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Business in Wadena: Brick and mortar looks to do what online can't

Joey McQuiston stands by a display of retro and newer gaming consoles and games for sale at his store, Joeys PCs. He added the retro gaming systems in order provide a different draw to his business others in the area were not providing. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal1 / 4
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Pam Cooper has been operating Over the Rainbow Floral and Gifts for 25 years in Wadena and understands the need to change with the times to stay competitive in the sometimes unpredictable world of flower sales. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal 3 / 4
The "Shop Small" message is one seen throughout Wadena, reminding shoppers to support small businesses. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal4 / 4

Wadena's historic commercial district is being considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its nearly unchanged buildings in the last century.

While the buildings have not changed much, many of the businesses inside them continue to change, meeting the needs of the current consumer. Because, they simply have to be able to adjust to consumer trends.

Today's retail businesses are up against a giant, known as online shopping. But if busy business owners, new businesses popping up and help wanted signs are any indication, Wadena's retail businesses are still thriving.

When asked what it was that kept them buzzing in the face of an ever online dependent society, it was fairly simple.

Overwhelmingly, customer service.

"Knowing your customer, that type of thing is what helps us," said Ron Greiman at Greiman's Printing.

"Customer service, that's one thing online cannot do," said Pam Cooper owner of Over the Rainbow Floral for 25 years. "If we get asked by a customer for something, we will go out of our way to get it for them."

Another local business, Joey's PC, says having a storefront and an online presence can help the bottom line.

"Being able to service your products if needed is also important," McQuiston said. "I believe the service industry will continue to grow."

He also points out some problems with online shopping that turn people off.

"The first would be the obvious one, waiting two to seven business days to get your product," McQuiston said. "This takes away some of the satisfaction from shopping. Also leaving expensive packages on your doorstep is a little scary. And having to return an item that is not what you expected is frustrating."

And as your every click is tracked, the online businesses sell you what they think you would be interested in.

"When you run a search they can put certain products in front of you that might not be right," McQuiston said. "As a small business we can listen to what you need and get the right product for you."

Even though online prices are often cheaper, that is not always the case.

"Prices rise and fall all the time with supply and demand," McQuiston said. "It's called dynamic pricing. Last year the price of Gaming Video Cards spiked. I had cards here in the store for $150 that were selling online for over $300. As a small business owner you have to watch these trends and take full advantage of them. I was able to sell those cards online for more than double the cost. Because of this, most people will just look something up online and assume it's the lowest price around, and without even thinking, place an order."

It's not all about bad mouthing online shopping. Retailers recognize they need to change how they do business and spend more time online themselves, letting shoppers know they are there.

"We've got to be part of it," Greiman said of using online to boost business. He's looking into ways for people to order pictures from them online and stop in for photos ready to go. While the online software can be expensive, he knows it's something they have to try to stay competitive.

While many people have a plan and purpose shopping at the hardware stores or computer store, Pam Cooper still gets a lot of tourists stopping by her business Over the Rainbow Floral, which she's been working out of for 25 years. That may seem a bit odd as Wadena does not have the same "lake country" draw as some of its neighbors. But it seems the historic art deco of the town is a draw. That historic look even gets a lot of people stopping by her business just to take photos outside by a variety of beautiful flowers and brickwork.

"We're still one of those few places a lot of tourists stop," Cooper said. She said she is on a list of stops for those heading through on bus tours. Cooper added a coffee bar in the business to further cater to customers browsing the assortment of decorations, gifts and flowers.

Cooper also sees a fair amount of foot traffic because of the location near restaurants and a laundromat. In fact, a fair amount of folks that probably don't do any online shopping, Amish, stop by while having their laundry done in the winter.

While many people simply come in and look at the variety, others call back later asking about buying something they saw. And not unlike much of Wadena's historic businesses, Over the Rainbow is a 110 year old building, which is a draw for folks that are just looking to see a really cool old building.

Wadena's location at the cross hairs of highways 10 and 71 has helped build a history of strong retail in the city. Many believe that while retail is changing, it's far from history in this town.