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The changing face of downtown Somerset

First it was LWT moving to New Richmond earlier this year.

Then Liquor Depot left its downtown Somerset location after more than 25 years.

Now the Post Office is preparing to leave its current downtown location later this year.

How is this going to affect the downtown area of Somerset?

"It hasn't affected our business," said Michelle Baillargeon, manager of the Treadmill at 325 Garfield Street. "We hate to see the buildings empty, we certainly don't want those businesses to go because they impact our community."

Another business owner, who preferred to remain nameless, said her Main Street business hasn't suffered yet, but she doesn't think the changes to the business climate are good.

"When they came up with a game plan, they didn't take into consideration all of Somerset," the concerned business owner of 20 years said. "They are segregating us; what about helping the businesses that have been in town for 20+ years?"

Jeff Johnson, Village president, believed that question had already been answered by the Board.

"The Village Board addressed that issue by creating the latest TIF district," Johnson said. "Through the creation of the TIF #4, we were able to finance improvements on Main Street at no cost to the residents of Somerset."

Johnson also explained that the TIF district provides for improvements to all properties in the downtown district which property owners can take advantage of.

Ryan Grubbs, principal of New City Development in Somerset, has been building up the area near the Highway 64 ramp with a pet hospital, gas station, pharmacy and the relocated Liquor Depot. He is also securing Somerset's first Country Inns & Suites hotel chain and the new Post Office facility.

Grubbs said that all the "transient"-oriented businesses should be located near the highway to attract customers. That way, the tax base for the Village is increased and they can start looking at remodeling the buildings along Main Street for a new Village Hall, community center, antique shops, coffee houses, etc. similar to downtown Hudson and Stillwater.

"Now that the basic infrastructure is in place, all that really needs to happen is for someone to take the lead with a major new project to anchor the redevelopment," Grubbs said. "Once there is a nice, new or newly remodeled building in the middle of Main Street, others will invariably follow."

Although the Post Office is not really a "transient"-oriented business, their main reason for moving toward the highway is because of space.

"We'll have more room for our customers," said Pete Boetcher, general manager of the 1,642-square-foot Somerset Post Office. "The building will be a really good addition to our community. The community needs to move forward; it's necessary to grow."

The U.S. Post Office is planning on having a separate contractor build the 4,100-square-foot facility that the Post Office will lease. Although floor plans have been drawn, the contract is still in the bidding stages.

Not all people are happy to see the Post Office leave the downtown area, though.

"I really enjoy this walk," said Joyce Aecht, Somerset resident for 75 years. "A lot of people my age don't drive and were miffed when we found out they are moving."