PARKSTON — The Parkston community is bucking trends with many businesses and services expanding their services.
In the last few years, longtime businesses in the community have been purchased and preserved by new owners, businesses have left their old facilities and have moved or are planning to move into new buildings and even public service departments have expanded into new, modernized structures that are hoped to continue their service long into the future of the community.
Heidi Laufmann, who purchased Ralph’s Donuts in Parkston in August, said she had always considered running her own business. After years of working for others, she set out to take over a business community staple when the opportunity arose.
“I was tired of being under someone else’s thumb as far as having a boss. I saw the ad for (the business) on Facebook, and I made an off-hand comment to my daughter about buying Ralph’s,” Laufmann said.
Laufmann and her daughters discussed the possibilities, and soon that offhand comment led her to seek financing through a local bank. Before she knew it, Laufmann was rising early in the morning to bake fresh treats for the Parkston community.
“About two weeks later, it just flowed through the bank and Ralph’s and it worked out super easy. After one offhand comment, I was the owner,” Laufmann said.
So far, the response from the community has been wonderful, she said. Laufmann sometimes takes new products around town to businesses to see if the creations will earn a spot in her baking rotation. And in her two months at the helm of Ralph’s, she has prepared baked delights for birthdays and other celebrations.
She’s not sure she could have done that other than someplace like Parkston. Having moved to Parkston from Wisconsin 13 years ago, she sees a difference in the way small towns support their local business ventures.
“The idea for me to have a business out here was something that I wanted to do for a long time,” Laufmann said. “I think the smallness of the community and tight-knit South Dakota way helped. I think it would have been a little harder in a larger community.”
Some businesses are preparing to continue their service in Parkston by constructing new facilities to improve their employee and customer experience.
The Parkston Dental Center is planning to break ground on a new clinic this spring. Dr. Jason Aanenson, who has been practicing dentistry in Parkston since 2001 at the current clinic location at 116 N. First St., said he plans to build a new location at the former location of the Pony Creek Steakhouse at 714 W. Maple St., just off Highway 37 in Parkston.
The move will allow for a better experience for his patients and an improved work environment for his employees.
“We added two young dentists to the practice, and as things have been growing and the combination of adding new technologies, we were growing out of the space we were in,” Aanenson said.
He purchased the new site two years ago and had thought about using the existing structure as a starting point for the new clinic, but eventually decided it would be best to build completely new.
“So we took that down, and now we’ve been basically in a waiting game because of how wet it has been,” Aanenson said.
The town of 1,500 has a lot to offer as a business community, Aanenson said. That was one of the bigger factors that brought him to Parkston to practice in the first place, and one that indicates that there is a long-term future for his practice and other businesses in town.
“I think one of the things that it has going for it is that it has developed into a local small town hub,” Aanenson said. “They have been pretty progressive in keeping services here. Their health care system is a big reason for that happening. And their administration has been progressive in promoting Parkston as a place where people might want to retire or young families might want to move to because of the services that are there.”
The Parkston Volunteer Fire Department recently left their old facilities, which were attached to Parkston City Hall, for a new structure on Main Street this spring and dedicated the building this summer.
“The community has been really supportive and did some fundraising. It’s been a long time coming. We had been out of space,” said Jeff Murtha, second assistant chief of the Parkston Volunteer Fire Department.
The department had rented space from the city for decades and the arrangement had worked well, but a fire department in a progressive community is going to grow, Murtha said, and the department started the initial steps of looking at options for a new headquarters around 15 years ago before plans began to take solid shape more recently.
“We seriously got going on it about four years ago. That was when we started getting really serious with looking for a place to go,” Murtha said.
The new building is on Main Street just east of the railroad tracks, and offers the kind of space that was in short supply at the old location. Murtha said there are 30 volunteer firefighters with the department and 11 emergency medical technicians with the ambulance service. Both departments are housed at the new facility.
“We had enough room to squeeze between the trucks (at the old building), and now we could add a few more trucks,” Murtha said.
Murtha credits the department, the rural fire board and members of the community with making the move possible. It’s an investment in the future of an important service to Parkston and the surrounding community, he said, and one that will hopefully be around for a long time.
“It’s a good strong building, and we’re hoping it’s here for the long haul,” Murtha said.
Tammy Wheeler took over as owner at Schuber’s Cafe in July after working there for five years. Originally from Parkston, she had spent time in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Texas before moving back to South Dakota with her husband. The supportive character of her old hometown made taking on the new venture easier than it would have been if she had tried to do something similar in another community.
“Probably not,” Wheeler said when asked if she would have found success as easily elsewhere. “A lot of my customers at the cafe are customers I had when I owned a little coffee shop down the street and had a massage business. I know a lot of the people who come here to eat. I think that helps.”
After close study of the previous owner and his cook, she vowed to keep the customer favorites on the menu. Business has been steady, she said, and while she has no immediate plans to change course in her life, she is already encouraging her young staffers to consider their future as part of the Parkston business community.
“I’m here until I retire," Wheeler said. "But I’ve been talking to the kids who work here and asking, ‘Don’t you want to start a business?’”