Juba’s is BE EDA’s July Business Spotlight
Board also discusses changes to the commercial loan program
A business spotlight at the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority board’s meeting on Thursday morning, July 8, shed light upon the challenges of adapting a business to the 21st century.
This month’s business spotlight was shone on Juba’s, a Blue Earth grocery store which has been owned and operated by the Juba family for 50 years.
Tom Juba first shared the grocery store’s origins. “We bought the store in 1971 when I got out of the army,” he explained.
Juba added there were three other grocery stores in Blue Earth at the time. All are currently occupied by other businesses and organizations. One grocery store was located where the library currently is, one was located in the Schwen’s building, and one was located in the current Head Start building.
“The population of Faribault County was a little over 22,000 then, and now it is more like 13,000,” noted Juba. He has seen this, along with several other factors, permanently alter the way his business is operated.
“Things have changed in our business,” admitted Juba. “For example, people don’t cook as much as they used to.”
Lack of demand for groceries is not the only challenge Juba has faced as time marches on toward new developments.
“People run to Mankato for entertainment and might buy groceries there,” he explained. “There are big stores there that are really aggressive.”
Juba has seen the most changes, however, attached to the growing ubiquity of computers and technology.
“Computers have changed everything,” he admitted. “If our Internet goes down, we’re almost out of business.”
Juba added credit cards have transformed operations for many small businesses such as his own. While they are a great convenience for many customers, they create challenges when operating a small business.
“I think credit cards are used for close to 60 percent of the business,” noted Juba. “Credit card fees are probably between 1.2 and 1.3 percent of profit. A few years back, if you made one percent profit you were considered successful.”
As Juba’s explanation demonstrates, the fees businesses must pay to facilitate credit card transactions are in fact higher than the regular profit margin they would have aimed to achieve in years past.
Despite these disadvantages, Juba’s felt it must take the plunge into credit card transactions following Walmart’s debut in Blue Earth.
“We figured out from watching customers at Walmart that many people could only afford groceries if they used a credit card,” Juba explained.
He added, “It actually hurt us when Walmart left. It hurt the whole town. People would come to Walmart from surrounding areas, then they would come to our store and buy a pretty good supply of groceries; especially meat and produce.”
It was even more painful, Juba explained, when Fairmont built their own Walmart just a few miles down the road.
“Some experts thought we would lose 50 percent of our business when they built that,” admitted Juba.
Nonetheless, Juba’s is still here celebrating its 50th anniversary. While it employs fewer people now that it no longer has its own restaurant, it still provides work for around 30 employees, many of whom are young students in the area.
“We’re sure glad you’re here,” offered board member Ann Hanna, following Juba’s presentation to the board.
The board addressed further needs for adaptability later in the meeting when discussing the criteria businesses should meet to qualify for Commercial Improvement Loans from the EDA. The loans are typically awarded to enable businesses to make outside improvements to their buildings.
Economic development specialist Amy Schaefer addressed the board regarding the issue.
“I have had a nonprofit group approach me asking if they could apply for a Commercial Improvement Loan,” Schaefer explained. “How does the EDA want to specify who qualifies for loans?”
Schaefer added, “The group is a club. They are not really generating any funds for the city, and you have to be a member to use the facility.”
She commented, “We need a firm stance.”
Hanna was first to offer her thoughts about the application.
“A member-only club is not truly open to the public. My thoughts are that nonprofits should not qualify for our loans.”
Mayor Rick Scholtes countered Hanna’s comment.
“I was going the other direction,” he admitted. “They’re the ones who need it most. A bigger business could afford changes better than a nonprofit.”
City administrator Mary Kennedy offered an additional perspective.
“Lots of nonprofits don’t have a building and wouldn’t be eligible for the program anyway,” she noted. “But, they might be eligible for other programs.”
Schaefer responded, considering whether loans to nonprofits could be awarded by the board on a case-by-case basis. But she expressed concerns about this.
“Will it open a can of worms if we start doing that?” she asked the board.
Despite these concerns, after some discussion Scholtes offered the following proposal to the board.
“I think going on a case-by-case basis is the best way to go. The nonprofit has to be open to the public, and they have to have their own building.”
Scholtes clarified these stipulations make the nonprofit currently interested in receiving a loan ineligible.
Acknowledging Schaefer’s request for clearer written criteria regarding the allocation of Commercial Improvement Loans, Kennedy promised to write a policy and bring it back to the next EDA meeting.
Other business discussed at Thursday morning’s meeting included:
• Commercial Improvement Loans awarded to several businesses around Blue Earth.
Dikken’s Furniture and Decorating, Inc. applied for a loan to improve their awnings. The board approved awarding $3,160.43 to Dikken’s to be used to replace their awnings.
Pizza Hut also applied for a loan, which they will use to fund brand new signage they have already installed. The board voted to award $5,000 in funds to Pizza Hut.
Finally, Jake’s Body Shop, LLC requested $5,000 in funds to shape and pave their facility’s parking lot, which the board also voted to award to the business.
• Updates from the Chamber of Commerce. Shellie Poetter, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, shared plans for the upcoming Giant Days celebration are going well. She expressed a need for more volunteers on Saturday night, however, to ensure the celebration remains clean and safe.
Poetter also brought updates from the Giant Welcome Center. She shared 556 visitors were documented between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. one Saturday, so the center remains popular. The board briefly discussed adding additional signage around the center, however, to make the center’s purpose more clear to prospective visitors.