Welcome to Crown, the little rural town between St. Francis and Zimmerman. If you are standing on Main Street, you can probably see most of it: the handful of houses, a few churches, a bar.
Then there’s the town convenience store: the Crown G&G (short for “Gas and Goodies”). A woman named Paula Griffin works there seven days a week. She shopped at the store for “over a quarter-century” before she bought it, and since then, she’s never traveled or taken a vacation. She loves the one-on-one time with customers as she sells them their bread and ice cream.
Griffin is also the rightful owner of most of Crown. Her holdings include the store and the nearby 18 acres of land. Until the end of October, she’s entertaining offers to sell it all.
But this is about more than making money, she says. This is about finding the young and spunky businessperson to usher Crown into a new era of commercial success. The page-long ad features big red starbursts that read “Be the entrepreneur that develops Crown into the New Town of Crown.”
And the rewards, she says, will be great. She assures that the person who ends up buying the property will end up “the next millionaire.”
“Everybody from miles and miles away comes to Crown because it’s so cute,” she says. There’s the lake, the fall festivals, the quaint, historic charm. She and other residents are all quick to point out that Speaker of the Minnesota House, Republican Kurt Daudt, is from Crown, and so far hasn’t made any attempt to hide it.
Whether or not the buyer will be the “next millionaire” is uncertain. Crown is technically not a “town” at all, but an “unincorporated community.” In the late 19th century, when a handful of German immigrants were settling the place, it had a creamery, several stores, and a blacksmith shop.
Those all closed their doors in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and Crown’s Main Street became a place comprised of the few remaining homes and storefronts. For a few years in the early 2000s, there was a bar and restaurant in the heart of town, which area resident Carol Hass Bray says was pretty popular, but it has since burned down.
“What it [Crown] is now is a kind of a place you kind of go through, mostly,” she says.
She’d call Crownies a “humble people,” “not fancy,” “mostly blue-collar.” Social life mostly revolves around the Lutheran church and the parochial school. Kids who lived a mile from one another still grow up, marry each other and settle there. Some of the older families, Hass Bray says, joke about having to seek marriage prospects outside of town simply because they’ve gotten to a point where they’re almost all related.
They’re proud, she says. And they’re protective.
Which may be why Griffin feels she can be choosey. She wants to sell the land to the right person -- the person that’s going to invest in the town’s future. Ideally, she’d like someone to open up another restaurant or a diner -- someplace where people can get a bite to eat and the local parochial school kids can get a job. Everyone is talking about it, she says. A few buyers have already approached her.
Meanwhile, Hass Bray and the other Crownies are watching this all unfold with bated breath. As far as they are concerned, this could make or break them.
“We just want someone who cares for the community,” she says. “We don’t want to be a run-down little town.”