Confident retailers, eateries flock to Grand Forks2011 has been a year filled with new business openings and announcements of new businesses. Business owners say the Grand Forks market really is growing, especially with Canadian visitors, and they expect it’ll keep growing.
By: Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald
The past year has been busy with openings and expansions of restaurants and retailers in the Grand Forks area, and according to business owners there is an appetite here for more.
“It’s a destination city,” said Lance Thorson, partner in JL Beers, a Fargo-based bar and burger restaurant that opened on South Columbia Road in August. “I found during our construction that your hotels are always packed.”
Growth in the restaurant segment of the retail market has been particularly strong. Eateries that have recently opened or announced plans for new stores include chains such as Ruby Tuesday, the Olive Garden, and Noodles & Co.; and regional groups such as JL Beers, Drunken Noodle, and Fuji’s Japanese Steakhouse and Seafood.
Other retailers have moved in or expanded. Scan Design furniture opened this month on South Washington Street; Karl’s electronics has opened on 32nd Avenue South; and Scheels plans to move into the 120,000-square-foot formerly occupied by Target.
Room to grow
Business owners said they were motivated by the Grand Forks area’s position as the population anchor of the upper Red River Valley and its ability to attract Canadian shoppers.
“It seems like there’s a niche to fill here,” said Allen Larsien, co-owner of Scan Design. “There just was a general feeling that Grand Forks seemed to be ready for this type of thing.”
Larsien and his partners opened their first store in Fargo seven years ago. They found that their store was attracting customers willing to drive south for their products, and they had a good response when they advertised in the Grand Forks market. They were also drawing shoppers from Manitoba and northern Minnesota.
“We thought about logical steps for growth, and Grand Forks was always part of our plan,” said Larsien, who along with his partners also grew up in Grand Forks. “It seems like Grand Forks is on the upswing.”
Many new businesses here have Fargo roots, and the city is a logical step for expanding companies.
“We had three outlets in Fargo and felt we’d pretty much tapped out Fargo,” said Dave Scheer, a co-owner of Little Bangkok in East Grand Forks who plans to open another restaurant, Drunken Noodle, in the former Applebee’s location nearby.
He opened Little Bangkok a year ago and decided to expand when he saw a space open up downtown. “It was a target of opportunity,” said Scheer, who is planning to open restaurants in Bismarck as well.
JL Beers is also expanding quickly with recent store openings in Moorhead and West Fargo and plans for new locations in Sioux Falls in March and Bismarck in May.
The owners of Fuji’s also opened a Bismarck restaurant this year and are considering other regional locations.
“It’s obviously one of the next steps, to go to Grand Forks,” Thorson said. “You guys obviously have a lot more traffic from Canada.”
While Grand Forks’ economy is not hurting, it has not had the strong growth that other North Dakota town such as Fargo or Bismarck have posted in the past decade. However, new construction along 42nd Street and 32nd Avenue shows life in the economy, as do sales tax collections running 8 percent higher than the same period last year.
Dan Clark, project manager of Fuji’s, said he does not see a stagnant market in the Grand Forks area. He said he expects a strong turnout when his restaurant opens, likely in January.
“Grand Forks, just like every other city in North Dakota is growing,” he said. “We also see one of the largest universities in North Dakota.”
He said his sushi bar and hibachi dining will not be like any current restaurants in town and the market is supported by students he expects to be regular customers.
“The population base is large enough for us to bring this kind of dining to this area,” said Clark, who feels confident that the local customer base will turn out for the business. “We’re not betting on it. We know it’s going to happen.”
Reach Christopher Bjorke at (701) 780-1117 or send email to email@example.com.