By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN “It just spoke to me,” Will Steger (not the Arctic explorer) of Maple Plain said of the historic building, which he purchased in November, at 141 Main Avenue in downtown Winsted. “It has lots of character.”
The building is known as the Brandser building because it was built in 1914 by Hans Brandser, a tailor who used the lower level as a clothing store.
The renovations have already begun, and Steger is planning to have the commercial part of it ready to rent by the end of May.
This isn’t the first time Steger has done renovations on a historic structure, but it’s the first commercial building he has restored.
Just before he purchased the Winsted building, he had been looking at a farm house by Buffalo Lake with a friend. The property was bank-owned at a “pretty attractive price,” according to Steger.
When his friend backed out of the deal, Steger also had to cancel his plans because the farmhouse needed a lot of work and he knew he couldn’t do it by himself.
“So the Realtor said, ‘I have a building over in Winsted I could show you,’” Steger said.
Although Steger had never heard of Winsted before, he told the Realtor, “I would love to look at it but there is no way I will buy it.”
But Steger knew he wanted the building as soon as he saw it.
He admits he was a little “apprehensive,” purchasing it, because all of his friends had cautioned him against taking on too much, since he just recovered from lymphatic cancer in October, after six months of chemo.
“But the building just had a hold on me,” Steger said. “I could envision the people that built it. I could see, in my mind’s eye, people setting up mannequins in the window. I loved the old woodwork when I went through the apartments, and the tall metal ceilings.”
“In this basement (of the Brandser building), there are these huge boulders that must weigh 300 or 400 pounds or more,” Steger said. “There must have been these rough-and-tumble Germans that were like a bear to be able to wrestle those big boulders into place. They didn’t have Bobcats 100 years ago.”
Steger, who is originally from Spring Lake Park, has had a number of jobs throughout the years. He picked up many of his construction skills from owning rental property at the age of 18, and having to do repairs and maintenance because he didn’t have the money to hire work done.
For several years, he was a mechanical design draftsman, and he owned a mail order nursery.
He also lived in Brazil from 1976 to about 1980, where he taught English and did some television work for a Brazilian TV personality, named Marilla Gabriela.
Today, Steger considers himself semi-retired. His only project right now is restoring the Brandser building.
Most of the upstairs is already completed, and the apartments are rented, according to Steger.
The commercial space on the lower level should be ready to rent by the end of May.
“If someone contacted me with a good solid idea on how to make a go of it (the lower-level commercial area), that would be terrific,” Steger said.
For more information or to rent the lower-level commercial space, contact Steger at email@example.com.
More history on the Brandser building
Brandser ran his clothing store until 1946, when he sold the building to Edward and Maimie Hirsch of New Germany. The Hirschs operated the clothing and shoe store under the name of Hirsch Mercantile Co.
In 1959, they sold the building to Marvin and Delores Hirsch, who ran the store until July 1972.
While the Hirschs still owned the building, it was rented to the Winsted Public Library in 1975, and the library remained in the building until 2003, when it was moved to a different location on Main Avenue.
The building is made from Lake Mary brick and its walls are 2 feet thick.
NOTE: Winsted forum April 30 to focus on downtown
The Winsted Downtown Vibrancy Task Force will host a forum scheduled at 6 p.m. Monday, April 30 at Winsted City Hall.
All city and township residents, business owners, downtown property owners, employees who work in town and live elsewhere, seniors, and teens are invited to attend to share their vision for Winsted’s downtown.