Sustaining a small northern town with access to shelter, hardware and sandwiches

Samantha Erkkila, Digital Media Specialist

August 3, 2023

Welcome to Big Falls, Minnesota. Population 175.

Located 40 miles southwest of International Falls in Koochiching County, the town is home to a newly renovated campground, miles of ATV and horseback trails, and the century old Gorden’s General Store building.

That building, now owned by U.S. Army veteran Joslin Krist, houses the only grocery store in the area, (the nearest is 20 miles north), six upstairs apartment rentals, kayak rentals, and a general store, Big Falls Mercantile.

“That’s huge for people to come in here if they need anything for their camper, or for camping, or any of the town's people. They don't have to drive a half hour to get any kind of hardware or food,” said Joslin, owner of Big Falls Mercantile. “We have all that here in this little, tiny town.”

Joslin Krist purchased the Gorden's General Store building with the help of a commercial real estate loan through the Entrepreneur Fund. The building, built in 1912, houses the area's only grocery store for 20 miles, Big Falls Mercantile and upstairs apartment rentals. (Entrepreneur Fund)

Purchasing an essential building in the community

Looking to step into business ownership, Joslin connected with her local Small Business Development Center and the Koochiching Economic Development Authority in International Falls. After working through some business plans, she was referred to the Entrepreneur Fund for a commercial real estate loan to help her purchase the building on Second Street and acquire the business assets of Gorden’s Hardware.

Joslin had good credit but said she didn’t make much money where she was working. Meanwhile, her now ex-husband had bad credit, but made good money. That situation made getting a traditional loan to buy the building and obtain the business difficult.

“The Entrepreneur Fund took a chance on us. They believed in us,” said Joslin. “They were always about looking at the best avenue to make sure our business was good.”

In business for over a year now, with many bumps along the way including countless building repairs, vandalized apartment units, and an abrupt divorce shortly after purchasing the building, Joslin remains steadfast in her commitment to providing essential goods and services to the town. She’s even working on expanding with the addition of a sandwich shop in the back of her store.

“Other than bar food, there's nowhere within about a half hour from here to have some homemade fresh food to eat,” said Joslin. “After you've kayaked all day, and you’ve hunted for rocks, and you've chased the kids around, the last thing you want to do is cook. The whole family could walk down here, grab a sandwich, grab an ice cream, or coffee.”

In early 2022, Joslin secured a loan through EFund’s Healthy Food Fund to help buy the commercial equipment needed for her sandwich shop addition. The Healthy Food Fund is a specialized fund to support local grocers and food retailers, like Joslin, and food producers.

Access to capital is a significant barrier that these businesses often face and yet they are essential to local economies. EFund is committed to supporting these vital businesses through the Heathy Food Fund to ensure local food retailers and producers can purchase necessary equipment, hire additional staff, and invest in technology that can help them grow their business and sustain their community with access to fresh, healthy, locally sourced food.

“The Healthy Food Fund loan has allowed Joslin to expand her business to offer healthier food choices for the area,” said JoAnn Smith, Joslin’s business advisor from the beginning and EFund business developer for the International Falls and Iron Range areas. “The only other options for food service in Big Falls are fried food or gas station goods. Providing this new benefit will allow Big Falls and the surrounding communities to have healthier options and live healthier lifestyles.”

Joslin Krist, left, and Entrepreneur Fund business developer JoAnn Smith, talk about the progress being made on Joslin's future sandwich shop. (Entrepreneur Fund)

Rural communities thrive on success of small businesses

A cabin purchase in the area over 20 years ago is what brought Joslin and her family to the northern town along the banks of the Big Fork River, but she says it’s the people in the community that have made the town feel like home.

“The people here are absolutely amazing,” she said. “The things they do for me and the love they give me is wonderful.”

During a recent visit, you could feel that strong sense of community as various people checked in with Joslin to return an air compressor, offer to help with apartment repairs, and just chat for a bit while the kids dropped quarters in the gumball machine for a treat. It’s not lost on Joslin or the people of Big Falls that her store plays a huge role in supporting the lives of the locals and the tourists that visit the area.

“Joslin is creative, determined, and grateful,” said Smith. “She has faced numerous obstacles but continues to strive for personal and community success. She understands how each small business is impactful to a rural area and that people depend on her and her business for their everyday needs.”

“I enjoy the satisfaction I get from running my own business and being able to make this whole town happy to have this business here,” added Joslin. “That's what makes my heart good. And that's what makes me satisfied.”

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