What Made in Mankato taught me about cities.

For those of you who don’t know me, I really love anyone that’s doing anything to help Mankato.

One of those people is Jordan Powers.

He started Made in Mankato. A group dedicated to telling the story of small business owners in the city. Every month for a whole year we released a five-minute documentary about a local business. It was a ton of fun, I met a bunch of new people and I came away with a huge respect for the community’s entrepreneurs.

When he put out the call for people, I knew I had to be part of it, even though I know barely anything about making videos.

We did ten businesses. I won’t list them all but you can check out all of them on the Made in Mankato website.

Something that struck me the other night was that (if you include Kato Crossfit) 8 out of the 10 businesses were in the downtown, the core.

I had the opportunity to ask most of the business owners why. Their answers varied from being cheap, to character, to location.

They’re all the right answer in my opinion.

Cheap- It’s true, when you have a small, simple building, you give an entrepreneur the opportunity to get on their feet without breaking the bank. There is a reason these buildings were built in the first place and that’s because there’s an overarching principle of business. Maximize business while reducing overhead. Something that’s hard to do when you’re out on the sprawly edge of town bogged down by minimum parking requirements.

The simple buildings and small lots also give business owners an opportunity to congregate and actually help each other. If I went to Salvage Sisters with my wife, you bet your last horse I would end up chatting with my friends in the Dork Den and maybe even walking down the Coffee Hag because my bike is getting a tune up at Nicollet South. All within three blocks, all without a car, all while supporting my fellow Mankatoans. Feels good.

On my way back maybe I’ll swing by Friesen’s (I threw them in because I love them) and charter a rafting tour at Bent River Outfitters.

MIM-DT-BiZ

Character- You can’t build old buildings, it’s impossible, but you can build building that will become old like the ones we have. There is a “feel” to old buildings that you’re not going to get up on Madison Avenue (no offense Indigo, you’re a great business.) Mom and Pop’s is now in a renovated corner store. When you walk inside, you can see all the awesome old pictures from what it used to be. Kind of adds to a Sense of Place, no?

Think about that building on the tax rolls for the city too. It’s a GOLD MINE. That one building has been supplying taxes to the city for what, 100 years? Doubt you’ll be able to say that about Wal-Mart in the future.

Location- Riverfront handles a lot of cars and as I said earlier, it’s a place where local businesses congregate. This allows like minded people to come down, shop, walk, eat, etc.. There’s something to be said about a historic location too. It’s fitting to put this generation’s business types in the same place where their spirit forefathers were.

Look where we are now. We ripped out an incredibly beautiful, incredibly productive downtown for shiny and new. However, all is not lost.

I’m continually amazed by people think that we can’t have what we used to. They’ll say things like, it’s dead and done, it happen, can’t rebuild the past. While this is true you can’t rebuild exactly what we tore down we can just build our own. However, we need to make investments. You’re not going to get great new buildings in old town

I always say “Downtowns don’t die, they just get sick.” There’s always value in being downtown and now that we’re ushering in the beginning of the end for the “happy motoring” age, you’ll only see that value increase.

I’m happy that I got to meet all the people that made Made in Mankato possible. It was awesome and I hope we get to do more in the future.

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.