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Gramma Polo's is 'movin' on up'

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The quiet little village of Scanlon is about to see a major reshuffling of businesses.

Gramma Polo’s Bottle Shoppe, Inc. and Kwik Trip Inc. of LaCrosse, Wis., will both construct new facilities beginning this April. According to Tom Romundstad, who co-owns the bottle shop with wife Jodi Polo, Gramma Polo’s has sold a large portion of its current store site to make room for the new Kwik Trip Truck Stop and Convenience Store. The Pantry Restaurant and Sugar Daddys Gentleman’s Club will be demolished and replaced by the two new facilities.

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“I just want people to know, despite the rumors that have been floating around, that we’re not going away, and neither is Trapper Pete’s (a nearby restaurant),” said Romundstad. “In fact, Trapper Pete’s has already hired three of the people from The Pantry and we hired one of them as well.”

Romundstad and Polo bought the liquor store from Jodi’s grandmother when she retired a couple of years ago at the age of 90 after operating the store since 1947. Tom had just retired from working as a property manager with St. Louis County after 33 years, where he learned a lot about energy conservation and sustainability.

“It was my hope to buy the store and increase the business traffic and make it the most energy-efficient, ‘green’ liquor store in the Upper Midwest,” he said.

Since the family owns all the land from in front of The Pantry over to the blacktop next to Sugar Daddys, Romundstad said his plan was to further develop the site and either build a strip mall himself or find another developer who would bring in something that would enhance their business.

In the meantime, however, Kwik Trip began looking around the area with an eye toward expanding into this neck of the woods.

“They sent letters out to various local businesspeople — including us — so that worked out very well,” said Romundstad.

That was last June, and almost immediately the wheels went into motion.

Romundstad said at first, The Pantry owners, Colleen and Victor Viebahn, were reluctant to sell, but as plans developed they changed their minds.

“Everything has been so hectic,” said Colleen on Wednesday and they prepared to close the doors to The Pantry for the last time on Friday.

“We’ve had some wonderful compliments from a lot of people who say they hate to see one of the few remaining family restaurants go, but this was an opportunity we simply couldn’t pass up.”

The Viebahns have owned The Pantry for the past 11 years, and before that it was operated by Loren and Gene Bryant for 25 years.

“All the agreements are now in place as are the soil borings and site plans,” Romundstad reported. “Everything officially closes on March 30.”

Romundstad said he has been working with Kwik Trip to come up with a good site plan for their mutual stores.

“My goal was to have traffic to flow from their business over to my place,” said Romundstad. “Eventually, my architect and their architect came up with a good layout.”

A small house adjacent to The Pantry, owned by the Viebahns, will be demolished as part of the plan, along with The Pantry itself, during the first week of April. As soon that happens, Romundstad and Polo will begin construction of their new liquor store on the site of The Pantry.

“We have until July 10 to get it done,” Romundstad said, “but my hope is to get it done by June 1 because I’m going to have set-up to do and new systems to launch.”

The new Gramma Polo’s will be a few feet longer and about 20 feet wider than the current building, adding about 1,500 square feet to its overall footprint.

“It will be bigger than this one but a much better layout inside, with no obstructions,” Romundstad explained. “It will have a walk-in cooler/beer cave that will be cooled by outdoor air during the cold months through an air exchange system that’s thermostatically controlled, allowing us to avoid using compressors all the time, which eat up energy.”

The building and slab area, which are also going to be “super insulated” with foam for insulation, will feature a cupola on the roof with dampers so the hot air inside of the building can convect up and out, thereby lowering the cooling load of the interior during the hot months.

All of the interior and exterior lighting will be LED, which reduces the electrical load substantially, and all outside lighting will be down lighting so it doesn’t contribute to the “dark skies” issue.

Solar panels on the roof will offset the lighting load, and the roof itself will be white metal to reflect heat and assist with cooling. The entire building will be ADA accessible.

Romundstad said their plan is to stay in business while the new construction is underway.

“My goal is not to miss a single day of business,” he said. “We’re going to move all our product over there at the last minute, and the beer distributors have told me they’d bring their trucks to help move the beer over.”

Demolition of the current Gramma Polo’s building will begin a day or two later after they make their move into the new store, followed shortly thereafter by the start of construction on the new Kwik Trip facility, likely in early August. The Kwik Trip store will be built on the current Polo’s site, with additional pumps to the south, where the Sugar Daddys building now stands.

Romundstad was quick to sing the praises of Kwik Trip, saying they should be an excellent addition to the community.

“They recycle everything and are real energy conscious, and a lot of their stores have electric car charging stations on them, which will be common at some point,” related Romundstad. “They have their own distribution center and send semi-trucks out to all their locations daily. They also have their own dairy farm and produce their own milk, as well as their own bakery and different lunch specials every day.”

Earlier this year, Kwik Trip announced they would be expanding to northern Minnesota with eight of them slated for the greater Twin Ports area, including two in Duluth, three in Superior, and two in Hermantown,  in addition to the one in Scanlon.

Romundstad said Kwik Trip’s total project cost for the Scanlon facility is estimated at some $5 million and it is expected to employ 35 employees.

As a sidelight to the upcoming business activity, Romundstad said he has invited Kwik Trip to put on a public presentation about their company and its past successes at Trapper Pete’s at noon on Monday, March 10.

Also, Romundstad has appealed to the city of Scanlon and Carlton County to change the name of the street out in front of the businesses to Scanlon Drive.

“Highway 45 doesn’t paint any pictures in my mind’s eye other than some lost byway passing through some remote backwoods area,” he explained. “I wanted to bring back the roadway’s name, Scanlon Way, which is what it once was prior to the changing of the roads themselves some years ago, but Scanlon Way remains the name of a small portion of that old road over by the Rendezvous. We ultimately settled for Scanlon Drive which I thought had a nice ring to it as well. I’d like to preserve the heritage and legacy of Scanlon.”

The city of Scanlon has already given its nod of approval, but since Highway 45 is a county road, the commissioners must OK it as well.

“I believe the renaming of the county portion of Highway 45 to Scanlon Drive is an excellent marketing and branding tool that will bring revitalization to the area,” endorsed County Economic Development Director Connie Christenson.