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Continued: Old Anoka: Could it become the new Stillwater?

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 25, 2014 - 10:42 AM

That includes the new MN Firearms Training, a second-floor storefront between the tobacco shop and the River City Saloon. The store, run by professional bodyguard Michael Briggs, opened two months ago to little fanfare.

“I suppose it’s all right, but it creeps me out a little bit,” said Tracy Beck, who owns Lillian’s Designer Styles, a tiny shop that serves browsers cookies and lemonade and announces with the ringing of a bell, “Attention, ladies, we have a man in the store,” when one wanders in.

“I think of Anoka as an adorable river city with an interesting group of merchants,” Beck said of a city first settled in 1844. “But gun training? I guess downtown just got more interesting.”

Briggs’ training classes include men and women instructors and cater to all — novice handgun owners, experienced marksmen and kids learning to hunt. He says he doubts he would have tried to open his business in, say, Minnetonka.

“But this is a northern suburb downtown,” Briggs said. “I think the neighborhood likes having us here because it makes it more secure. People here are very vocal about supporting their firearms. It’s kind of a boys’ club here.”

Briggs wisely introduced himself to the Anoka police and county deputies, many of whom are interested in buying weapons from him, he said. He also has ridden with the biker crowd at the River City Saloon, said bar owner Holly Brezinka.

“It’s part of our downtown,” Brezinka said. “Somehow, it works.”

‘The mix … makes it all work’

It has persevered despite outsiders’ perception that Anoka, being up north, is much farther from Minneapolis than Stillwater, White Bear Lake, Chaska or other quaint metro area downtowns.

“We’re not in Brainerd,” Turok said.

Stores like Peterson Shoes, Jensen’s Department Store and Gould’s jewelry store have catered to several generations.

“You don’t see big businesses here,” said Justin Matthews, a barber at Cowboy Mel’s Barber Shop. “And it’s an ideal town for walking. That’s what makes it work.”

When drivers approach downtown Anoka from Hwy. 169, the first image is one of downtown’s two tattoo parlors. Walk a block and you discover the Happenstance home decor store, a quilt shop, and Truffles and Tortes Dessert Cafe and Pucci Pet Career Studios, a school for dog groomers.

“It’s the mix that makes it all work,” said Dawn O’Bannon, who owns the Sweet River Candy Co. and Main Floral. “This may be the best mix we’ve had.”

On one corner of 2nd Avenue, there’s an antique store. Redrum, a head shop, is across the street. So is the firearms store.

“We’re different,” Mayor Phil Rice said. “But we’re not that much different from Stillwater or Red Wing. There’s history here, too, you know.”


Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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