BEMIDJI - Through financial prosperity and weak economic times, Patterson's has stood as a landmark in downtown Bemidji.
Abe Patterson began the business 82 years ago and the clothing store has remained in the family through four generations. The current caretaker is Abe's great-grandson Steve, who said he believes attention to detail sets Patterson's and similar hometown small businesses apart from the competition.
"I think people come to a store like ours for different reasons," Patterson said. "We are a specialty store for men's clothing but we offer services, such as free tailoring with everything we sell. We also offer some expertise that you don't find in the big boxes or the department stores.
"And there seems to me to be a return of people who appreciate that type of a store," he added.
Patterson is on a first-name basis with many of his customers and many of the people who shop in his store know him. For folks who were raised in Bemidji, Steve is as much a friend as he is a business owner and small town shoppers like to support their own.
"I think specialty stores, as a group, tend to reflect their owners," Patterson said. "There is no corporate environment. The niche that specialty stores have allows us to be more individualized in what we do, whether that is how we decorate or what music we decide to play.
"We have more freedom to do what we want," Patterson continued. "At a specialty store you can have more conversation and be more relaxed. Shopping at a specialty store is like going to a local cafe instead of going to McDonald's."
The big box stores have their foothold in Bemidji and, for better or worse, the shopping landscape has been permanently altered. Patterson said he believes they can coexist in this community.
"If somebody goes to Target, they will also shop at Patterson's," he said. "I think there has been a new growth in the Bemidji area and many new people are coming to town. There is such a turnover in Bemidji now that I probably don't know half of the doctors at Sanford.
"But what I do see in this community is a swing toward more devoted shoppers downtown," Patterson said. "I think people want and like to shop downtown. During the past two years the traffic and sales downtown have been steadily increasing."
Those new people in Bemidji are part of that push toward shopping in the city's traditional business core.
"When new people move to town they will go downtown to check things out," Patterson said. "It's the downtown that gives a community its character. When someone says, 'I'm from Bemidji,' people think of the downtown much more than they think of the big boxes."
With an attractive downtown, Patterson said "we have a pretty amazing variety of stores, especially the dining establishments. They bring traffic to downtown and have helped give Bemidji's downtown a flavor that you won't find if you only have chain restaurants."
Patterson's has been a centerpiece of Bemidji's retail industry for 82 years and appears well suited to continue serving its customers into the future. Since Abe Patterson opened the business generations ago, the store has concentrated on providing quality merchandise and friendly customer service.
"My advice to someone opening a specialty store would be to do your best every time for your customers," Steve Patterson said. "I think everybody has to do it their own way but I also think that, more and more, there will be a place for the specialty store. The appeal seems to be on the upswing."