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Trying to stay positive as businesses close on New London's Main Street

While the "for sale" sign on McBroom Construction may make a striking photograph reflecting on the scenic Mill Pond by the New London dam, the number of business closed on New London's Main Street is not a pretty sight. (Carolyn Lange/West Central Tribune)

NEW LONDON -- There's another light turned off on New London's Main Street.

The town's only hardware store closed last week "until further notice" without any apparent warning or explanation from the store's owners, Brad and Harriet Connor.

Next door, the realty business also owned by the Connors is dark. Farther down the block, the town's only grocery store remains closed after its new owner was dealt a tough economic blow in April.

Tiger Marine, another Main Street business, closed earlier this year and the "for sale" sign on McBroom Construction reflects on the scenic Mill Pond by the New London dam.

At least one of the businesses closed because of retirement, but the poor economy is blamed for most others. There's no word on why Main Street Hardware closed. The Connors did not return phone calls from the Tribune.

"Certainly, the economy has affected people's spending habits," said Greg Christianson, owner of the Country Stop in New London and president of the local business organization, the Dam Club.

Despite the recent closings, other businesses in town are doing OK, he said. Sales at his store have been up, he said. But there's concern that shuttered businesses could erode the rest of Main Street.

"It's certainly scary to have those things happen in a town where you're trying to keep a business going," Christianson said. "People need to band together and keep promoting our towns."

Christianson has had meetings with the New London City Council and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission about ways to "hold onto these small businesses."

New London isn't alone in the struggle.

"It's certainly discouraging to see businesses going out of business and it would be easy to say it's an isolated incident," said Steve Renquist, director of the EDC.

Renquist said he believes Kandiyohi County's retail sector "has suffered the greatest, perhaps disproportionate, share of the economic downtown."

Small stores lacking a financial cushion may not be able to weather an economic storm, said Renquist, who is optimistic times are turning and encourages business owners who are on the edge to "hang in there a little longer."

Renquist said business owners need to know that "there are people who care and may be able to help."

The EDC has been involved with efforts to find a buyer for the grocery store in New London.

There have been numerous rumors about potential buyers but nothing concrete. Residents are eager to have a grocery store back, Christianson said, so they don't have to drive and spend their money elsewhere.

With a strong arts community and popular stores that bring out-of-town residents to New London, Christianson and Renquist said there are reasons to be hopeful the empty stores will be filled again.

Renquist said in the last five years, Kandiyohi County has added 658 new jobs, representing a 3.1 percent employment growth rate compared to the state rate of 1.1 percent.

There have been job losses in the county with the economic downturn, but he said Kandiyohi County has the lowest unemployment rate in the 12-county region.