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Sunburg: New energy on the block

Marsha Skindelien, 79, has owned and operated Skindelien Hardware in Sunburg for the past 56 years. She’s glad to see a younger crowd making a business investment in the small northwestern Kandiyohi County town, home to about 100 residents. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

SUNBURG --EMDASH-- Tim and Anne Kallevig were talking to vendors Wednesday morning, getting commercial coffee pots installed, putting more items on the shelves and handing off their 1-year old son, Benjamin, to each other as 5-year old daughter, Ava, cheerfully greeted people at the door of the family's new business in Sunburg.

The Kallevigs purchased the small town's former grocery store, which closed earlier this year. They remodeled the building and renamed the business the Sunburg Trading Post. It opens today.

They'll carry a variety of groceries, including regionally produced foods, as well as basic automotive and farm equipment. This fall they intend to add a bait shop. Anne's photography studio is also housed there.

It seems an unlikely venture for a young family --EMDASH-- Tim is 34 and Anne is 30 --EMDASH-- to take in a town with a population of 100.

But the Kallevigs are resolute in their commitment to do what it takes to keep residents in their small town happy so the town survives.

"We didn't do this to become millionaires," Tim Kallevig said. "We're doing it for the community."

That same sentiment is echoed down the block at Sondrol Service Station where 29-year old Aaron Sondrol is busy with another fix-up project at the town's only gas and automotive service center that likely would've closed if Sondrol hadn't stepped up and bought it in January.

"I was born and raised here," Sondrol said. "I want to keep Sunburg going as much as anyone else here."

Sondrol, a jack of all trades who went to school for auto body and worked in the welding and masonry fields, said he's been doing mechanic work "since I was about 8 years old." He's always wanted to own his old business.

When he heard that the longtime owner of the station intended to retire and the business would close, Sondrol said he decided the time was right to become a business owner.

"We needed to get some new blood here and get some new ideas," Sondrol said.

The three young business owners have been eagerly welcomed to the town.

The city council and Kandiyohi County approved tax abatements for both businesses to cut them a little slack on property taxes.

Marsha Skindelien, who has owned and operated the hardware store in Sunburg for the last 56 years, is thrilled there are young people taking over the town's businesses.

Skindelien and her late husband, Wendell, started their hardware store when they were in their 20s and just starting a family.

"I think it's wonderful they came in and are starting up," she said. "I hope people will patronize them."

Skindelien, 79, said she has no intention of retiring because she enjoys talking with people so much. She says business isn't as good as it used to be since big-box stores got bigger.

Anne Kallevig said she did much of her shopping in larger towns until she came to Sunburg one day to buy a gallon of milk and realized the grocery store had closed for good. That meant at least a 20-mile drive in any direction to buy groceries.

She and her husband quickly agreed buying the building and giving the town access to basic groceries would be good for the community and an educational venture for their family.

It's not as if they didn't have enough to do already.

Tim is a beef and grain farmer south of town and Anne is a full-time registered nurse, serves on the Sunburg Ambulance and Lakes Area First Responders and has a portrait photography business on the side. Between them they have four children.

"We've learned to sleep fast," Anne says.

The Kallevigs said they've hired good folks to help man the store, which will be open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays.

A couple big-name vendors turned them down because of the size of the small town and small customer base, so the Kallevigs are focusing on carrying regionally-produced goods like Fieldgate cheese from Litchfield, Stony Creek Milk from Melrose, Harry's Pizza from Elrosa, J & K Meats from Brooten and twice-a week deliveries from the bakery in Brooten.

They'll also take requests for items people would like to see on the shelves and plan to gradually expand in response to community needs.

The hard work hasn't fazed the new owners of the two businesses.

"I've got a lot of ideas," said Sondrol, who quickly lists half-dozen additions he's hoping to make, like installing 24-hour, self-serve gas pumps if he can get financial help with an economic development grant.

"We're not afraid to try some different things," Tim Kallevig said. "We'll roll with it."

"If nothing else, it's something to laugh about when we're old and we'll say, 'remember when we bought that grocery store?' Life's about taking chances," said Anne.

They all agree that buying and running a business in the small town they love is worth that chance.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750