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Year in business: The Grand Forks area had its share of companies opening, expanding and closing in 2017

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Grand Forks area had its share of companies opening, expanding and closing in 2017, making for an active year in the business world. But some stories stood out more than others.

In no particular order, here are the top business stories of the year from the Grand Forks Herald.

Altru to rebuild

The structural failure of the main clinic at Altru Hospital was a rough way to end 2016, but 2017 brought the announcement of a new hospital that will replace the 40-year-old facility.

The health care system that serves more than 200,000 residents in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota announced in early November it would build a $250 million hospital. The announcement came less than a year after a wall of the main clinic at 1200 S. Columbia Road sagged Dec. 29, prompting an evacuation of the building. The hospital began to demolish the clinic in September.

It's still unclear where the hospital will be built or how large it will be, but Altru has heralded the project as a "bold new era of care." Groundbreaking should begin in 2019, with completion slated for 2022.

Digi-Key commits to expansion in Thief River Falls

The promise to bring 1,000 jobs to northwest Minnesota was secured this summer when Digi-Key Electronics announced it would build a million-square-foot expansion in Thief River Falls.

The electronics distributor that has been based in Thief River Falls for more than 40 years announced plans earlier this year to build the facility, which is expected to cost between $200 million and $300 million. Digi-Key said it was looking at various locations but courted the city and Minnesota Legislature for incentives to keep the expansion near its headquarters in Pennington County.

After gaining support from city leaders and state legislators from the area, the state approved millions of dollars in incentives. Digi-Key announced June 1 it would build in Thief River Falls.

Construction should begin in the spring and take about three years to complete. Hiring for the 1,000 workers should occur at a rate of 100 employees per year over the next decade.

Government and Digi-Key leaders say the expansion will benefit not just Thief River Falls but Minnesota as a whole, bringing in about $184 million in annual state revenue.

Macy's and other retailers announce closings

Retailers across the country marked 2017 with announcements and rounds of closings in an attempt to compete with online stores, and the Grand Forks area was no exception.

The year started with Macy's announcing in January it would close its Columbia Mall location in Grand Forks. The 9,000-square-foot space that was an anchor tenant at the mall since 2006 has sat empty since closing in March. The space sold for about $396,000 in mid-December, but no announcements have been made on who will occupy it.

Grand Forks got a scare when Gordmans announced it had filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, which would force it to close all of its stores. Grand Forks and the three other locations in North Dakota were spared closures, according to Herald archives.

Thief River Fall was hit harder with the announcement of two store closings. J.C. Penney Co. announced in March it would close its downtown location. That store had ties to downtown Thief River Falls since 1920, but that legacy came to an end in August when it closed. Kmart also announced in November it would close its Thief River Falls location in January.

There were announcements of retailers coming to town. PetSmart, Ross Dress For Less and Harbor Freight Tools filed preliminary plans this year to renovate the Treasure Hunters building, which has sat empty since 2014. PetSmart and Harbor Freight plan to open in early 2018, though it's unclear when Ross will open.

Downtown sees ups and downs

Downtown Grand Forks had its ups and downs in business.

The most notable loss likely was Amazing Grains Natural Food Cooperative, which shuttered its doors in May after disappointing sales over several years. The co-op that had a presence in Grand Forks since 1972 was in various locations across town until it moved in 2000 to its final location at 214 DeMers Ave.

The store's closing meant the end of downtown access to a grocery store, but the co-op remained active in the following months to determine if it should pursue another venture. Brothers Firearm Shop announced in September it would open a shop there. The timeframe for the gunshop to open is uncertain.

There were openings, including Half Brothers Brewing Co. and Ely's Ivy. Half Brothers took over the Dakota Harvest Bakery space, which closed in September 2016. The brewery opened in October, serving self-brewed beer and its own recipes for pizza and appetizers.

Ely's Ivy, which is owned by Toasted Frog co-founder Scott Franz and his wife, Rachel, opened in November. It was the first time since 2014 the space at 322 DeMers Ave. welcomed guests after the closing of Sanders, a downtown favorite.

Whitey's closes, makes way for beer and burger pub

East Grand Forks' iconic Prohibition-era restaurant closed in August for a beer and burger pub, Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews, but it was revived again when the two opened in December.

Starmark Hospitality of Fargo announced it purchased Whitey's so it could move Sickies Garage in Grand Forks to the East Grand Forks location. Whitey's had served the area under various names since the 1920s and survived the 1997 flood.

Though it closed, Whitey's was brought back in the basement of Sickies. It offers a partial menu and can host about 80 guests.

Sonic and Chick-fil-A

Several restaurants opened in Grand Forks, but few attracted as much hype as Sonic and Chick-fil-A.

Sonic took the place of the Ponderosa Steakhouse at 1800 S. Washington St. when the national food chain opened in September. It was the first time in nearly a decade the location saw business—Ponderosa was on the market for 10 years before it was demolished this spring. Known for its drive-in appeal, Sonic was the third location to open in North Dakota after Fargo and Minot.

Chick-fil-A applied for approval in late 2016 for a Grand Forks restaurant, but the restaurant caused a buzz when it announced in May that Grand Forks would be the first in North Dakota to get a taste of the chicken sandwich chain. Built at 3230 32nd Ave. S., Chick-fil-A opened in mid-October. Another Chick-fil-A is slated to open in early 2018 in Fargo.

Both restaurant openings attracted attention from Herald readers, and lines of people showed up to get the first bite of the Sonic and Chick-fil-A experiences.

Honorable mentions

Lyft and Uber come to Grand Forks.

Pembina Gorge Foundation buys Frost Fire Ski Resort and Theater.

Swine lot announced for Devils Lake area.

Grand Forks Air Force Base leaders concerned over proposed Base Realignment and Closure round.

Grand Forks Herald building for sale.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248