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Biggest F-M business news of 2017: A year of closings, openings and surprises

The Sears store as seen March 24, 2017, in Fargo's West Acres Shopping Center three days before it closed. Forum file photo1 / 4
Customers leave the new ALDI store in Dilworth, Minn., on Nov. 1, 2017. Forum file photo2 / 4
Kjersten Nelson looks over her gutted kitchen Nov. 1 in her south Fargo home after a remodeling project was left unfinished by Fargo contractor Studs to Rugs. Forum file photo3 / 4
Shaquille O’Neal compares finger size with 5-year-old Drake Greterman after he called the youngster onto the stage during the Voices of Vision event Oct. 4, 2017, at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex in Fargo. Forum file photo4 / 4

FARGO—If you blinked, you might've missed some big business news this year.

It was a hectic 12 months as retailers responded to rapidly changing shopping and dining habits. It was also a year of surprises, including the abrupt closure of a Fargo contractor and the mysterious disappearance of a restaurateur.

Here are the 17 biggest business news stories reported by The Forum in 2017.

West Acres changes

The year started with a flurry of store closing announcements as some national chains struggled. Locally, no one place dealt with it more than West Acres Shopping Center.

The Fargo mall lost several tenants since late 2016, including clothing stores Aeropostale, The Limited, New York & Co., Wet Seal, Vanity and SHU by R&G, retailers Family Christian and Simply Mac, Johnny Rockets restaurant and Sears.

But 2017 was also a time of moving forward, including the addition of lululemon, Legacy Toys and Zumiez. West Acres also began a major overhaul of the former Sears building, which will gain a relocated Best Buy store, and construction began on a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

New hospital opens

Construction on the $494 million, 1-million-square-foot new Sanford Medical Center in south Fargo was hard to miss since its 2012 groundbreaking. All that work and planning wrapped up July 25 when the new hospital opened.

It was one of the largest private construction projects in North Dakota history, and its completion was celebrated in June with a concert featuring Fergie, Lionel Richie, Josh Duhamel and Carson Wentz.

Romo disappears

Locals spent the summer wondering what happened to Rodolfo Romo Garcia.

The restaurateur behind three Romo's Tacos in Fargo disappeared in late May. More details emerged that called into question what happened, including reports that he owed creditors thousands of dollars.

The mystery was solved in early September—kind of. Fargo Police reported Garcia was found alive, though authorities declined to specify where he was or why he left.

ALDI comes to town

The community was all in for ALDI when the low-price grocery chain opened its first store here Nov. 1 in a new building in Dilworth. The ALDI chain is big already, boasting about 1,700 American stores in 35 states, but it's new to this region.

A representative told The Forum that the Dilworth store won't be alone for long. The brand plans to open its first North Dakota store sometime next year, either in Fargo or West Fargo, and another store will open in south Fargo in 2019.

Contractor collapse

Studs to Rugs was known for its prolific radio advertisements, but became known for something else—an abrupt closure that homeowners said cost them tens of thousands of dollars for work that didn't happen.

The Fargo contractor's sudden closure started getting out Oct. 20. By the next week, several homeowners told The Forum how much it cost them. Subcontractors and suppliers, too, were financially affected.

The North Dakota Attorney General's office has launched an investigation into possible fraudulent conduct.

Restaurant revolution

New restaurants opened across the community in 2017, including Tru Blu Social Club and Boston's Pizza in West Fargo, Kool Kone in Dilworth and The Spice Grille in Moorhead.

South Fargo gained Blaze Pizza, Reese & Riley's Olive Oil & Bistro Bar, Tacos Trompo and Mi Familia Taco Co., while several new eateries came downtown, including Slurp Ramen, Daran's Southern Soul Food, Darbar Palace, Everest Cafe and Insomnia Cookies.

But it was also a time to say goodbye to some, including Josie's Corner Cafe & Bake Shop and Sweeto Burrito in downtown, as well as Perla's Fresh Mexican, Romo's Tacos, Green Mill and the Ground Round in Fargo.

Moorhead's i.d.k. closed Oct. 7 after three months in business and was replaced by The Spice Grille.

Taking root

Years of planning and fundraising paid off when Prairie Roots Food Co-op opened in downtown Fargo. The member-owned store opened July 5 with a full mix of groceries, including meat, produce, dairy products, pantry staples and more.

It's the co-op's focus on natural and organic foods, as well as locally raised or grown products, that makes it unique here.

Boutique bonanza

While some retailers struggled, Fargo-Moorhead also got a taste of another national trend—a boom in boutiques.

South Fargo gained Tootsie's Children's Boutique and Leela & Lavender, a women's clothing boutique opened by two former co-workers at Vanity. Laurie's, a longtime women's boutique, moved to a new south Fargo spot in September.

Downtown Fargo also gained several new boutiques, including PrimRose Boutique, Kindred People, Onyx + Pearl and off-the-rack bridal shop Affairs by Brittany. Pink Luxe Boutique moved to a new spot along Broadway, and Vivie's Boutique changed its name to JessieBlue.

Vanity vanishes

Rapidly changing shopping habits have led to the demise of many retail chains in America, and a Fargo-based clothing brand wasn't immune.

Vanity filed for bankruptcy protection March 1 and closed its approximately 140 stores, including its West Acres location.

It marked the end of a long history for the brand, which was incorporated in 1966.

Moorhead movement

Fargo's downtown has been transformed since 2000, and Moorhead wants to get in on that action, too.

Leaders gathered Feb. 16 to launch a new effort to revitalize downtown Moorhead, a goal they said could bring new businesses, residents, shoppers and workers to the neighborhood. The effort is in its infancy, and the group is now working to hire an executive director.

Runnings' start

Moorhead saw its Kmart store close in late 2016, leaving a large vacancy along U.S. Highway 10.

But it didn't stay empty for long, with Minnesota-based Runnings taking over the space. The store with a little bit of everything, including clothing, toys, home decor, hunting and fishing gear, tools, mowers and livestock feed, opened Sept. 27.

Downtown developments

Downtown Fargo continued to grow and change in 2017.

Construction wrapped up this summer on the 455-stall Roberts Commons parking garage, which will gain a mixed-use apartment and retail wrap building next year.

Major renovations began at downtown's Black Building and the former Metro Drug pharmacy, which is being converted into a three-unit commercial and restaurant space.

Several new apartments opened in the neighborhood, including Woodrow Apartments, a 97-unit property along North University Drive that repurposed the former Woodrow Wilson School.

Shaq at the SHAC

Turns out at least one NBA legend loves Dot's Homestyle Pretzels.

His newfound appreciation of the North Dakota-made salty snack was one of dozens of anecdotes and life lessons doled out Oct. 4 when Shaquille O'Neal spoke to a crowd of about 1,400 at Fargo's Sanford Health Athletic Complex. He was tapped to speak at Voices of Vision, an annual event hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce that brings thought leaders to the community.

More on tap

The local craft beer scene diversified in 2017.

Prairie Brothers Brewing Co. opened in south Fargo and the Irish-inspired Drumconrath Brewing Co. set up shop in Mapleton, N.D., in the spring.

The two joined several existing breweries, including Moorhead's Junkyard Brewing Co., West Fargo's Flatland Brewery and Fargo's Kilstone Brewing, Fargo Brewing Co. and Drekker Brewing Co. Drekker also announced plans to open a larger second location just west of downtown in 2018.

Fargo's first urban cidery, Wild Terra Cider & Brewing, opened Dec. 2 in an old horse stable. In rural Cass County, Cottonwood Cider House held an open house in October to show off the new facility near Ayr, N.D.

New Sanctuary

There hasn't been a gay bar within 100 miles of town since Moorhead's I-Beam nightclub closed at the end of 2011. That streak was broken Dec. 16 when partners Shane Friesz and Shawn Weber opened The Sanctuary Bar & Bistro.

The business, which replaced the former Kragnes Inn bar, is about 10 miles north of Moorhead in Kragnes Township, Minn.

Leadership changes

Some of the community's top business leaders stepped down this year.

Mike Hahn, CEO and President of Fargo's Downtown Community Partnership since August 2010, resigned May 16, with Melissa Rademacher assuming the position in November.

Jim Gartin is still doing the job for now, but his decision to resign as president of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp. effective March 15 became public knowledge in December. The group will have its first new leader since March 2012 once it hires a replacement.

At Sanford, former Fargo leader Paul Richard retired, and Chief Operating Officer Nate White moved up to Sanford Fargo's top leadership role as executive vice president.

Local love

Aronia berry-infused water beverage ax-water was launched in March by Fargo men Blake Johnson and Wade Gronwold. It picked up multiple international awards, including most likely to succeed in its category, during the Zenith Global Bottled Water Congress in October.

In November, Fargo's Off the Deck Hot Sauce became a finalist for a 2018 Good Food Award for its Habanero #HUSTLE sauce. The company was formed in 2016 by couple Jeremiah and Rachel Utecht.

Coffee-based chewing tobacco alternative Java Chews, headquartered in Valley City, N.D., and started by North Dakota natives John Stearns and Ryan Botner, was launched in June. It's already in about 2,000 stores and has earned national attention as it quickly grows.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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