Almost 90 years have passed since Frank Fischer ran a general store on Dodd Road near Hwy. 110, giving the spot in Mendota Heights its name of Fischerville.
Now Mendota Heights officials are looking for help in charting a new future for the property, which under different owners has struggled to survive in recent years.
The city is seeking a redevelopment planning grant from the Dakota County Community Development Agency for the site, which has the original general store building, most recently operated as the Fischerville Coffee Shop and Bella Boutique, an adjacent vacant service station and a neighboring empty lot where the city's fire hall once stood.
The coffee shop closed Dec. 31, marking the end of the third attempt by three operators in the past three years. Bob and Susan Engelhart, who most recently ran it, are moving the boutique to south Minneapolis in March.
The city owns the fire hall parcel; the others are in the hands of St. Paul-based Drake Bank, which took them back from the private property owners in 2010.
"It's three funny little parcels in search of some kind of use," said Jake Sedlacek, assistant to the city administrator. The city would use the planning grant, which it expects would cost up to $20,000, to hire a planning consultant or architecture firm to evaluate and do a market analysis of all the properties.
Sedlacek said the city hasn't been actively marketing the city-owned parcel, but realizes it might need to be included in a redevelopment to make the whole site viable. It currently is zoned for residential use, but he said the city would be open to rezoning it.
The building housing the coffee shop and boutique dates to 1924, when Fischer opened the general store, according to the Minnesota Historical Society. Sedlacek said the property is in reasonably good condition, having been remodeled in 2006.
"We recognize that we have this very nice building on a very tricky lot," Sedlacek said.
He believes a lack of parking and the proximity of two Caribou Coffees have hurt the coffee shop. "The competition in the coffee business is very tight," he said. He also said that the vacant service station detracts from the site and that the study would likely recommend removing it.
Bob Engelhart said he believes the coffee shop hasn't caught on is because all of the recent operators ran it as a side business. Both he and his wife had other jobs when they took over the coffee shop and boutique, although his wife now runs the boutique full time, he said. Although they acquired the businesses, they leased the building from Drake Bank.
"Stand-alone retail has issues. It has to be a destination," Engelhart said. "I do think somebody could make a go of it, but they would need to build out the kitchen, get decent signage, parking and maybe put in a patio." He said it's possible the business might succeed as a brewpub or a gourmet ice cream shop that could do well in the summer, drawing business from ballgame crowds at Mendakota Community Park across the street.
The building came close to being sold about two years ago to a catering firm that wanted to operate it as a restaurant. Sedlacek said the deal fell through when the buyers couldn't come to terms with Drake Bank.
The bank recently listed it for sale with James Miller Investment Realty Co. It's priced at $499,000, slightly more than its taxable value of $482,300.
James Miller said a market analysis of the property could help efforts to market it.
"Some people can just look at a piece of property and they know exactly what they want to do with it, but I think it would be helpful to have a study that would present several alternatives," Miller said. "We're hoping to work with the city on this."
Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282