Something’s different about Alexandria, and business owners love it.
Studies show that Alexandria pulls in more dollars than a lot of other Minnesota towns, but if you ask business owners why they like being there, you’ll hear more about the people of Alexandria than the numbers.
“Community support is huge in this town,” says Amy Lesnar, co-owner of Creative Touch Boutique.
Alexandria’s supportive culture is what enticed Mandy Brower, another boutique proprietor, to move her shop, The Dashery, from Glenwood to downtown Alexandria. “Alex really embodied that feeling I was looking for—the sense of community where everyone’s connected somehow and supportive of one another,” she says.
“The shopping local, the keeping it local, supporting local, is definitely strong here. People want to support the independents.”
Mandy Brower, owner of The Dashery
Support from competitors—not just customers
There’s a unique angle to Alexandria’s supportive community that almost every local business owner mentions, but not everyone expects:
It’s the support they get from other business owners in town.
“Even though we’re all competitors,” says Amy, “we all need each other.” Which is why the 16 or so boutiques, antique stores, restaurants, and shops in downtown Alexandria continually work together to attract more customers.
“Every store that opens is bringing more people downtown, so it’s really a group effort,” she says. “The more competition the better. You’re not going to come downtown to see one store—so don’t just shop us, shop everyone. And while you’re shopping, go eat at one of the restaurants.”
“It’s part of the secret sauce of Alexandria—even competitive businesses support each other.”
Amy Lesnar, co-owner of Creative Touch Boutique
Partnering across competitive lines
Downtown competitors aren’t the only ones working together. Two of the town’s biggest manufacturing companies—both competing nationally for similar customers—often strategize together about how to recruit good talent to Alexandria. They even share applicants based on who might be a better fit.
Other competing business leaders regularly serve on the same boards or volunteer for the same organizations together.
Nicole Fernholz, executive director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission (AAEDC), knows this culture is unique. “It’s just what businesses do here in Alexandria,” she says. “It breeds a sense of ‘how can we do this bigger and better together?’”
“The community engagement from other business owners is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere in Minnesota.”
Sam Herzog, co-owner of Unique Opportunities
That sense of community is a strong pull for business leaders.
Sam Herzog, co-owner of Unique Opportunities, a development firm doing work all over Minnesota, noticed the difference when he started his first project in Alexandria.
“We felt like the city staff were actually on our side to help us,” he says. “And really, the difference was Nicole at the AAEDC. Every step of the way, she was going to bat for us. The community engagement from other business owners is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere in Minnesota.”
Mandy agrees. “There’s something about the energy here,” she says. “I think it plays together in being able to explore your options safely, while having support.”
“It’s part of the secret sauce of Alexandria,” says Amy. “Even competitive businesses support each other. It’s businesses helping other businesses grow.”