Fleet Farm eyes late-summer opening for Hermantown store
By Candace Renalls on May 1, 2016 at 10:00 p.m.
If there’s any doubt what the sprawling new development is overlooking Miller Trunk Highway in Hermantown, the orange silo gives it away.
The Hermantown Mills Fleet Farm store at 4165 Market St. is 183,000 square feet or 4½ acres in size. It’s nearing completion, with the parking lot yet to be installed. Fleet Farm eyes late-summer opening for Hermantown store
Mills Fleet Farm has arrived in the Northland.
The big question is: When will it open?
Construction, which began last summer, is wrapping up on the 4½-acre store, with the parking lot, sidewalks, landscaping and some street work still to be completed.
The $18 million project at Loberg Road and Market Street is on track for a late-summer opening.
Company officials aren’t being more specific on the opening in case there are delays. But during a visit to the site last week, Fleet Farm’s senior vice president of store operations, Nickolas Widi, said, “August could be a good month.”
The store, on 35 acres just south of Hom Furniture and west of Sam’s Club, will be the Brainerd-based Fleet Farm’s 36th store. It marks Fleet Farm’s expansion into Northeastern Minnesota and is expected to draw customers from the Iron Range as well as the Twin Ports.
“We are so excited to be here,” Widi said. “This is a market we’ve wanted to be in for some time.”
That didn’t change when, in January, it was announced that the company was being sold to KKR, a global investment firm that intended to grow the business.
For those in Duluth, the closest Fleet Farm stores have been in Baxter, Minn., more than 100 miles to the west, and Cambridge, about 100 miles to the south. Besides stores in central and southern Minnesota, Fleet Farm has stores in Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa.
The chain’s diverse, competitively priced products likely will pose competition for other Duluth-area retailers. Fleet Farm’s offerings include sporting goods, hunting and farm supplies, tools and hardware, clothing, home improvement, automotive supplies, equipment rental and a seasonal garden center.
“With the depth and breadth of our products, we have a full assortment for our customers,” Widi said. “We don’t just dabble in things.”
The Hermantown store also will have an auto service department, a lumber yard with a 17,000-square-foot accessory building, a gas station with 16 pumps, a three-bay car wash (both touchless and soft gloss) and a kerosene dispenser.
Widseth Smith Nolting, a Minnesota-based architectural engineering firm, is the project manager, while Fleet Farm serves as its own general contractor.
At 183,000 square feet, the store will be be smaller than the average 200,000-square-foot Fleet Farm store. But it will be the same size as Fleet Farm’s most recent store to open — last year in Mankato, Minn. Like the Mankato store, the Hermantown store will sport a new layout for a better flow and convenience for customers.
Jobs for the 150 to 200 full-time and part-time employees needed to staff the store started being posted online about a month ago. Hiring has begun, starting with managers. Knowledge and interest in a particular department could snag applicants a job, just as much as retail experience, Widi said.
The exterior of the store is now complete, including the signage on the building, while the last of interior finishing work is being done. Outside, the grounds are being prepared for the coming installation of the parking lot that will accommodate 619 vehicles. Work to reconstruct Westberg Road running behind the store is scheduled to begin this week.
As part of the project, Fleet Farm agreed to upgrade the site’s water supply system, rebuild Westberg Road and put in a traffic signal at Loberg Road and Market Street. Mall Drive now becomes Market Street west of Haines Road, where Hermantown begins.
“They’re doing it,” Hermantown Mayor Wayne Boucher said of the utility and street work. “What we’re doing is taking the increased property taxes and will repay them the cost of those roads out of the increased taxes they will pay.”
Fleet Farm is within the Hermantown Marketplace area, which the city has earmarked for commercial development. Civic leaders expect Fleet Farm’s opening — along with the upcoming openings of the new Holiday Inn Express and a St. Luke’s clinic nearby — will spur more interest in the district.
“We haven’t had anything specific yet,” Boucher said. “But I anticipate in a couple of years we’ll see more development in the area.”