Blessings in disguise: The way it started (long version)
If there is one thing that our family has learned over the recent years, it is that we are never really in control of our lives. But we are in control of our destiny. Here is our story on how/why we started Minnesota Rust, got to McIntosh,MN, grew our business and became accidental entrepreneurs and champions of rural revitalization.
In 2013, Bryce and I were living regular lives, we were married, had jobs, lived in a nice home and enjoyed time with our family and friends. But one night everything changed. We found out that Bryce’s brother Bryan’s cancer had returned and it came back with a vengeance. He had been diagnosed a few years earlier with an aggressive form of cancer but was currently in remission and living life to the fullest-we were in shock. How could this happen to a person who absolutely loved life? After a fierce battle, Bryan ended up moving back to the family farm so he could pass away at home. It was heart wrenching. And it changed everything. Losing Bryan made us completely reevaluate our lives, our priorities and what we wanted to do with the lives we were lucky enough to live.
While Bryan was in his last chapter of his life, we found out we were pregnant with our first child, Jens. I had never really wanted children up until this point but after experiencing this journey with Bryan, I had changed my mind. I wanted kids. My pregnancy was pretty smooth until week 32 when Jens decided it was time to arrive.He was 8 weeks early so it was pretty scary. He ended up needing to stay in the NICU for 4 weeks and Bryce and I decided that I should quite my job to stay home with Jens (at least until he was older). It felt like our world had changed so fast and it was definitely trial by error for me. Not only was I a first time mom, but I had absolutely no experience with babies. It turned out however, that I loved spending my days with Jens and eventually I was ready to start thinking about a creative outlet and earning some income. After a lot of discussion and brainstorming, Bryce and I decided we would try our hand at buying and selling vintage items on the weekends at a local flea market. It turned out to be a life-changing decision and from there, Minnesota Rust was born.
Within that same first year of my new business, we had our second baby, a sweet girl named Adler. I learned very quickly how different it was having two kids instead of one. Everything was just so busy. It was time to re-evaluate. We decided after everything we had learned over the past few years that we wanted to live a slower lifestyle and be closer to family. So we decided to sell our house and move to my husband’s hometown of McIntosh, MN (pop. 625) so Bryce could help his family with their organic dairy farm and I would stay home with the kids and continue Minnesota Rust on the side.
We moved into our little rental house and were there for a short time before everything stopped. Bryce’s Dad Jim, had advanced Prostate Cancer. We were dumbstruck. How could this happen again? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t in our plan. By the time Jim knew about the cancer, he was already quite sick and he was not able to continue doing what he loved, farming. When this decision was made, Bryce found a job as a Construction Project Manager an hour away and the kids and spent as much time as possible with Bryce’s parents, Jim and Roxanne. Throughout that year, Jim’s cancer got worse and he passed away. It was horrible. Not only horrible for Bryce and his Mom but for our children and the community. Jim was the county extension agent in our area and he was very involved in every aspect of the community- he had incredible friends and family and he loved his job. When Jim passed away, the community rallied Roxanne,Bryce and our entire family. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. And from that moment on, Bryce and I decided that we wanted to put everything we had into revitalizing the town that had given us so much.
Our first step was purchasing an old vacant building downtown, renovating it and opening a real shop Minnesota Rust.Over the past several years, McIntosh’s downtown had seen a lot of loss. The loss of it’s famous bakery, the town cafe and a lot of hope things would ever change. So everyone thought we were crazy for opening a new retail business (which we were). By this time, Minnesota Rust had been setting up at shows around Minnesota and gaining a small but strong following but we had no idea if people would actually travel to northern Minnesota to visit us. As it turns out, they did. We had people visiting from all over the US, supporting our shop and in turn supporting the other businesses in town. Holy cow. It was working! So of course, we started thinking, if this many people will come to see just our little shop, imagine how many more people would visit if there were more unique shops to go to. We needed neighbors.
We started talking to the city about the other vacant buildings around us. We were able to purchase the building next to ours for a reasonable price and I immediately knew who I’d want as my first neighbor, Katherine Howard. Katherine had recently moved home with her five kids and she was a smart business woman. Over the past several years, she had created and handmade a line of high quality skin care, soap and candles called Howard Soap Co. I was a huge fan of her products (and her) and so I casually asked her one day if she would ever consider moving her manufacturing downtown and open a brick-and-mortar shop for her products. She said yes! I was so excited! We showed her the dilapidated old building that we had just purchased and she said she loved and could see our vision. We had our first neighbor!
From there, we purchased a building that had been for sale for years for $1 and began splitting the one large business back into smaller spaces. As we remodeled, we reached out to two more business owners and they both said that they would be interested in the spaces we had available. That year, we welcomed The Red Poppy, The Beauty Room, Stordahl Counseling, The Ginger Junker and Northern Aromatherapy to our downtown family (many of whom purchased, renovated & opened their own businesses). We are currently working on several projects including a cafe and a studio space to complete our block we call The Shoppes of McIntosh. We’ve had our ups and downs and lots of learning curves, but at the end of the day, there are customers visiting from all over the US supporting our businesses, spending time in our town and making lots of great memories.
So that’s our story in a nutshell. Of course, we do not know what the future holds for Minnesota Rust, our neighboring businesses or our town but we do know that we have given it our all and followed our dreams. Because at the end of the day, life is short, we are never really in control and there are always blessings in disguise.