Starting near the Mississippi river on Front street, Brainerd's retail business centers have presented a changing picture throughout the hundred years of the city's history.
The first trading post was located near First Street int he Vicinity of Northland Clinic of today.
From that point the business district, including boarding houses and hotels spread eastward along Front street. By the later 1870's and early 1880's larger buildings were being constructed in the vicinity of Fifth and Sixth streets with some development along Laurel street but Front street was the chief business street in Brainerd for many years.
By early 1873, Brainerd had 21 stores, 18 hotels, boarding houses and lodging houses, 15 saloons and five churches.
Efforts were made in the 1870's and early 1880's to build up a business district along Main (Washington) street on the norht side of the Northern Pacific shops but this effort largely failed until the highway bridge was built across the river on Washington Street many years later.
HOTEL GLOBE----As the business district of Brainerd moved eastward form the river, these buildings were built on the corner of Fifth and Front streets. In 1890, they were occupied by the Globe Hotel which had a large patronage of travelers, lumberman and farmers.
However some notable buildings were constructed on the norht side of the tracks including the railroad headquarters and hotels, among them the Villard which was located on the corner of Washington and Sixth. The hotel burned in 1887 with a result that business life of the city centered more and more on the south side of the tracks.
Con O'Brien, who founded the O'Brien Department Store was one of the men who was responsible for strengthening the south side business district. First he had a saloon on Eighth street, far from the business center of that day. He gradually converted the saloon into a general store and then into a department store.
At the same time he was developing other property int he area which for a time threatened to move the center of the city's business life to that area.
Over a long run, however, the main business district of the city remained in the area bounded by Fourth, Front, Maple, and Eighth streets, until automobiles changed the situation entirely.
WESTFALL STORE IN 1899----This is Westfall Brothers' Store in 1899. The store was located in a building on the present site of the Ransford Hotel. In 1899 it was one of Brainerd's's oldest business houses, having been started some 19 years before. The firm carried a large stock of clothing, men's furnishings and men's, women's and children's shoes, hats and caps, together with a big stock of lumbermen's supplies. Shown in the picture are E. M. Westfall and J. R. Westfall, proprietors.
In the early days of the automobiles, businesses had the tendency to spread along the roads and highways leading into the main business district and in recent years entire shopping centers have been constructed in outlying areas.
O'Brien's Mercantile company, founded in 1883, is the oldest family business still operating under the same name in Brainerd although there are some other business firms which can trace heir origin to the earliest years of the city's history.
Oldest business still in existence probably is Alderman's Inc. Roots of that business go back into the early 70s when Edward White, one of the first residents of Brainerd, gradually expanded carpentry shop into a hardware store.
Another local business institution which began its life before 1880 is the First National Bank which was founded in 1879. Johnson's Rexall Drug Store also has roots in the earliest years of the city's history.
The Brainerd Daily Dispatch founded in 1881, also is one of the business firms with a long history in Brainerd's life. Other business firms which were founded before 1900 include Bredenberg's Grocery store on Oak Street (1895); Sanitary Market (formerly Koering's) on Washington (1896); Paramount Theatre, first known as Park Theatre, 1890; and Schaefers Model Market.
The Ransford Hotel, now often regarded as one of the pioneer hotels in the city, actually was not constructed until 1904 but it was the successor to another hotel, the Arlington which had been built on Washington (Main) street in 1889 by R. R. Wise. When the Arlington burned, Wise built a new hotel on Front and Sixth streets. Wise also built numerous other buildings in downtown Brainerd.
If residents of the Brainerd area were asked to name the pioneer Brainerd business, they probably most often would mention O'Briens Mercantile Store because of its operation by one family for 88 years.
Cornelius (Con) O'Brien, founder of the store, arrived in Brainerd in 1883 and established a business on the corner of Laurel and South Eighth street, far from the business center of that time.
His location, however, enabled farmers and other visitors from out of town to tie up their horses and trade at leisure. The business prospered and Mr. O'Brien expanded his operations into real estate development of the business area.
Following his death in 1932, his oldest son, James W. O'Brien, was president of the firm until his death in 1944. A younger son, Ed. Tom O'Brien, now is president. Members of the family also are engaged in property management.
Little is known of the early business activities of the Edward White family which founded the hardware store here in the 1870s which now is owned by Alderman's Inc.
Edward White and his two sons, I. U. and Charles, came to Brainerd in 1870 and worked as carpenters in the construction of bridges and the railroad and business as residential buildings in Brainerd.
The whites apparently went into the hardware business gradually as a necessary sideline to their carpentry trade. By 1880, Edward and his son had formed a partnership. When Edward died in 1893, the two sons, I. U. and charles, started calling their business the White Brothers Hardware Store. Early location of the business is not definitely know.
The business was sold to the Alderman company in 1920.
Two of the city's present drug stores are connected with the Newton McFadden Drug store which was founded on Front street in the Ransford hotel block in about 1877.
McFadden was a brother-in-law of two Johnson brothers, Frank Sr. and Charles D. Johnson. The three wrote much of the early drug store history in Brainerd and were the progenitors of Johnson's Rexall and Roberts Economy Drug stores.
For a time in the 1880's Charles D. Johnson was a partner of McFadden on Front street. After McFadden purchased Johnson's share, Johnson in 1887 bought out the J. C. Foote Drug store which began the long history of John son Drug stores in Brainerd.
After McFadden died, Mrs. McFadden and her brother, Frank B. Johnson Sr. operated the McFadden store for a time before selling it to H. P. Dunn. That store no longer exists the the Johnson Rexall store now is in the third generation. The son of Charles D. Johnson, Richard M., operated it until his death. A grandson, Church, now owns it.
The drug business now owned by Roberts on Laurel street was owned at one time by Frank B. Johnson Jr. and his cousin, Richard M. Johnson.
Schaefer's Model Market on Maple street is the descendant of one of the oldest meat markets in Brainerd. Roots of the firm go back into the 80s.
At first the business was operated by Peabody and Baker. Ted Schaefer Sr. entered the firm as a partner in about 1916. Later he became full owner and groceries were added.
The store, now owned by Ted and John Schaefer, after a long history at Maple and Sixth street, is located in a supermarket building on Maple between Seventh and Eighth streets.
Two other food stores date back into the 19th century with both having long family ownership. K. S. Bredenberg founded the present Bredenberg store at Oak and Thirteenth in 1895. the Sanitary Meat Market (formerly Koering's) on Washington was founded by C. W. Koering in 1896 and was operated by members of the family until about two years ago.
Another early business is the Erickson Flower Shop which had its origin in a greenhouse established by P. A. Erickson in 1883 in southeast Brainerd.