Giving old buildings new lifeLong-languishing buildings near Havens/Sanborn intersection reborn
By: Jennifer Jungwirth, The Daily Republic
Leonard Lambright admits the vacant, abandoned building sitting at 605 S. Sanborn Blvd. wasn’t the ideal location when he was looking to open Prairie Town Grocery four years ago.
“If I would have had my pick, I would have gotten a building out on Burr Street,” said Lambright, referring to the busy street that runs north and south of an Interstate 90 exit in Mitchell.
The owner of the specialty grocery store, now locally famous for its deli meats and made-in-South Dakota products, said real estate costs hindered him from purchasing property along Burr Street for the shop.
“I was looking at the building Pirogues Catering was in,” he said. “It was crazy expensive – three times the amount we paid for this. When we looked at the investment, this was the building that really worked for us.”
He, along with his wife, Layena Lambright, bought the building for $175,000 in July 2008 and opened Prairie Town Grocery in late August the same year.
Since the opening, the Lambrights have had success with their business, and their positioning near the Sanborn/Havens intersection has turned out to be a great location.
One of the busiest thoroughfares in Mitchell, the corner of Sanborn Boulevard and Havens Avenue sees thousands of vehicles daily. According to data from the South Dakota Department of Transportation, in 2010, Sanborn Boulevard north of Havens Avenue saw 8,304 cars a day. Havens Avenue east of Sanborn saw 11,575 vehicles a day, and Havens Avenue west of Sanborn had 11,180 cars traveling on the road each day.
“That is a very well-traveled intersection,” said Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce and Mitchell Area Development Corp. “It’s a main north-and-south route in our community. The number of people that are seeing (a business’) sign is a fairly high number.”
The steady traffic is a reason Prairie Town Grocery’s neighbor, Design Interiors owner Anne Dailey, opted to relocate her business of 17 years to a building near the intersection. For the past three years, she operated out of a suite in the Lone Tree Plaza.
“I was certainly looking for one of the main thoroughfares in town,” she said. “It’s easier for the out-of-town customers to find me.”
Although the location was ideal, she didn’t have enough space. So she bought the empty building at 623 S. Sanborn Blvd. in 2010. The building sits directly south of Prairie Town Grocery and formerly was the Commercial Trust and Savings Bank in the 1960s.
Both businesses and their owners are thriving, but both buildings had been lifeless and deteriorating for years.
William Greenway built what is now the Prairie Town Grocery building at 605 S. Sanborn in the early 1960s to house the national fast-food chain Dog ’n Suds.
In 1966, 26-year-old Don Uptagraft purchased the building and the business. Six years later, he acquired ownership of the land the building sat on.
“At that time, I had a real good job,” said Uptagraft, who now resides in Arizona. “I was a bread salesman for Old Home. But I always wanted to own my own business, and I liked the food business. So, that’s what I got into.”
Deb Young, of Mitchell, recalls the eatery.
“It was my favorite as a kid,” she said. She remembered the shop being like a carhop of the 1950s, where waitresses on roller skates brought food out to customers.
The shop was known for its creamy root beer, served in frosted mugs, and a Coney dog that Uptagraft said was topped with an “outstanding specialty sauce.”
“We had a sale on Coney dogs for 15 cents apiece. A salesman parked the bread truck filled with hot dog buns behind the building. We emptied it over one weekend,” Uptagraft recalled, testifying to the popularity of the hot dog.
Aside from a popular menu, when Uptagraft first operated Dog ’n Suds, he said the location at the Sanborn/Havens intersection was prime real estate for any business.
“He did a good job of running it,” said Lyle Swenson, Mitchell Area Historical Society president. “But it was a lot of work. He worked hard.”
Over the years, Mitchell’s demographics changed, Uptagraft said. That change impacted business.
“Randall’s (now Coborn’s) moved out north, along with McDonald’s and JCPenney. Things just changed directions,” he said.
Uptagraft continued to own the building until he lost it to the bank in 1984.
“It was a combination of the economy and, quite frankly, I was tired of running it,” he said of the loss. “I let a couple other people lease it, and they didn’t do any good.”
He added that competition from McDonald’s and Burger King impacted Dog ’n Suds’ sales.
According to records from the Davison County Register of Deeds, Jim and Christine Dee bought the building from Commercial Bank in 1985.
They opened the Mouse House, which sold cheese they made in a factory across the street.
According to Swenson, the Mouse House closed about 10 years ago, only opening every so often during the holidays.
But in between, the building sat mostly abandoned, creating an unwelcoming site in the city.
The building that now houses Interior Designs also sat empty for a number of years before the right owner found it. The building was constructed in 1965 as Commercial Trust and Savings Bank, a drive-up banking facility. In 1975, an addition was built to serve more customers.
In the late 1990s, the bank closed and remained empty until brothers Reginald and Keith Young bought the property. They intended to open a coffee shop. Reginald’s wife, Deb, said the endeavor never got off the ground.
Interior Designs owner Dailey had her eye on the building for several years, but the Youngs weren’t interested in selling yet, she said.
With the positive outlook from Lambright and Dailey on the location of their businesses, it’s curious to some why the two buildings remained so lifeless for so long.
“It’s a prime location, but there’s very little space,” said Swenson of the old bank. “And the cost to refurbish is so great.”
He added that the longer a business sits empty, with no heat, things will start to fall apart, adding to the cost of remodeling, which deters entrepreneurs from buying.
Hisel agreed, adding that the two buildings sat empty because of common market factors.
“There are natural market factors that work,” Hisel said. “Someone needs to see the purchase value as a good price.”
In addition to the right price, the building needs to fit the entrepreneurs’ business plan.
“That’s just small-business people using their creativity. They need to know, ‘If I was in that location, I’d use that building for this purpose.’ The current owners, those people saw a use for the building that no one else saw,” Hisel said.
He added that it’s unfortunate more entrepreneurs don’t see the full potential of empty buildings in Mitchell.
“When someone comes into the city and sees these empty, deteriorated buildings, it presents a negative picture economically and damages the community’s vitality,” Hisel said.
The opportunity to be creative was a draw for Dailey when she bought the old bank from the Youngs.
“I was intrigued by the building and taking something that existed and turning it around,” she said.
She bought the building for $70,000, but costs escalated due to heavy renovation.
Remodeling included cleaning up the existing stone and gutting the inside. She enclosed the drive-through bays and put an addition on the back, re-roofed the property and added the decorative facade at the front of the building. All new electrical and furnace systems were also added.
“We started with a shell and everything was new from there,” she said. “It’s a fun space and it was a fun opportunity to show what I do — take an existing building, fix it up and give it a facelift.”
Lambright, too, said his property included the right amount of space and layout. The building is 30 by 60 feet.
“Most of it was just cleanup,” Lambright said of preparing the building for business.
He did construct an additional wall inside, but “other than that it was ready to go,” Lambright said.
Hisel is pleased with the success of Prairie Town Grocery and Interior Designs. He said that in addition to adding taxable sales and employment to Mitchell, the real value is that they are enhancing the image of the intersection and providing a unique business to residents and visitors.
“It’s not often you get a chance to make a second impression,” Hisel of the intersection’s passing motorists.
Now, more than three years since buying his building, Lambright has discovered the intersection was in fact the perfect home for the specialty grocery store.
“We were a specialty store and it would be more of a destination thing than an impulse. It turned out to be both,” Lambright said of the business.
The positive outcome for both businesses is a lesson to other businessmen and women in the city, Dailey said.
“It’s a way to be green and it’s environmentally mindful,” she said of renovating rather than building new. “For me, it’s interesting and challenging. It can be expensive, but it’s certainly worth it.”