A part of old Maple Lake gets a new lease on life

In a development that spells considerable good news for the drive to revitalize downtown Maple Lake, one of the town’s historic buildings is once again open for business.

“The Den,” a multi-purpose facility featuring coffee, snacks, gifts, internet access and space for parties, meetings and other events, opened at the end of March and promises to bring new faces downtown.

In late December, Andy and John Peterson and Dan Cransten, all of Maple Lake, purchased the Carlson Doll building, which is located next to Heavenly Grounds Coffee Shop on Birch Avenue, for their business ventures.

But it wasn’t always called the Carlson Doll building.  In 1910, Edward and Julia Nugent began the process of constructing a larger building for their general store, the J.J. Nugent Store. They moved into their new building in 1912 and filled it with shoes, clothing, dry goods, canned goods and many other items. The Nugent’s ran the store until 1924, when Edward’s poor health caused the closing of the business.

With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the sons of Edward and Julia opened a bar in one half of the original Nugent Store and the other half was sold to Tony Oberprillar, who ran a bakery and restaurant in that half of the building.

However, the bar in the Nugent building changed hands several times until it was acquired by Norb Schoenecker in 1941. Schoenecker ran the bar until June of 1948, when Municipal Liquor was approved by the voters in Maple Lake.

In 1951, Ray Carlson succeeded in persuading Arrowhead Souvenirs, a Minneapolis firm, into moving into the Nugent building in Maple Lake. Besides manufacturing dressed Indian dolls, Arrowhead made souvenir jewelry, pillows, shirts and moccasins.

When Arrowhead moved back to the Twin Cities in 1956, Ray and Ann Carlson bought the building and began the large-scale production of Carlson Dolls.

Over the years, the production of Carlson Dolls expanded into five separate buildings and employed as many as 250 workers in the 1970s, both in Maple Lake and a second facility in Milan, Minnesota.

Pam Pocklington, daughter of Lowell Carlson and granddaughter of Ray and Ann, still runs a smaller version of the business in the rear of the building that will also house offices and work areas for J&D Painting Contractors, owned by John Peterson and Dan Cransten.

It was a need for space for their painting company that led John Peterson and Cransten to pursue the purchase of the Carlson Doll building. Dan, originally from Victorvill, California, and John, a 1995 graduate of Maple Lake High School, required office and storage space, plus an area to conduct cabinet refinishing.

“I talked to Lowell and when we heard the price, I told Andy we should really look at it,” John said. “We didn’t need the whole building, but we were thinking about renting the rest out.”

“And then we dragged Andy into it,” Dan laughed. “We started thinking about the possibilities.”

Andy, a 1986 graduate of Buffalo High School, works as a field technician for Ikon, a servicer of office equipment. But during the evenings, he can now be found at The Den.

“I wanted the name to be ambiguous enough so it could be about anything,” he said, “internet, family gatherings, music, coffee house. I was thinking about modeling it after a living room where everyone could just hang out.”

The three partners went to work taking down the Carlson Doll shelving that went from floor to ceiling on every wall, sanded the floor, replaced fixtures and found themselves in the middle of a 4,400 square foot room. But with help from family and friends, the huge space has been transformed into a growing exhibit of gifts and collectables, Carlson Dolls products, a display of Native American artifacts and corners of cozy furniture where visitors can relax with a board game, a book or a cup of coffee.

The Peterson brothers’ sister, Julie, has taken on the task of providing furnishings and a selection of gift items.

Former building owner Lowell Carlson has also offered a helping hand.  “I can’t say enough about Lowell,” John said. “This transition has been so much easier with his help.”  “Anything we needed,” Andy said, “all we had to do was ask for it and it would appear from somewhere. Everything from advice to shelving.”

And Lowell is pleased with what has happened to the Carlson Doll building.  “It’s great,” he said. “I love it. And I love the way the old front-end of the building was opened up too.”

Lowell also had a hand in that project, when the partners picked a quiet evening on Birch Avenue to pull the false front off the old store and reveal the original front steps and picture windows.

Returning the building to its original appearance has been a priority and wall space for historical local photos will be made available in The Den.  “We would welcome them,” Andy said. “There is so much wall space for something like that.”

And he said there would also be space for local merchants who would like to display their wares or sell items on a small scale.  “Hopefully, The Den can become a real asset to the community,” Andy said. “And it could be available for various events when the weather makes it difficult to do things outside. We want to make this something everyone can use.”

Currently in the works is a joint effort with Dale Bothun of Computer Corral to install computers with internet access available to the public for a small fee. Coming soon will be satellite TV and internet games that could put The Den in the category of a “cyber cafe.” In addition, music lessons are offered by Andy and occasional live music acts are being planned.

Also available are Coke products and a variety of snacks.  Hours for Maple Lake’s newest business will be from 5 to 9 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, with the potential for later hours on Fridays and Saturdays.  A grand opening for The Den is being planned for Saturday, April 19.

Information for this article was contributed by Marge Ward, Cathy Uecker, Margaret Gagnon-Pollard and the book no Maple Lake resident should be without: “Reflections–Carving a Community Out of the Big Woods, The Maple Lake Centennial History 1890-1990.”