Fleet Farm coming to Mankato, Minn.

Farm Forum

MANKATO — A long-anticipated Mills Fleet Farm store is coming to Mankato.

Construction will begin early this spring on the 183,600-square-foot store on a large piece of property surrounded by North Victory Drive, Highway 22 and Highway 14. Construction is expected to take about a year.

The property has long been owned by Fleet Farm and many had been anticipating when the store would be built.

Besides the main building, there will be a separate car wash and gas station and a storage yard with a 17,700-square-foot building.

The main building will be built up against the western edge of the property with the front of the building facing east, toward Highway 22.

Around the edges of the property — along Highways 14, 22 and North Victory — are six lots that will be used for future development sites for stores or restaurants.

“I think Mills will be a great addition as both a taxpayer and as part of the business community,” said City Manager Pat Hentges.

He said he was impressed that one of the senior Mills family members — at about age 80 — was closely involved in the project.

“It says something that the owner of 33 stores comes in person to Mankato to submit the application. You don’t get that much in the corporate world.”

The main entrance to the new store will be off North Victory at Premiere Drive. Premiere will be extended into the Mills Fleet Farm property. If traffic lights are needed at the intersection linking North Victory to Menards and Fleet Farm, the costs will be assessed to the property owners in the area.

There will also be a right-turn-in-and-out-only entrance on Highway 22, straight across from where Premiere Drive approaches Highway 22 by the Bonfire restaurant.

The project goes before the Mankato Site Plan Review Committee on March 11 and the Planning Commission on March 26. The City Council is expected to approve the project at its April 28 meeting.

For those unfamiliar with the Mills Fleet Farm stores, think Menards minus the lumber and building supplies. Fleet Farm’s large open stores carry a wide variety of hunting and fishing gear, lawn and garden equipment, toys, clothing, animal feed, tools, paint, small appliances and housewares.

Fleet Farm has 33 stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota.

The company’s main distribution center is in Appleton, Wis., with a warehouse in Hudson, Wis., and an accounting office in Brainerd, Minn.

Brands sold in the stores include Road Runner batteries and tires, Big Max trailers and automotive supplies, Field and Forest clothing and footwear, Fleet Boutique women’s clothing, Dura-Built farm supplies and Milkhouse dairy supplies.

The company’s roots are in Brainerd, where the Mills family still has a major presence, operating not only the Mills Fleet Farm but several large auto dealerships and a collision repair center.

In 1922, Stewart Mills Sr. bought the Lively Auto Company in Brainerd. The family continues to use the original brick Lively Auto Company building as its headquarters.

During the next 30 years, Mills and his son and brother added more dealerships, auto parts stores and oil businesses.

In 1955, the family opened the first Fleet Wholesale Supply store, selling merchandise directly to farmers.

A few years later, they formed Mills Properties to oversee new store development and construction and formally changed the name of the company to Mills Fleet Farm.

While developing more Fleet Farm stores, the company also expanded its presence on the automotive side, opening several large Mills Auto Service Centers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The company’s iconic silo design was first introduced in 2000 in a store in Fergus Falls.

A third-generation member of the Mills family, Stewart Mills, who is a grandson of founder Stewart Mills Sr. and vice president of the company, entered the political arena last year by challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan for Congress’ 8th District seat. Mills, a Republican, has been a strong fundraiser, reporting more than $300,000 on hand and outraising Democrat Nolan for the last two quarters.

Mills has said he will also use part of his personal wealth in his campaign. In a financial disclosure filed last year, Mills said his portion of his family’s Fleet Farm business is worth between $41 million and $150 million, earning between $4 million and $12 million last year. The financial disclosure forms give candidates a very broad range for listing the value of their assets, thus the wide difference between the minimum and maximum value of Mills’ stake in the company.