Good Coffee and Building Community

Stopping at the Black Bear Bakery and Cafe in Chisholm yesterday was one of those great small town moments. My intention was to simply meet and welcome the new owners and express my great appreciation for their coffee shop (whenever I bike at Redhead Mountain Bike Park I invariably start to crave a cup of strong, dark coffee. Now there’s a place to get it right there!) But I left feeling inspired by entrepreneurs and those small business owners who build our Range communities.

I love seeing new businesses open in our Range towns. Owners Robert Enriguez, LLoyd and Anna Show, and Michelle Chrisman have completely redone the Black Bear building, top to bottom. The storefront hosts the coffee shop and bakery complete with an espresso machine and Duluth Coffee Company Beans (yay!). The upstairs has been renovated to a gorgeous Airbnb rental.

Robert Enriguez is new to the area. An article by the Mesabi Tribune shared Enriquez is a producer/director from Los Angeles, California living here part time. Being on the Range, news spreads–and I had heard via the happy rumor mill that “a producer” had bought the Chisholm building. That’s him! Lloyd and Anna are local, as is Michelle Chrisman–and here was the happy small town moment. I had met Michelle ten years ago when she was my student at the local college. Our girls had both been toddlers–now they are teens–and Michelle is helping this business evolve!

In economic development there is a lot of conversation about the power of small business for community vitality. Per Strong Towns, small businesses “give a community its character. (They) create that sense of “place” that attracts tourists, young people and empty nesters (increasing numbers of both groups want to live downtown), a talented workforce, and yes, bigger businesses and other investors who drive further growth.” Who doesn’t land in the local coffee shops and restaurants when they travel?

This was apparent as I visited with the barista and owners, and I watched customers come in, order and chat. The Black Bear Bakery and Cafe, like many of our Range establishments, is a building block for the community. Culture is transmitted through communication–verbally, visually, kinesthetically. Our small businesses play an important role in creating and amplifying the culture of our Range towns–both adding to customs and strengthening them.

When I think about my “favorites” in our Range towns, they are always privately owned, small businesses. And they were not always started by folks born in the region–sometimes they are newcomers. To all those thinking of opening a small business, I encourage you to say: Hello Range!



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