Aug. 26—Editor's note: This is part of a 15-story series titled
"If These Walls Could Talk"
completed by Pioneer reporters with help from the Beltrami County Historical Society for our 2023 Annual Report.
The detailed brick walls of the Mayflower Building have welcomed people to downtown Bemidji for well over a century, first as a wholesale grocery house and now as a hub for local entrepreneurs and as a building emblematic of looking toward the future of Bemidji.
First constructed in 1909, the structure began its tale with the Bemidji Wholesale Grocery Company as the first business of its kind in the city.
The building, which measured 75 by 100 feet and included a basement, would be the only wholesale grocery house in the region — the closest otherwise being in Duluth or Brainerd.
The venture was started with $50,000 in capital and very quickly became an integral part of Bemidji's business landscape.
It remained under the same ownership until Aug. 3, 1921, when it was sold to the Nash Finch Company. The Pioneer published the sale's announcement from Bemidji Wholesale Grocery, then known as Northern Grocery.
"We have today sold our business Finch Co," the announcement wrote. "The Northern Grocery Company built the three-story, new brick building, in which it has been housed, in 1909, and have in the intervening years built up a splendid wholesale business which has made Bemidji noted as a wholesale and distributing center."
The structure became the Nash Finch Company Wholesale Groceries and Fruit, which it remained for over 30 years until 1956.
Over the ensuing decades, it housed Bemidji Bus Lines, the Mayflower Moving Company and Merchants Transfer, before Kraus-Anderson Construction purchased the property in 1986 with the intent to turn it into a retail space.
"Kraus Anderson made it into a retail indoor shopping space which had on the upper level a restaurant and then on the main level many businesses that are still around today, like Giovanni's Pizza and Chocolates Plus," said David Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, which now owns the building. Snow Goose Gifts also was on the main level.
Many people also remember the top floor being occupied by Stats Sports Bar and later Knockouts Sports Cafe in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After Knockouts closed, most of the businesses inside the building found other locations.
For a while, the structure had an odd list of tenants, even serving as the location of Voyageurs Expeditionary High School until it moved to its current location before it was purchased in 2014 by Greater Bemidji.
A major renovation followed, preserving and highlighting the historic nature of the building while adding modern and high-tech amenities to accommodate Greater Bemidji's vision.
"We wanted to have a facility that would wow companies that were coming to Bemidji for the first time, with high technology that was also in the context of the old history of our community," Hengel explained, "and that was really what we did."
The Mayflower Building serves as a hub for local businesses, with Greater Bemidji, the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and LaunchPad Bemidji all working out of its century-old walls.
"(The building) kind of told the story of Bemidji. We have a deep pride in our past and are also looking into the future," Hengel said. "There's just something about the building, it's just a really amazing space."