Two eggs and toast is a simple breakfast, so you might be surprised how many people it took to get it on the table. There was the cook, the wait staff – and the 42 members of Pipestone Development Company LLC. When the longstanding café closed, the Pipestone Development Company reinvented the local coffee shop as the 8th Avenue Diner and Coffeehouse to bring early morning breakfast back. The diner is one of dozens of projects led by the Pipestone Development Company (PDC) in its first few years of business. They include building and rehabbing housing, renovating commercial space and supporting new small businesses in this town of 4,215.
“There’s a myth in all these small towns that someone’s going to come fix up your town. The reality is there’s nobody coming to your small town to do that. But we all have wealth in our community. The question is how do you get that money focused on improving your community?” said PDC President Jeremy Whipple.
Southwest Initiative Foundation is a member of the PDC and supports similar efforts in Willmar and Worthington that mobilize local capital to catalyze economic development through entrepreneurship and private investment.
“These funds allow folks who want to reinvest in their community with projects that traditional investors may not touch, like affordable childcare…These types of businesses are critical for economic mobility and the economic patchwork of a community,” said Scott Marquardt, who leads economic development work as part of his role at SWIF. “These investors believe in their neighbor, and that matters.”
Operating as a private company, the PDC has six board members. There aren’t any full-time staff, but Jeremy serves as the point person and members pitch in on projects. The company’s mission is to invest in the future of the community and surrounding areas through leasing, purchasing and owning land, buildings and other property that promotes development. The LLC’s 42 members represent a cross-section of the community.
“We have widows, we have businesspeople, we have young entrepreneurs. It’s a little bit of everything,” said Jeremy, who also owns the local building supply company Pipestone Building Materials Inc. Jeremy grew up in Pipestone and has worked on redevelopment in the past with a smaller group of people.
“If we get a lot of people involved, we can have more impact. If you get more people involved, you have more money and you get more people interested. It’s for the common good of the community,” Jeremy said.
Before, the city’s blight list had at least five commercial properties on it. The PDC has taken on four of those, with two rehabbed already and two in the works. Blighted properties are spaces that are not safe, habitable or in a condition beneficial to the community.
“When you drive through Historic Downtown Pipestone there should not be dilapidated buildings. You shouldn’t have any empty buildings on the highway or on your Main Street,” Jeremy said.
Restaurateur JoAnn Wolff grew up in a small town and moved to Pipestone four years ago. She owns the Stonehouse & Quarry Lounge in town and is the PDC’s marketing director. She was just 25 when she bought in to the Pipestone Development Company. The initial minimum investment was $25,000, and with two rounds to sell 101 shares the group raised $2.7 million to get started.
“It’s a huge risk for someone that’s 25 years old. I remember thinking about it for so long. You take it more seriously when it’s a larger amount. You have your arm in the game, not just skin,” JoAnn said.
Funds like these offer many benefits, but a quick return isn’t one of them. Investors care deeply about the places they’re in and are willing to look into the future to realize the gains.
“Everything that you add helps everyone in the community. If you attract a family to town and they want to stay, there’s money for the school. When a property is fixed up and put back to use, that lowers everyone’s property taxes,” Jeremy said.
Successes the company celebrates include financing a 22-year-old business owner whose startup now has three locations, opening the diner and a unique rental property rehab. PDC took an abandoned building and made it into two apartments,
with the first floor completely wheelchair accessible for Melissa Stam, whose apartment building in Maple Plain had burned down. Melissa moved to town in June.
“It was lifechanging for her. Now I see her at the grocery store or the Dari King. She gets her life back a little bit,” said Joan Stout, secretary of the PDC and a lifelong community member.
In addition to economic development, the Pipestone Development Company wants to spark a spirit of community service. The PDC owns land it uses to grow sweetcorn as an annual fundraiser for local youth organizations. In total, more than $19,000 has been donated through this fundraiser. This year, the PDC helped plant more than 4,000 pumpkin seeds and donated the pumpkins to the Pipestone Area Chamber of Commerce for a fall fundraiser.
The community-led work of the PDC is a reminder of the power in small towns and the possibilities created by collaboration.
“All small towns have the means to do this. They can gather people together. But it is a lot of work. You all have to be willing to rally together and get your hands dirty,” JoAnn said.
The Calico Cat Quilt Shop moves downtown
Lori Williams took up quilting more than 25 years ago to fill the long winter months after she moved to Minnesota from Nebraska. With help from our Microenterprise Loan Program at SWIF, Lori turned her hobby into a business in 2020 when she opened The Calico Cat Quilt Shop in Pipestone. Earlier this year, she had the opportunity to move her shop to a building renovated by the Pipestone Development Company in Historic Downtown Pipestone.
“The Pipestone Development Company has done a lot for the community. They’ve really worked hard taking buildings that are
neglected and getting them back to use in the community. Without them, there is no way I’d be in this building. Especially for these older buildings, you need someone who’s got money and is invested in the community,” Lori said.
Lori said her original location was a great place to start, but it had low ceilings, and the light wasn’t the best for comparing fabrics, something quilters are particular about. The new shop is brightly lit, and vibrant bolts of fabric line one wall, complemented by quilting and sewing supplies like batting, thread, patterns, books and more. Getting everything displayed just right is a work in progress, but it was a good move, and one Lori is happy she didn’t have to make on her own.
“SWIF and PDC both have been huge for me. I wouldn’t be here without SWIF and the support they’ve given me. The chamber of commerce is the other piece of the puzzle. Everybody collaborates well together,” Lori said.