NEW AND IMPROVED: Bremer, Cash Wise projects aim to improve customer accessibility

WILLMAR -- Representatives of Bremer Bank and Cash Wise Foods in Willmar say construction and remodeling projects at those businesses will improve accessibility and customer convenience.

WILLMAR -- Representatives of Bremer Bank and Cash Wise Foods in Willmar say construction and remodeling projects at those businesses will improve accessibility and customer convenience.

Bremer is constructing a new bank at the intersection of Willmar Avenue and Fifth Street Southeast. The bank will move its operations from the longtime downtown location to the new site in early October.

Cash Wise Foods, also located at Willmar Avenue and Fifth Street Southeast, will remodel the interior of the store for a new look and has repositioned its Little Dukes Convenience Store fuel pumps to improve access for cars, trucks and recreational vehicles.

Bremer location is near center of Willmar

"One of the keys to the whole move for us really comes down to accessibility for our clients, especially those that want the convenience of drive-up and those kinds of things,'' said Greg Hilding, Bremer president and chief executive officer.


Several factors influenced Bremer's move: the vision of Fifth Street as a traffic corridor paralleling First Street; investment in the overall area; relocation of the nearby wastewater treatment plant to a new site west of the city; and construction of entrance and exit ramps at Willmar Avenue and the Highway 71/23 bypass.

"We feel this is going to be a key corner near the center of Willmar,'' Hilding said.

Site work at the nearly 3.5-acre location began late last fall. Construction of the two-story, nearly 20,000-square-foot building began in February and is expected to be completed by the end of September. Bank staff will be in the new building with clients by Oct. 16. A city building permit listed the value of Bremer's project as a little more than $3 million.

"We're right on target in terms of time and budget,'' Hilding said. "It's kind of an exciting phase because there are things happening every day. On the bank staff side, we're zeroing in on the plans for the actual move. So that's coming together.''

The architecture and brown and tan décor are intended to fit the theme of nearby buildings, including Willmar Junior High School and Affiliated Community Medical Center, Hilding said.

A reception area will greet customers. The second floor will have a training room, community room, break room for employees and more office space for expansion in related financial businesses.

The second-floor balcony affords a view of the bank's interior, and upper-level windows provide a panoramic view of the retail area to the west.

The "head-on'' drive-up will provide eye-to-eye contact between customers and staff. There will be six drive-up lanes, one of which is dedicated for commercial customers and one for ATM customers.


Hilding said the Cash Wise branch of the bank will remain open. Bremer's nearly 20-year partnership with Coborn's Inc. has been very good, he said.

Bremer Bank is the largest bank and has the longest history in the Willmar area, Hilding said. The former Bank of Willmar opened in 1876, has grown to assets of just under $500 million and is the regional headquarters for a 16-county area with other locations in Redwood Falls and Marshall.

The downtown building has been bought by Christianson and Associates, which is remodeling the upstairs, has moved in about a dozen employees and added Western Minnesota Legal Services as a tenant. Hilding said about 50 people will be employed there, which is similar to the number of Bremer employees.

"We've been in the same location for a hundred years, and we're really trying to position ourselves for the next century of doing business here in west central Minnesota,'' said Hilding.

Cash Wise moves fuel pumps, to expand deli

The fuel pumps were repositioned to provide more room for customers, said Shane Theisen, Cash Wise store manager.

"We had a lot of feedback that the old style was very inconvenient, very congested. People even got stuck. We wanted to make it more user-friendly,'' he said.

Inside, the deli seating area will be expanded, a salad bar will be added and windows are planned to provide an outside view.


"Our deli is an incredible business here, thanks to our customers that come in and use that,'' Theisen said.

Other improvements are also planned.

The produce department's fresh-cutting area will move to the back room to make way for new cases.

The natural and organic foods section will double, with the addition of refrigeration and freezers. Theisen said demand for natural and organic food is growing.

"It's the wave of the future. It has been for a while now, but it's becoming more price-friendly for people. It's really taken off,'' Theisen said.

In the meat department, new cases will be added, the presentation improved and a live lobster tank will be added.

New dairy cases will be installed, where orange juice will be moved for customer convenience.

In bakery, a tortilla-making machine will be added and placed behind a window for people to see. "We're hoping this takes off,'' he said.


New grocery shelving will provide a clean and modern look, some aisles and products will be moved, and new block-letter signs are planned.

The service counter will be expanded, and a print-your-own photo machine will be added and stools provided for customer convenience.

The video space will be reduced to make room for the deli expansion, but the same number of titles will be carried. Video customers will have a second entrance and expanded parking.

Theisen hopes the project will be completed by the first week of October. The Willmar store, opened in 1979, is the second-largest of seven in Minnesota and two in North Dakota.

City building permits list the fuel station project at $110,000 and the remodeling project at $750,000.

"We have to show appreciation to our customer base in cleaning things up and making it more user-friendly,'' Theisen said.

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