Filling Titan’s void in Bowdle

Farm Forum

BOWDLE — In a town of fewer than 500 people, where the biggest employer is the city-owned hospital, the impact of a business closing can be huge.

When that business provides a service for the farming community, the impact feels much greater.

Titan Machinery closed its doors in early March, in a surprise announcement to the 10 employees there who were getting ready for their customer appreciation days set to take place just days later.

“The way they did it sucked,” Mayor Rick Boschee said in a phone interview last week.

“It definitely has had an impact,” said Joell Bieber of the Bowdle Economic Development Corp.

“You don’t see the people around as much as you used to,” local cattle farmer Leon Beitelspacher said as he sipped his coffee at the Happy Trails Cafe.

Of those employed, Bieber said, four found employment at Lambs Chevrolet and Implement in Onida and others, like her husband, found work elsewhere.

What happened

In March, Titan company executives came in, collected business cellphones from employees and let workers know they no longer had jobs, effective immediately. When the closing was announced, company representatives said the closing had to happen quickly because Titan is a publicly traded company.

“I tried like hell to get them to stay,” Boschee said. “This was one of the branches that was making money. They upset the apple cart so much.”

In addition to its Bowdle location, the Britton store was also closed, a Titan spokeswoman said in March. In a news release at the time, the company described the cutback measures as necessary due to an industrywide decline in agriculture and construction revenue.

Titan purchased the Bowdle store, which was then known as Haberer’s Implement, in 2012.

Boschee said having Titan in Bowdle was convenient. The parts store had been a mainstay in town for years, he said, and became a Titan branch in the past four to five years.

“We expected they would stay,” he said.

Now, Boschee said, farmers with Case IH equipment have limited options — get parts from Lambs in Onida or Titan in Aberdeen. Both options, he said, are at least an hour drive one way.

There’s also one other choice. Boschee said one of the former Titan employees now working for Lambs brings parts back to Bowdle at the end of the day.

Boschee said the ripple effect of the business closing could have resulted in families leaving town, which was one of their main concerns.

“We didn’t lose any families because of it,” he said also noting that the city sales tax receipts haven’t notably declined in the last couple months.

Boschee and Bieber both expressed concern about the future of the building. They both looked into obtaining the building, but, have been unsuccessful so far.

Bieber said she was told the building will be sold, but company officials don’t know when the sale will take place or how much they’ll ask for the building.

A Titan spokesperson could not be reached on May 18 about the future of the building.

Main Street happenings

In Bowdle, nine blocks separate the west city limits from the east and the town is about half that span going north from U.S. Highway 12. Its city offices sit inside the Bowdle Healthcare Center, a setup Finance Officer Marjean Gab said has been in place for the past 18 years.

The town’s claim to fame is the tallest water tower in the state, a fact the town celebrates each year with Tower Days at the end of June. Gab said the structure spans 150 feet high and was accidentally delivered to Bowdle instead of Timber Lake.

While Titan’s closure has been a drawback, there has been some good news in Bowdle, too.

The closing followed the reopening of the local grocery store, now owned by Vilas, and the Lucky Bandits bar. The grocery store opened about six months ago and the bar opened in October. The latest business addition has been Happy Trails Cafe and Inn, which opened in early April.

Grocery store manager Kerry Kopeckey said residents have been excited to have a store back in town after a six-month absence, and she hasn’t seen any notable impact from Titan’s departure.

Jennifer Stagnolia of Selby, owner of the Happy Trails Cafe and Inn, said her business opened after Titan closed, but she recognizes the importance of every business in town.

“Every time a business leaves, it takes a piece of the town with it,” she said.

She moved to the area a year ago before businesses started reopening and said people have been grateful to see upswing in local economic development. She also noted how, on more than one occasion, she was thanked by local residents for reopening “our cafe.”

Development continues this week. City workers are busy moving books from the present library to a new building on Main Street across from the grocery store.

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