A cooperative for artists, a hair salon with a jungle theme and an ice cream shop that would expand to include a take-and-bake pizza operation are the three finalists selected in Princeton’s It Starts Here competition to fill downtown vacancies.
The winners must either locate a new business or expand an existing one in the downtown by this coming September, though they could seek an extension.
The city of Princeton and the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce started the It Starts Here challenge about a year ago, offering a $10,000 forgivable loan to up to three businesses who make the final cut in the competition.
The It Starts Here review committee ended up with 14 eligible applicants and on April 23 chose three finalists. The finalists – Central Minnesota Art Co-op, the Santa Lucia’s ice cream business and The Jungle Family Hair Salon – must each present a detailed business plan to the review committee on May 6, according to Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman. The committee will then recommend up to three of the finalists to have their finances and plans scrutinized by the Princeton Economic Development Authority Board to pass muster for receiving the forgivable loan. The city took $30,000 out of a surplus tax increment financing program to supply the forgivable loan fund.
Each of the recipients will also be eligible to receive up to $20,000 in services donated by various local businesses.
About the finalists
The Santa Lucia’s ice cream business is owned by Cathleen Santa Lucia and located on First Street, a half block south of the intersection with Rum River Drive. Its expansion plan is to add a take-and-bake pizza business, said chamber President Scott Berry, the It Starts Here committee spokesperson.
The Jungle Family Hair Salon is owned by Crystal Eller of Princeton. She bought the Elk River business 2 1/2 years ago from the woman who started it a dozen years ago and who had employed Eller at the salon for about 10 years.
Eller, reached on Tuesday, said she would still keep The Jungle Family Hair Salon in Elk River and open a second one in Princeton. She calls the salon unique and family friendly with a kids side and an adult side. The business has jungle decor, Eller said.
Her biggest apprehension now is not the competition but finding the employees she needs who will be good enough for the standards she has set for her hair salon business, she said.
Wendy Bursch, who started the Central Minnesota Art Co-op, said several phases remain in the art co-op’s business plan. The co-op is in the white masonry building; its entrance faces Sixth Avenue and is the same entrance used to get to the printing shop in the building. Bursch bought the printing business and is working on purchasing the building. The $10,000 forgivable loan would help in the expansion plan for the art co-op but “is really a small part” of the expansion cost, Bursch said.
The art co-op plan includes remodeling the building and creating studios that artists can rent, plus adding classroom space. Bursch plans to return the building, as much as possible, to its original feed-and-seed-store look, including putting all the sliding barn-style doors on the outside. Modern, secure doors will be located behind the sliding doors, she noted. A railing will be put up along the outside loading dock and an awning will be installed over that.
Both Bursch and Berry talked about their hopes that businesses, like the ones who applied to be in the It Starts Here competition, can help Princeton become a destination. The other goal, Berry added, is for the city and chamber to continue creating incentives for more businesses to fill any remaining downtown vacancies.
“By making these businesses successful, it will make others successful,” Berry said.
The three finalists, along with the other 11 eligible applicants in the It Starts Here competition, are “dynamic, exciting businesses,” and choosing the finalists was “very difficult,” Berry said.