Big changes are coming to the former Norby’s Department Store in downtown Detroit Lake, which closed this summer after 112 years in business.
Three buildings that made up the department store will be renovated on the outside and returned to their original look of a century ago.
The interior of the buildings will be cleared out and rebuilt to hold from one to six retail spaces on the ground floor and 13 unique apartments on the second floor.
Jim Buus, president and managing broker at Goldmark Commercial Leasing Inc., said the project is being independently developed by four partners, three of them associated with Goldmark - which will handle commercial leasing for the project. A different firm will handle apartment management.
The partnership and the property will go by the same name: Norby Flats, LLP.
“The Norby family gave us permission to use the name, and ‘flats’ is for apartments,” he said.”It’s a cool new name that honors the past and still looks forward to the future.”
The plan is to renovate the storefront to remove the brick facade that was put on in 1959. “We’ll take the dated-looking front and restore it the best we can to the original design and character,” he said. “We want to make this look the way it did 100 years ago - only better.”
The interior will be completely gutted on both floors. “We’ll open it up to the original frame,” he said. Retail-commercial space will be built on the ground floor and “thirteen really cool, uniquely laid-out apartments will be on that top floor - something really unlike anything else in town.”
The upstairs will have efficiency, one-bedroom and two bedroom apartments , which will be available at market rates. The special character of the apartments will be driven by the architecture of the century-old building, with its brick walls, columns and unique spacing, and the need to bring the structure up to modern building and fire codes. “We will maintain as much of the original character as possible,” he said.
Norby’s Department Store encompassed several buildings that were connected over the years. “It’s going to be tricky to unify all three, yet maintain the original character,” he said. “It creates challenges for the architects.”
The developers are keeping their options open on the ground floor retail space. “We don’t quite know yet,” Buus said. “We’ll go where the market takes us.”
The No. 1 priority will be to bring in retail stores, with commercial operations being priority No. 2, he said. “We’re very sensitive to (finding businesses that are) compatible with the downtown area,” he said. That means retail and compatible service businesses.
Downtown living has a lot to offer, he said. “You can walk to work, walk to the cell phone store, walk to coffee shops and hair salons.”
There aren’t enough people living downtown yet to make a big impact on the business community there, “but as downtown Detroit Lakes kind of reinvents itself, we’re getting there,” he said.
In the era of online shopping giants like Amazon, it may seem like a gamble to bet on leasing to brick and mortar businesses, but Buus said retail operations are not an endangered species.
“Retail is changing, but not dying,” he said. “It’s just rapidly changing. In recent years there have been more retail opening than closing around the country.” Malls and big box stores are giving way to boutiques and speciality stores, he said.
“My partners and I are taking a big risk doing this, but we have confidence both in the community and the downtown area,” he said. “We wouldn’t be taking all this risk otherwise.”
The Norby Flats project is expected to cost about $680,000, said Detroit Lakes Community Development Director Larry Remmen. The city was facing the specter of a large empty building downtown, and “it’s just great that there was an immediate re-use of that building,” he added.