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Mike Bates, owner of Mike’s Guns & Sporting Goods in downtown Benson, has found his niche among the area’s large hunting community. He says business has been steadily increasing every year. Tribune photo by Ashley White

Benson: Small downtown area boasts family values, tradition

News Willmar,Minnesota 56201
West Central Tribune
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Benson: Small downtown area boasts family values, tradition
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Though it has a true small-town feel, Benson’s downtown area has enough shops for residents to live comfortably, with a grocery store, several banks, a hardware store, a bakery, a pharmacy and even a single-screen movie theater.

Many agree that the only thing missing from the two-block downtown area may be specialty retail stores.

“The stores here cater to the population. Because of Case and the ethanol plant, we have a lot of males here,” said Lacey Fahl, formerly of the Benson Area Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t have a lot of boutiques.”

The town demographics have worked to some stores’ advantages, however. Mike Bates, owner of Mike’s Guns & Sporting Goods, has found a niche among the area’s large hunting community. He opened the store six years ago, after fixing and selling guns out of his home for nearly 25 years.

“Every year, our business has been steadily going up,” Bates said. “We’re expanding all the time, but we’d like to have even more space and more inventory.”

Andrea Thomson, financial adviser at Edward Jones, agrees that building space can be an issue for Benson’s downtown businesses.

“They’re old buildings. If you have a whole building by yourself, it’s too big, but if you only have one office space, it’s too small,” she said. “They didn’t plan for that growth. Still, I would give up space to keep my downtown storefront.”

Thomson grew up in Benson and moved away after graduating high school. She moved her family back to the area when her oldest child turned 12.

“Benson is a great place to raise kids,” Thomson said. “The businesses really value family. Most people are home by 6 p.m., in time to be involved in school activities and support the sports teams.”

That support extends to all areas of the community, said Tim Kletscher, a fifth-grade teacher who also owns the iconic DeMarce Theatre.

With the help of a forgivable loan from the city, Kletscher purchased the theater from its original owner, Larry DeMarce, in 2011. He bought the theater not because of a desire to be a business owner, but because he and his family simply did not want to see the movie theater close after DeMarce retired.

“The theater is our connection to the ‘big world,’” said Kletscher, who invested $90,000 of his own money toward upgrades. “It’s the one thing that, no matter what time of the year, families can do together.”

Although Kletscher has made investments in equipment, including digital projectors and a new sound system, he has left the building and the lobby area untouched for the most part. He wants it to feel like the nearly 100-year-old building it is.

“We didn’t want to lose the vintage feel of the place,” Kletscher said. “When you walk into the theater, it’s like stepping back in time. That sense of tradition is important in Benson. It’s not that we don’t want to move forward, but we don’t want to lose that hometown feel that’s unique to us.”

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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