About a year or so ago, your blogger was contacted by a rather energetic Minnesota native named Sylvia Allen who had set her sights on buying and renovating the historic Butler Building in Aitkin, almost three hours due north of the Twin Cities.

Those of you with lake cabins in that area may be familiar with the Butler building, which served as a general store in downtown Aitkin for decades. The 1903 historic structure was originally built at the Aitkin Opera House, and served as the cultural and economic center for the community at the early part of the 20th century.

Others may know Aitkin and the Butler Building if they’ve attended the World-Famous Fish House Parade, an event held downtown every year the day-after Thanksgiving that typically welcomes winter.

Allen, a businesswoman and philanthropist who resides in New Jersey, is the building’s principal owner and she’s determined to restore it into a destination for retail, dining and other events. And now, she has her first tenant in the newly renovated site — The Beanery, an internet cafe/coffee shop that recently relocated to the Butler Building from a different spot in Aitkin. The new space provides more room in the Butler Building for the Beanery to host entertainment at night, with beer and wine, and special events.

Said the Beanery’s co-owner, Amanda MacDonald: “We are sure our guests will love our new space.”

Allen hopes the Butler Project— the name of the non-profit she created — will help spark downtown revitalization in Aitkin, and to that end, the building will be renovated in phases. The first phase will involve renovating the exterior, and leasing the main floor. She says there’s now room for five retail spaces ranging in size from 400 square feet to 650 square feet there. She’s thinking a diverse collection of shops, and space for “special marketing events” such as an indoor farmers’ market and craft fairs.

In the future, the plan calls for upper-level theater and event/entertainment space, and a lower level featuring two restaurants.

For more information, www.thebutlerproject.org

Janet Moore covers commercial real estate for the Star Tribune.

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