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Atwater, Minn., business woman set to open hardware store a year after fire

Elsie Kashmark talks to a customer on the phone Thursday at Peaceful Thymes Gift and Garden center in Atwater. Kashmark, who's operated the center in Atwater for several years is incorpeting a hardware store into her gift and coffee shop. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

It's only human nature not to truly appreciate something until it's gone. That was the case in Atwater when the town's only hardware store was des-troyed in an arson fire Feb. 28, 2011.

But a year later, a new hardware store is about to open in a new location with a new owner in a unique marriage of individual business sense, community volunteerism, and financial and moral support that is helping the small town get back on its feet.

Kevin Hauschild, district manager for United Hardware, said he's never seen anything like it before in his years of opening up Hardware Ha-nk franchise stores.

"It's quite refreshing, to be honest with you," Hauschild said last week, as volunteers from the community buzzed around him putting merchandise on shelves.

"This whole process is something I've never seen before."

Elsie Kashmark, who's operated Peaceful Thymes Gift and Garden center in Atwater for several years is about to open a hardware store at her new location on U.S. Highway 12.

The hardware store will be incorporated into her gift and coffee shop. A separate greenhouse is located on the same pro-perty.

Black plastic still hangs from floor to ceiling while shelves behind the plastic are being stocked with everything from nuts to bolts and paint to plumbing supplies while people sip coffee, eat lunch and shop for candles and handbags on the other side of the plastic.

When the plastic comes down in a couple weeks the store will resemble an old-fashioned general store that has something for everyone.

What's on the shelves is what people have asked for, said Kashmark, who spent two days talking to city residents about what they wanted to see in the store.

The list includes "the things you don't think of until you need them," Kashmark said with a laugh. "If you don't see it on the shelves, ask."

That kind of attention to community needs was in response to the community's willingness to give Kashmark the support she needed to get the hardware store off the ground.

After the fire, Atwater's Economic Development Authority held community meetings to explore community needs and established a hardware committee to look at options for getting a hardware store back in town.

After Kashmark indicated she was interested, the EDA provided money from its revolving loan fund.

The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission and the Southwest Initiative Fund also provided assistance, along with financing from the Atwater State Bank.

The funding package was buoyed by letters of support for Kashmark, written by community members who saw the need for a hardware store.

"Until it was gone it was hard to realize how much we do need it," said Marilyn Stoffers, during a coffee break at Peaceful Thymes.

"She's filling a need that the market is demanding," Hauschild said. "This area is crying for a hardware store. Elsie saw the need, so here we are."

Volunteers from the community, including a group of retired school teachers, have been spending hours at the store wiping down shelves and stocking merchandise.

"We wanted to take this on as a way to help Elsie get this store going," said Barbara Everson, who was putting steel wool on the shelves last week.

"It's a community project," Wanda Carpenter said.

"It belongs to the town," Fanny Messenbrink said, explaining why she spent time putting the paint chip display in order.

Praise for Kashmark's willingness to answer a community need is widespread.

"We're fortunate to have her there," Mayor Mark Olson said. "There's a lot of support from the community."

Kashmark said she's been moved by the support. "It's heart-warming," she said, begging for patience while she learned a new line of business. "It's a ground-up store. We're starting from scratch."

A grand opening is scheduled for the third week in April.

Although the fire was a harsh blow to Atwater -- there are currently no plans in place to rebuild on the vacant lot -- Olson said other positive things are happening in town.

Last year a major street and utility project was completed and an extensive renovation of the historic Hotel Atwater was finished to provide a new home for the city offices, police department and library.

The hotel project has garnered nearly unanimous approval.

"Most are happy we've utilized that beautiful building," Olson said.

There are also efforts underway to turn the old depot that had housed the city office and police department into a youth center, Olson said.

"We've got a lot of good things going on," he said, attributing the town's fight to survive to the community's "very strong-willed people."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750