I bought the candle, but not the food: with my roots (tubers?) in Norway and Ireland, I'm more a lefse and stew guy.

Early in the year, the VFW started sharing downtown facilities with the American Legion. That move freed up some commercial space on west Sinclair Lewis Avenue.

Sauk Centre's Boy Scout Troop 25 planted trees, on Lake Wobegon Trail. This is the third spring they've been at it. So far they've planted over fifty. They and their parents have been watering the trees weekly. Besides making the trail nicer to look at and providing a windbreak, the trees make a small habitat for wildlife.

The downtown traffic lights got upgraded in April. Earlier, they would flash red on Sinclair Lewis Avenue (east-west), amber on The Original Main Street from 11 at night to 6 in the morning. Now, they'll be going through their cycle 24 hours a day.

Sinclair Lewis Avenue, from Main Street westward, was torn up for widening and upgrading, starting in August. Road work started on the south side, starting at McDonalds and going east, about the same time. The work was being wrapped up around the end of November.

Work began on Sauk Centre's new city hall, on the west side of downtown. By September, the foundations were in and walls were up. The old city hall dates from the 1950's, when energy was cheap and wheelchair ramps unheard of in public architecture. The price tag of the new one may be around $2.5 million: which I figure works out to about $625 a head for us.

Starting in May, the Ben Franklin store moved all of its operations into the south half of the double-size storefront, and converted the north half into three small stores and a corridor running from Main Street to the parking area (and the new city hall beyond). By October, Gold 'n. More was in the new location on Main Street, with the Schutz Taekwando Academy in the middle space. An outfit called Quilt Bubbles expects to open in the third space in November.

A new sign was painted in the window of the storefront B + K Hobbies occupied on Main: the place will be called Harbor Light Candles and Gifts. That small storefront was a jewelry store when I moved into town, about seventeen years ago. The Treonne's clothing store nearby put up "Going Out of Business" signs in May and was gone in October. On November 8, the first week of deer season, Harbor Light candles and gifts opened where Treonne's had been, a little south of the "B + K Hobbies" storefront.

A little north, on the same downtown block on Main Street, the pizza place ("all star PIZZA") closed. The location is now home to a Chinese restaurant. The Grand Buffet Chinese Restaurant (351-1688) opened in July.

The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus, complete with big top and elephants, came to town in July: the first time this circus had come to Sauk Centre.

A road was finished along the south side of Sauk Lake on the north side of town, connecting the country club area with Highway 71. The area with the new road is called Oak Ridge, and some expensive homes started going up along the lake in the fall.

The Main Street Theatre hosted the Lake Wobegon Film Festival in October.

The old VFW building went through massive renovation, and is now home to Team Access Mortgage, Sauk Valley Veterinary Service, and Jimmy's Pizza. They moved in around Labor Day.

A mostly-vacant building which had been the home of Land Gas & Tire Shop downtown was torn down on November 5. The Land shop is now on the north side, sharing space with Flowers Auto on the north side.

Sauk Centre high school students put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof November 6, 7, and 8. The two nights I went, the 900+ seat auditorium was nearly full when I went, and there were only 20 empty seats on Friday the 7th, I'm told.

Work continued on the restaurant in the old Cenex building downtown. "Jitters Java Cafe" opened there on November 23. Main Street Coffee Company and Original Main Street Antiques moved from the corner of Main Street and Sinclair Lewis Avenue to just south of 6th and Main about the same time.

Late in the year, several houses near St. Michael's Hospital were torn down, making room for a parking lot. Work began on the hospital addition.

The Sauk Centre Herald began printing a color banner in the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season, when there was a color ad on the back page. The Sauk Herald expects to print their new banner about once a month now.

Sauk Centre Changes - 2002

The Cenex Co-Op in town went out of business a while ago. The building out by the Interstate that they had moved to was torn down in June. At that point, word was that the old Cenex building, downtown, would be converted into a restaurant of some sort. By October, excavation had opened up space under/behind the site of the building out by the Interstate.

New, upscale, houses continue to be built this summer in the new part of town, east of the river.

A new, very small, hobby shop opened downtown on Main Street: B & K Hobbies. By mid-November, the storefront was empty again.

Also in November, MS Fabrics, a cloth and sewing store in a mini-mall west of downtown, started closing.

The city government is talking about making a new city hall. I understand their reasons: and hope that the new one will have some of the awkward charm that the old mid-20th century structure has.

Sauk Centre Changes - 2001

New houses are getting built, and new businesses are popping up where Main Street (Highway 71) crosses Interstate 94. What I see is a small city that's slowly growing and changing. I miss the sound of the trains clattering through town, and feel for the business owners who had to deal with the loss of rail freight. On the other hand, the (fairly) new computer store in town, the new motel, the new McDonald's, two new golf courses (one south and the other north of town) and more businesses that are clustering around the Interstate don't add up to a dying town.

Of course, there are ups and downs. The new golf course north of town was up for sale in 2001. It's on Highway 71, just over the bridge north of town. That's a nice location, but for most of 2001, the bridge was closed. Now, there's a nice new bridge in place, but while construction was under way, people had to go miles out of the way on a detour. That can't have been good for business.

Meanwhile, the area east of the Sauk River has been cut up into large residential lots, and the city limits sign got moved.

Downtown, the (relatively new) pizza place had a spinning spotlight ball in the front window during the latter part of 2001. It caught my eye the other day as I was driving up to the downtown stoplight. Apparently I wasn't the only one to get that light in the eye: I haven't experienced that strobe-like effect while driving through downtown recently.

Here's another improvement: The downtown stoplight was upgraded during the 2001 bridge project, to allow protected left turns. The accident rate went down, and now we have the upgrade as a permanent part of the traffic light.

As a parting observation, Sauk Centre appears to be growing. Here's the new population, posted at the city limits:

  • 3,930 in 2001 (according to 2 of the 5 signs outside town)

Sauk Centre Changes - Late 20th Century

Every once in a while, a few years ago, I would hear someone say that Sauk Centre is dying. Looking back, I think they were referring to the downtown area.

In a way I could see their point. There was a small clothing store and a J. C. Penny's department store downtown that closed during the first few years we lived here, and the number of hardware stores has dropped from three to one.

The Sky Vue Drive-In near the airport closed many years ago, and the last railroad line through town has been converted to a walking path and snowmobile trail. The A&W drive-in my wife remembers was gone long before we moved here.

On the other hand, the population has been fairly steady for the past several decades:

  • 3,573 in 1960
  • 3,750 in 1970
  • 3,709 in 1980
  • 3,646 in 1990
  • 3,748 in 1995

And Sauk Centre is now a two stoplight town! I didn't make note of the date, but sometime in the past few years a new stoplight went up on Highway 71, just north of the Interstate. That's a big improvement. I'm still careful there, though. There are some people who don't remember that there's a stop light just north of the Interstate, and drive through whether it's green or red. Now, I realize that one more traffic light doesn't sound like much, if you're used to thinking of places like, say, Chicago, but for Sauk Centre, one more meant doubling the number of controlled intersections!

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This page last updated: December 19, 2010