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Two women, both new to Sleepy Eye, were brought together by pizza last spring, and now are the best of friends. They are also good friends to downtown Sleepy Eye.

Christi Currier had recently moved her two children to Sleepy Eye, joining husband and dad, Byron Currier—the new plant manager at Sensory Effects, who had made the move a few weeks earlier.

Sara Hunter, with her husband, David Hunter, opened Prairie Pizza and Buffet in downtown Sleepy Eye in late April.

“We met through pizza,” said Christi. “I saw that Prairie Pizza and Buffet was open. I messaged her on Facebook and the rest is BESTIE history!”

Christi and Sara were among those that responded to EDA Coordinator Kurk Kramer’s newspaper column and came together to form the Downtown District Committee (DDC). That lead to their interest in Flip this Town, and a roadtrip to learn more about it.

The following information was found on the website that features its podcasts: Flip This Town started as a book by downtown revitalization expert Ron Drake, and has now transformed into a movement that is sweeping communities across the country.

“Kurk showed the book, ‘Flip this Town’ to Sara,” explained Christi. “We both read it, and loved it, and Sara is a do-er, she doesn’t just think about things.” Sara started corresponding with the book’s author, Ron Drake, and in mid-September asked him for information on his downtown revitalization consulting work. By October, the DDC had decided they wanted to invite Ron Drake to come to Sleepy Eye and help revitalize the downtown area. They approached the EDA and received a grant of $1,000 for a downpayment on Drake’s consulting services.

Sara and Christi decided to take a roadtrip to visit some of the towns that Drake had worked with. Now, that might sound like a fun girls’ trip away, and while it was fun, it wasn’t that easy to make the decision to leave Byron with two kids to care for alone and David with a busy restaurant to run alone. And, it was a lot of driving—to Siloam Springs, Ark. and several towns in Oklahoma.

Sara and Christi hit the road in early November. Their first stop was Okmulgee, Okla., a town about the size of New Ulm, where they sought out Margaret Hess, a downtown building owner. Hess is part of Okmulgee Rising—a revitalization effort and also serves on the Okmulgee Main Street board of directors. The local newspaper, “Okmulgee Times,” wrote, “Margaret is such a ball of fire with boundless energy and never-ending enthusiasm for promoting Okmulgee, her home town,” in an article about Hess speaking to the local Lions Club.

“Margaret was wonderful,” said Christi. “She showed us around their downtown—we walked and visited several buildings.” Sara and Christi said she was the best “tour guide” they met on their road trip and kept them excited about downtown revitalization.

In Oklahoma, the two women also visited Muskogee—where the chamber of commerce was helpful; Grove, a town closer to the size of Sleepy Eye—where a holiday open house event was going on in the downtown shops; and Perry—where Ron Drake was still working as a consultant.

Finally, Sara and Christi went to Siloam Springs, Ark., Drake’s hometown and where he started working to revitalize a downtown area. A contractor, Drake bought and renovated several buildings himself—and as he says, learned how to do it, and realized that small towns need help to make needed change and improvements.

While in Siloam Springs, Sara and Christi met with Drake. “I went in skeptical,” said Christi. “But after meeting Ron, I can say he is an authentic person. He knows what he’s talking about. If we’re [the DDC and community] are going to spend money—he’s the right person to hire.”

Drake is contracted to come to Sleepy Eye April 9 to 11. He asked Sara to come up with a succinct description of the end goal. She said, “To have a thriving and beautiful downtown area that is full of life.”

“Ron said for this to succeed, the community needs to be heavily involved while he is here,” explained Sara. “And, he said, ‘they must have open minds’.”

What does this mean for the community? How can you help? Find out more in the next downtown article.