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Businesses moving locations, filling spaces in Bemidji's central district

Businesses moving into town, switching locations, under new ownership -- the face of downtown Bemidji is in the process of change.

One of the major moves is Kelsey's As You Like It Jewelry Store. After 32 years in the same location at 312 Beltrami Ave. N.W., Pamela and Michael Kelsey are relocating their business a few doors north to 318 Beltrami Ave. N.W., the former Frances Allen Flowers, which moved earlier this year to 814 Beltrami Ave. N.W.

Pamela Kelsey said their move is scheduled for early June, after renovations are complete at their new site. She said the new Kelsey's will have about three times more space than the tiny store tucked into a corner of the Chief Theatre building, home of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse.

The current store has 230 square feet for a showroom and retail area above a workshop in the basement. The new store, which is part of the Bemidji Elks Club property, will house the workshop and salesroom on the same level.

"It's really a perfect layout for us because of the back area for our workshop and a nice sales floor in front," Kelsey said.

She said the new store will maintain the business' signature red tile and awning.

Kelsey's is one of two family-run jewelry stores in downtown Bemidji, the other being Ken K. Thompson at 419 Beltrami Ave. N.W.

Next door to Kelsey's new location is the former Frostbite Falls Screening site. Frostbite moved last fall to 3724 Bemidji Ave. N., and now occupies part of Kobilka's North Country Sporting Goods building. With that move, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse lost the use of the silk screening shop basement for a rehearsal space.

Lisa Bruns, a Paul Bunyan Playhouse board member, said the Kelseys' move will free up the jewelry store basement to serve as a "green room" for theater rehearsals, dressing rooms and costume and prop storage.

Also changing locations is Snow Goose Gifts from 405 Beltrami Ave. N.W. to 313 Irvine Ave. N.W., next door to the Bemidji Woolen Mills. The owner is Leah Pierce.

Change of ownership

On March 31, Tom Allen took over as owner of Tutto Bene, 300 Beltrami Ave. N.W.

"It's been two-and-a-half glorious weeks," said Allen.

Former owner Lori Forshee-Donnay said the restaurant opened in May 1995 in what had been Luigi's Pizza. She and her partners built an addition in 2000.

"It's absolutely a beautiful venue, a perfect location," Allen said.

He said he met his wife, Audra, a Blackduck kindergarten teacher, and moved to Bemidji. Their sons, Christopher, 9, and Matthew, 7, attend Central Elementary School.

Allen managed the Ground Round for a time, but he missed being his own boss. He and his family owned a Pepin, Wis., restaurant which they sold in 2003.

"My wife said I'd never be happy until I worked for myself again, and she was right," Allen said.

He said he will maintain the Italian cuisine Tutto Bene is known for, but he will add steaks, prime rib and seafood to the menu to expand the customer base. He said he is open Mondays through Saturdays and also plans to keep the bar open late so that audiences from the Paul Bunyan Playhouse and other evening events can come in for a drink and snack or espresso and dessert after performances.

"I'm very fortunate to walk into a situation where the staff is intact and very professional," Allen said.

After 11 years in the restaurant business, Forshee-Donnay has taken up a new career. As of May 1, she will take over from Suzi Rhae Ross as director of the Bemidji Community Arts Center. Ross, who has managed the center for six years, said she plans to go back to school at Bemidji State University for a graduate degree in industrial technology. However, she said she will continue to manage the Bemidji Sculpture Walk.

"That's my passion," she said. "That's the one piece of the puzzle I want to make time for."

Family ties

After 35 years, Bemidji Mercantile, 124 Minnesota Ave. N.W., is also under new ownership, although the furniture and carpeting business will stay in the same family.

Sidney and Janice Moe, 1957 Bemidji High School graduates, went into business at Bemidji Mercantile in 1971 with a small hardware and floor covering store. The couple has expanded the business several times. Now, the Moes' daughter, Kristie Sutherland, will take over the store.

"Mom and Dad are trying to retire," said Sutherland.

Sutherland said she, her husband, Royce, and 2-year-old daughter, Roycee, are commuting from the Twin Cities during the transition. They will move back to Bemidji permanently this summer.

Sutherland said she is working with new vendors and she has spruced up the store with a new coat of paint. She said she plans to continue the family business.

"Dad built a heck of a foundation there and we hope to take it to a new level," she said.

New business

When Frostbite moved north, the business left an empty space on Beltrami Avenue. That spot will be filled in early June by a new business coming to town.

Book World, an independent chain of full-service book stores, is renovating the building for books, CDs, DVDs, periodicals, greeting cards and a tobacco shop. Book World caters to all ages.

The chain of 43 Book World stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is owned by William Streur.

"We are in some malls, but we do well in downtowns," said Kathleen Ludden, Book World vice president of store operations, in a telephone interview from the company headquarters in Appleton, Wis.

She said Book World, which operates eight stores in Minnesota, chooses mid-sized cities for expansion. The stores currently in the Bemidji area are in Walker, Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids and Brainerd/Baxter.

"We pride ourselves on our regional selections," Ludden said of Book World merchandise.

Streur's chain started in Rhinelander, Wis., in 1976. Ludden said each store's staff of booksellers are hired from the community.

Downtown planning

Pat Donnay, president of the Downtown Development Authority, said the activity is part of a transition period for Bemidji. He said the DDA has set priorities and is planning for the next two decades.

"We've been working for a couple of years reinvigorating the planning process," he said. "There are a variety of goals that have emerged from this planning process. We're now trying to implement them."

Plans include a potential regional events center, improving the waterfront and its connection with downtown, a downtown congregating place and mixed housing.

"We want to get more people living downtown," Donnay said.

He said the DDA is also looking for a way to "brand" Bemidji with a "distinctive, high-quality, iconic image that defines downtown."