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Downtown ‘after hours’

There was a time when, by late Saturday afternoon, a person could safely shoot the proverbial cannon down the Main Street of any small town in Minnesota without causing a stir.

Part of that was due to the lure of the lakes. Who wanted to be stuck in town when the fish were biting? But the other, more telling reason, was the sometimes slow, sometimes sudden, demise of small towns in general as people followed jobs into the growing urban centers. 

But some small towns have resisted that trend.

In Perham, where there are more jobs than people, Main Street has grown and prospered over the past 20 or 30 years. Specialty shops have sprung up on a regular basis and the town has become a shopping destination for tourists and visitors from around the country.

Meanwhile, there have been school and hospital expansions, and a complete renovation of Main Street to make it more pedestrian-friendly. 

Now, a new side of Perham is emerging – Perham ‘after hours.’

There have always been some Main Street businesses that stay open in the evenings, such as grocery stores and gas stations. And many years ago, Denise Schornack of Nadine’s decided to be open evenings, a decision she still believes is worth it in order to stay competitive against big box retailers.

The local movie theater, The Comet, continues to draw people to town in the evenings. Not too long ago, the owners converted their equipment to digital, allowing the theatre to show new films as soon as their release in big cities.

More recently, the Promenade Ballroom began luring people off of their couches at night with the promise that they could learn to dance.

And, perhaps most notably, more eating establishments have opened in Perham in recent years, bringing more people into town in the evening hours.

Pizza Ranch has been open for years and has done well. The Station House Restaurant was the first family-style restaurant to be open on Main Street and its newer adjoining pub, CJ’s Garage, with its train-side view, extends the hours when food is available. The recently-opened McDonald’s has also given people an option for fast food at night.

Bars, of course, have traditionally been open late into the night. Sud’s, a bar near Main Street, has a steady clientele in the evening.

 A new bar and restaurant option came to Main Street this summer, with the opening of Brew Ales and Eats. The venue quickly became a popular place to get some food and drink, listen to local musicians, or just relax and socialize. Britt Nelson, co-owner of Brew, said the business stays open to serve people getting off the late shift at KLN, which is over at 11 p.m. The kitchen at Brew is open until midnight and the pub stays open until 2 a.m.

Dan Schroeder, executive director of the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce, said the downtown is starting to come alive in the evenings as more and more businesses are staying open later. 

“Now, when the night shifts get off at 11 p.m., there are cars parked downtown, as well as in line at McDonalds to get something to eat,” he said, and wondered whether more places should consider staying open later.

One thing Perham has done to help liven up the downtown area at night is connect it with the highway commercial district by encouraging residential-friendly businesses along the connecting road, 3rd Ave. SE. The city did this by establishing a service commercial district at a time when most towns had only two zones, commercial or residential.

That zoning has made it possible to attract businesses like Goose Gang, which recently opened two blocks south of Main Street.  Open until 8 p.m., the store attracts game-loving kids and their parents. Not far away, Jean’s the Right Plant Place attracts carloads of gardeners in the evening hours during the busy planting season.

Whatever the reasons, instead of an empty Main Street in Perham, the trend appears to be a busier, livelier downtown, even ‘after hours.’

Lina Belar, For the Focus