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Colfax Commercial Club: What’s next for Colfax?

Community Forum June 10

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The Colfax Commercial Club is wondering — what is next for Colfax?

That is — what would people like to see in the village?

Right now, the business community in Colfax includes some manufacturing, several retail stores, including a grocery store, two taverns, a couple of restaurants, several realtors, two dentists (one of whom is in Colfax one day per week), two beauty shops, two chiropractors, a plumbing business, a furnace installation and repair shop, a nursing home, a car dealership, a couple of gas stations, several car repair shops, a bed and breakfast, a gun shop, a drug store, two banks, a lumber mill and sawmill, a veterinarian and a fitness center.

At one point in its history, Colfax was a bustling center of commerce with a stone mill producing train-car loads of stone to ship out (there’s a church in Madison made out of Colfax sandstone), along with agricultural products shipped out by train such as potatoes and tobacco, a creamery, several feed mills, a variety of retail stores including clothing, shoes and dry goods, a candy store, a bakery or two, a photographer’s studio, several butcher shops, shoe repair shops, a couple of barbershops, several doctor’s offices and dentist’s offices operating full time, the drug store, additional grocery stores. There were also car dealerships and a couple of tractor and implement dealers and repair shops, and also more gas stations as well as appliance dealers and repair shops and stores where you could buy furniture.

In years past, according to articles published in the Colfax Messenger, an open house might draw 600 people to a business.

In the June 7, 1951, edition of the Messenger, more than 50 businesses in and around the downtown area were listed as being contributors to the American Legion Auxiliary poppy drive.

But with the disappearance of small farms from the countryside, many of the patrons of local businesses also have disappeared, and along with them, many of the retail businesses.

Which leads the Colfax Commercial Club to ask — what is next for Colfax?

Mark Johnson, owner of the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall and Cafe II Coffee Shop & Bakery, is vice-president of the Commercial Club.

And Johnson, as a Main Street business owner, is wondering what vision residents in and around Colfax have for the future of the village.

Most of the people who live in Colfax work somewhere else — which means they often shop somewhere else, Johnson noted.

Driving has become easier, too, and even when gasoline prices are higher, people think nothing of driving to Eau Claire or even to the Twin Cities to purchase something they need or want, he added.

Does this mean that people are content with allowing downtown Colfax to fade away, leaving the village to exist as more of a bedroom community? Johnson wondered.

Or perhaps local residents are envisioning Colfax as a retirement community or a community made up of older home owners, he said.

As the Colfax Plan Commission discovered while updating the comprehensive land use plan several years ago, population growth in Colfax has been slow or even non-existent at times in the last 50 or 60 years.

But anyone who has tried to cross Main Street in Colfax recently has probably noticed the amount of traffic going through town.

What is the answer, if there is one, for persuading traffic to stop in Colfax and patronize local businesses? Johnson asked.

Other questions include: does Colfax need more employers or businesses to broaden the tax base? Would promoting the village of Colfax as a place to visit and shop be useful? Or are homeowners in the village satisfied with paying higher property taxes in order to keep the village as a bedroom community?

The Tapestry Trunk Bed & Breakfast, the Colfax Railroad Museum, and the taverns, restaurants and other retail businesses certainly would like to find ways to attract people to Colfax, Johnson said.

Scott Gunnufson, Colfax village president and president of the Colfax Commercial Club, says he hopes that by asking the question “what is next for Colfax?” people will have some creative ideas and solutions.

Instead of merely outlining what are perceived as “problems,” Gunnufson says he hopes that people will suggest ways to make improvements to the village or ways to attract visitors to Colfax.

To start the conversation on “What is next for Colfax?” a community forum sponsored by the Colfax Commercial Club will be held at the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall on Friday, June 10, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.