Madison Mercantile opens facility designed to showcase variety of small businesses
Kris Shelstad is hoping the Madison Mercantile will serve as a business incubator for some of its office tenants — a place for rural entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.
MADISON — Kris Shelstad and Magan Ronglien are launching a rural renaissance in the shadow of the Cargill grain elevators on the south end of Madison’s commercial district, where they have plenty of room for a goal so ambitious.
The Madison Mercantile has all of 15,000 square feet under its roof, and they need it.
“I thought about opening a coffee house that might turn into a community center. Now, I am opening a community center that happens to have a coffee house,” said Shelstad with a laugh.
The coffee house is the gateway to an expansive building that Shelstad hopes will house as many as 10 tenants. A photographer and an artist opened studios in the building in August , while work was still underway on converting the building to its new role.
It was originally a lumber yard that dated to the 1880s, but more recently served as the Brehmer Hardware store.
Along with the coffee house and its kitchen, the Mercantile is being partitioned to hold offices, an art gallery, community meeting and gathering spaces, a stage for live performances and more.
On the economic side of things, Shelstad said she is hoping the Madison Mercantile will serve as a business incubator for some of its office tenants — a place for rural entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.
She’s expecting it will also provide office space for professionals who have returned to their rural roots while working from home.
On the community side of things, Shelstad is ready to devote much of this space for a wide range of use. Space for an art gallery is already developed.
There is a stage ready for open mic nights and live entertainment at the coffee house. It will also be available for students in theater and music programs at the Lac qui Parle Valley Schools to practice and perform.
An area is reserved in the back as a woodshop, or the Men’s Shed. A group of men in the community have already decided they will equip the area and perform volunteer work. Their projects will include repairing medical mobility equipment such as wheelchairs. Shelstad said they hope to become the first U.S. rural chapter of the Men’s Shed, an organization devoted to providing men a place to join and do good work.
There’s also space for dance lessons, remote meetings and learning sessions, and for young people and adults to gather and visit.
Shelstad is the owner/operator while Ronglien is serving as operations manager.
Shelstad is a 1981 graduate of Madison High School . She completed a 30-year career with the National Guard. She and her husband were living in Texas when he died unexpectedly about three years ago.
Shelstad said she decided she needed to come home and be with her people.
Her mother had once operated a coffee shop — also known as the Madison Mercantile — in Madison’s downtown. Shelstad wanted to do the same. She was reading about the fracturing of society and how communities are lacking places for gathering and building a sense of community. She made up her mind that a coffee house could play a role in providing that place.
She never anticipated buying a building so large, but she said, “it seemed just the right size.”
On the advice of a friend, she turned to the community and hosted listening sessions to learn what the building should hold. Her friend had told her: “The community will reveal itself.”
That has proven true, said Shelsad, as many people have come forward with ideas and support.
Her service in the military also taught her that “planning is great but no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
In this case, reality gets a vote, said Shelstad. Plans and use for the Madison Mercantile are sure to evolve.
Shelstad is well-aware of what a project this ambitious requires. “I wake up in the morning thinking we’re a little crazy, but by noon I’m OK,” she said, laughing.
She’s driven by the support the project has enjoyed from the community, city and county, and by hope. Her hope is it can spark a rural renaissance.
“We know we can bring these things to a town,” she said.
This story was originally published in the West Central Tribune's IMPACT edition on Oct. 23, 2021. More stories in this section can be found at https://issuu.com/westcentraltribune/docs/impact_2021