A Retail Community Forging into the Future
With risk comes reward.
It was risk that established the town of Hartford back in 1881 and it is risk that progressively carries the town into the future.
Almost 140 years ago, the City of Hartford popped up 15 miles west of downtown Sioux Falls after a few train-goers from Hartford, Connecticut stopped at the depot in this Dakota Territory community.
These people moving west were seeking opportunity. They assumed the risk that moving West could yield them a better quality of life. They created pillars of any town — a postmaster, communal stores, hotels, grain warehouses, and village businesses.
They took a chance on Hartford.
And the same is happening today.
While today, Hartford is considered a pseudo-suburb of South Dakota’s largest city, it remains uniquely its own. It remains true to itself. Especially in the businesses that make-up their retail district.
The people of Hartford do not shy away from proximity—they embrace it. After all, their city motto reads “On the Edge of Everything.”
However, when launching into business ownership in a community so close to booming city with 50 times the population, the fear of marginalization can be very real.
But instead of leaning into the things others do well, Hartford leans into the things they do well. They hone into their uniqueness. There is required bravery for every retail business who launches in Hartford.
Because when you believe in your community and believe in what you do, you’re able to make a difference.
“People who are either operating or starting retail businesses in Hartford derive a connection to the community and deeply enjoy their craft,” said Hartford Chamber director Jesse Fonkert.
“These people see opportunity and love what they do.”
The retail sector of Hartford is mainly comprised of three separate districts — Highway 38, downtown, and Exit 387. Combined, the sector employs upwards of 200 people locally.
The Highway 38 retail corridor can be found by taking the 390 exit headed west and going another 2 miles northwest into Hartford. Here, you’ll find local retail businesses like the Hartford Building Center, Sunshine Food, Get N Go, Heart T Stop, and Knotty Gnome Variety and Salvage.
Highway 38 wraps around the west and north boundary of the city. After you pass West Central High School on your left, you’ll slowly start to see small retail shops speckled along the side of the road.
Head south from there, and you’ll start to enter the charming downtown district highlighted by retail shops like the Backdoor Garden and Modish Designs & Boutique.
On the south side of Hartford is the city’s third business district, known creatively as Exit 387 (sometimes there is no need to make matters any more complex than they need to be).
There, shoppers will find places like the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop, ABR Antique Mall, AK Video Plus, and Aunt-T's-Ques Wayside Shoppe.
All of these businesses can be found as treasure seekers immediately exit off I-90 at the 387 exit.
Hartford also serves as a regional hub for the communities to the West — Humboldt, Canistota, and Montrose, drawing them into the destination shops.
Most every retail business in Hartford is family-owned and operated. This becomes predominantly evident when you walk into the shops and are greeted with the friendly smile of a local shop owner.
There’s a reason embedding roots in a place like Hartford has its payoffs.
Since such a high percentage of the businesses in town are locally-owned, the connection to the community provides opportunities for others.
Recent figures state that on average in a small town, of every $100 spent, roughly $68 stays inside the community in the form of salaries to the locally employed, operating expenses, locally sourced goods and more.
One doesn’t need to search far to see where these dollars flow.
These loyal businesses are often seen sponsoring a softball team, taking part in the support of a booster club, helping back local extra-curricular activities, and by taking the initiative with school-focused programs.
The community element is tangible.
Hartford is a town with only a few thousand people and a few dozen retail businesses. But despite the fact one can peruse the entire town in a 10-minute gallivant, there is more there than meets the eye.
“Being well-connected in town, living in town, I’ll even drive by something and say, ‘we need to check that place out.,’” said Hartford Mayor Jeremy Menning. “Because it [Hartford] continually changes.”
There are places for food, places for gifts, places to improve the quality of your home life, and more. There is nuance, quality, and a local flare that is embodied in each.
“I’m amazed at the businesses that are members of our Chamber that I never even knew existed,” said Lisa Hellvig, owner of the Hartford Building Center.
Not too different from the train-goers in the late 1880s, we have modern-day trailblazers right here in our community, running local retail businesses, our community’s “mom-and-pop shops,” seeking to make life better for all.
With risk comes reward.
And this reward is being enjoyed by all of Hartford.