HOFFMAN, Minn. — Muriel Krusemark grew up here, so she can point to any business on Main Avenue and tell its history, which is her own. The plumber’s shop sits where the meat market once operated. The galleria was a furniture store and before that, a bakery. The new shop on the corner? An arcade.
But a decade ago, there wasn’t much to point to. Storefronts sat vacant. “All of this,” said Krusemark, 73, gesturing to three buildings, “was empty.”
Then Krusemark returned to town. Since the retiree took a part-time gig as Hoffman’s economic development coordinator in 2007, businesses have filled the city’s main drag — two modest blocks bordered by silver grain silos. With doggedness and good humor, Krusemark has helped this small city 25 miles southwest of Alexandria fight economic forces that have emptied out similar Main Streets across Minnesota and the country. The gobbling up of small farms. The closing of schools. The arrival of big-box retailers in distant, larger cities.
Krusemark doesn’t try to lure hot, 100-employee companies to Hoffman, pop. 681. Instead, her day-to-day work sustains small projects that are a big deal to residents.
She checks people in and out of Motel 1, the one-room hotel on Main. For months, she cooked the meals served at the farmers market, her brainchild. Most days, she closes out the till at the Main Street Galleria, a marketplace inspired by her trip to Wadena, Minn.
“These are not stories you’d hear from the economic developer in Minneapolis,” said David Fluegel, executive director of the Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership. “But for a city the size of Hoffman, in my estimation it just doesn’t get any better than Muriel.”
‘I’ll speed it up!’
Einar Gudjonsson was painting the back room of his new shop when Krusemark came through the front door with a cascading “Hello, hello!”
He told her his last steps: Painting, putting in carpet, hanging the sign: Midwest Hotel Furniture Liquidators.
“So you’ll be open by the Harvest Festival?” she asked. When he looked bewildered, she continued: “This is a good time of year. There’s about 30 campers out at the lake — good customers that won’t be here in September.”
“I’ll speed it up!” Gudjonsson promised, hands in the air. “I’m on his case,” she explained with a wink.
Neighbors and former interns call Krusemark persuasive. Tenacious. “She’s a spitfire,” said Jeffrey Wencl.
Wencl was 21 years old and a senior at the University of Minnesota, Morris when he interviewed in 2008 for an internship with Krusemark’s office. “You’re supposed to be talking about your qualifications,” he said. “But instead, she was like, here’s the plan. And you better get on board.”
Krusemark knew what residents wanted, Wencl said. Not a fancy restaurant or a movie theater, but a doctor who came to town once a week. She launched a plan to get a clinic, persuading practitioners in Alexandria and Fergus Falls to spend a few hours a week in Hoffman.
She nabbed an $86,000 grant to renovate a “falling down building” and enlisted inmates to do the demolition work. Today, the Hoffman branch of Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services is open three days a week.
Wencl said that victory showed residents that her vision for a better Hoffman was real. “Then she had leverage — look, these plans are not just fairy tales,” he said.
Four years after graduating and working as an officer in the U.S. Navy, Wencl visited Hoffman while on transfer leave. “It was just night and day,” he said. “Everything she talked about had come to fruition.”
Krusemark also has big plans for Wencl, who’s headed to law school: “He’s coming back to start his lawyers practice here,” she said, pointing to his future law office.