"Build it and they will come"
isn't just Hollywood fiction. It's reality at Kirchner Square, which boasts seven unique, local businesses that are helping revitalize downtown Fort Dodge.
"After I acquired Kirchner Square about seven years ago and started renovating the building, potential tenants started coming to us," said Rich Seltz, owner of Rich-Woods Inc., a custom cabinetry, woodworking and carpentry business located in Kirchner Square on South 12th Street.
When Rich-Woods became the first business to open in the refurbished Kirchner Square complex, Seltz was carrying on a family tradition. His grandfather Elmer Kirchner had built the south part of Kirchner Square in the early 1940s.
Another piece of Fort Dodge history gained a new lease on life when Seltz and his wife, Jo, moved the Dariette ice cream and sandwich shop from 2nd Avenue South to Kirchner Square in 2009. Newer businesses have also found a home at Kirchner Square, including Xessorize!, which offers one-of-a-kind purses, scarves, jewelry, watches and more; Bridal Visions by LD; Salon Posh, Studio Fusion glass design; and Tillie's Quilts, which Jo Seltz opened in 2011 and named in honor of her great aunt.
"I didn't want this to be a typical quilt shop with rows of fabric. I wanted it to feel like you're walking into a gallery."
Bringing people together
Seltz designs original quilt patterns, teaches quilting classes and hosts the popular Sip and Sew each month, where quilters can bring their favorite beverage to enjoy as they work together to create a quilt.
Some of her most enthusiastic students are South Korean ladies who moved to the area because of their husbands' jobs at CJ BIO America, a new lysine factory in the ag park west of Fort Dodge. Of the four ladies who came to Tillie's Quilts originally, one who was able to speak English well translated for the others during classes as these meticulous students learned to use sewing machines and master the basics of quilting.
Although the ladies were all from South Korea, they didn't know each other when they came to Iowa. During their time in Fort Dodge, they have built strong friendships since they started sewing and quilting together. Since then, more South Korean ladies have joined them to sew at Tillie's Quilts.
"I like to see a wide range of people coming back to downtown Fort Dodge," said Jo Seltz. "Fun, specialty shops give people a reason to spend time here."
Crosstown connector remains vital
Making downtown Fort Dodge a destination is important to the Seltz's, who are graduates of Fort Dodge Senior High School and want to support their hometown. "I remember when there were places like the Boston Center and lots of movie theaters that drew lots of people downtown," said Rich Seltz. "Downtown was busy area."
While the Seltz's acknowledge that downtown Fort Dodge probably won't become the retail hub it once was, the area can support specialty shops, restaurants and more. The crosstown connector is the key to helping downtown Fort Dodge thrive, said Rich Seltz, chairman of Fort Dodge's Downtown Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) Board. The crosstown connector would turn First Avenue South into a main thoroughfare that would carry traffic in both directions all the way through Fort Dodge.
"Everything hinges on this corridor," said Rich Seltz, who is running for Fort Dodge City Council this fall. "The people of Fort Dodge need to invest in our community first so we can build more momentum and attract outside investors."
To promote downtown Fort Dodge, the SSMID board has invested in a new seven-minute video entitled "Fort Dodge: Building the Pride" to showcase the community's potential and highlight plans to revitalize the downtown area. "Downtown business owners are excited about the possibilities," said Jo Seltz, who regularly meets at informal gatherings with fellow "Downtown Divas" from local businesses like Real Deals and Maxine's Coffee to discuss the downtown area's future.
The potential is great, Rich Seltz added. "I remember downtown in its glory, and I've also seen downtown in its decline. I want to see it come full circle again."