Revitalizing Hallock’s Main Street
By Marla DeFoe
Like many people in this region, I grew up in a small town. I have many fond memories of community gatherings, high school sporting events, friendly people, and small-town businesses. But I also remember having to drive over an hour to do any shopping beyond bread and milk. There were day-long journeys for haircuts and doctor appointments, and weekend excursions to purchase the latest fashions.
Hallock, a small town of 900 people nestled in the upper corner of Minnesota, only 20 miles from Canada, has experienced a renaissance in the past few years. Through the dedication of community leaders and townspeople, Hallock’s Main Street is a booming retail space filled with boutiques, gift shops, a coffee shop, a wine bar, a distillery, and a brewery.
Back in 2014, Mike Swanson, along with his wife Cheri Reese, left Minneapolis to return to his family farm outside of Hallock. There, Far North Spirits, a distillery with Scandinavian flair, was born. Swanson and Reese put Hallock on the map when it comes to beverage tourism. On a beautiful summer evening, I ventured out to Far North Spirits’ tasting room for a craft cocktail and a competitive game of music trivia. While the scores were announced between rounds, I recognized visitors from Grand Forks, Lancaster, Hallock, and Lake Bronson. Over in the corner, someone shouted out that they were from Kansas.
Three years after Far North Spirits started distilling whiskey, Ryan Evenson and his wife Lindsey Blomquist, offered Johnson Oil Company $100 for a run-down service station on Hallock’s Main Street with dreams of opening a brewery. In 2017, Revelation Ale Works opened its doors. “People are coming from everywhere,” he said, listing major towns in every direction, including Canada, as locations where a large number of customers travel from. When they opened, there were eight vacant spaces on the main stretch.
This summer, the final vacant space on Main Street was filled by J.Lily Boutique. Owner, Jeni Schwenzfeier, is excited to be a part of the booming Hallock commercial district. “This has been a dream come true,” she said. “All the small businesses in town support each other, and I am so happy to be a part of this community.”
None of this would have been possible without a dedicated group of community leaders and business owners. Hallock Main Street is a committee that formed in 2014 with the goal of growing the community, beautifying the city, tearing down dilapidated buildings, and renovating downtown spaces. Paul Bloomquist, committee member and owner of C&M Ford in Hallock, has been instrumental in developing these initiatives. “City leaders brought together people from the community to discuss prioritizing our needs, and that’s where Hallock Main Street was born,” said Bloomquist. “We discussed what we can do to have an immediate impact on the city, and so we first tore down an old building on Main Street. Everything steamrolled from there.”
C&M Ford has been a staple of the Hallock community since 1966. The family-owned dealership prides itself on quality, selection, service, and small-town pride; and they aren't slowing down. Bloomquist is working on an electric car, fast-charging station that will be available next summer. “We are continually looking into the future and coming up with more ways we can positively impact the city,” he said.
On my visit to Hallock, I was invited to lunch by local artist Connie Nelson, and Paul’s wife, Kristin Eggerling. Both longtime residents of Hallock, they emphasize the importance of quality of life for the people of the community. “Hallock has a good school, a new daycare center, great WiFi, and friendly residents,” Kristin said. “We live here, so the amenities and improvements in the city have to benefit the residents as well.” Nelson is quick to add, “There is a lot of talk about the new businesses that have come to town, and people tend to overlook the places that have been here for a long time.”
Connie’s pride of community is evident. As my tour guide around the city, she made sure I saw all that Hallock has to offer, not just Main Street. Hallock boasts a beautiful city park and campground, that was filled with campers for the summer season. The park also has a swimming pool, and is not far from Two Rivers Golf Club, a beautiful nine-hole course with clubhouse. Nelson golfs there every week. She also drove me through the community, showing me where rundown buildings had been torn down to make room for future development, as well as Kittson County Healthcare Center, Hallock Public Library, Gullander Hardware, Hallock Eagles Club, Kittson County Fairgrounds, and Bakken’s Boots.
Nelson beamed with pride as she drove past the murals that line Highway 75 as you enter Hallock. She worked with the community to paint the murals, welcoming visitors to the city. She also took me past the city center gazebo, landscaped with a pollinator garden and native plants, and surrounded by informational kiosks of the city and region. In the summertime, this area hosts live music and other entertainment for visitors and residents.
When the firehall was relocated to its new home, instead of having the old building sit vacant, Xperience Health & Fitness opened a 24-hour workout facility in the space. The building also has a massage therapist, nutritionist, barber shop, and chiropractor. “All of these people are helping to make personal care much more accessible,” said Nelson. “It’s so nice to have a place to go walking in the winter when it gets too cold to be outside.”
After our driving tour, we parked on Main Street, right next to a mural that said “Hallock” in large, colorful letters. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and we were able to walk from business to business. Our first stop was Nineteen Forty Eight, a home décor and gift shop. We were greeted by owner, Cara Peterson. The store gets its name from Harris and Evelyn Mortenson, who were married in 1948, and were Cara’s grandparents. She loves the sense of community. “We all work together,” she said, speaking of other business owners. “We promote each other and encourage our customers to visit all the businesses in town.”
After browsing Nineteen Forty Eight and J.Lily, we headed to Bully Brew for an afternoon pick-me-up. Those familiar with Grand Forks will recognize the Bully Brew name, along with many of the items located in the store, including Real Good Cookies, and olive oil from Olive Barrel. Bully Brew is in the old bank building, and even has the back vault open and available for sharing drinks or playing one of the many board games on the shelves inside the vault.
Our next stop was Last Chance Trading Post. Opened in 2019 in the original Gullander Hardware location, this wine bar and gift shop offers tastes of local wines and other specialty drinks. Owner, Britt Slusar greeted us with a smile and informed us that today’s special was 2-for-1 mimosas. Not one to turn down a deal, I quickly ordered two, one for me, and one for my guide, Connie. As we sipped, Slusar talked about the community, her wine bar, and Highland beef. “I try and keep a unique selection of wine to take home,” she said. “I carry wines from all over Minnesota, and the world, that are difficult to find anywhere else.” As you look around the wine bar, you can’t help but notice the décor, including large paintings of Scottish Highland cows. It seems like a unique choice, until you see the cooler full of fresh Highland beef for sale. Slusar, and husband Jon Carlson, also own a ranch, where they raise Scottish Highland cows. “Many times, someone will come in, buy a nice bottle of wine, and grab a few steaks for the grill,” she laughed.
Farm Town Floral & Boutique is another wonderful shop located in the heart of Hallock. Owner, Mandi Samuelson first opened the floral shop five years ago, and made it into a boutique as well. "It's truly like two businesses in one," says Carlson. "I grew online presence with our boutique offerings three years ago, and have been growing it ever since."
One thing is for certain: Friendly people, happy smiles, and a welcoming atmosphere greet you everywhere you go in Hallock. Also, a large group of dedicated citizens are making sure that visitors and residents alike receive the best service and amenities that most only dream of in a small town. “Everything that is happening in our community is because of the people,” said Bloomquist. “The magic really comes from the people and their love of Hallock.” G
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PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY Nineteen-Fourty Eight, J.Lily, Bully Brew, Home-Town Floral, Revelation Ale, Far North Spirits
From Issue 3, 2022