Valley Springs: ‘Front Door to S.D.’ is home to diverse small businesses

Oct. 10, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association.

Art Aadland, Megan Hudelson and Lee Anderson work with the rich and promising aromas of enterprise.

Serving up bacon and eggs. Applying yet another penetrating coat of finish to a pipe organ. Reaching out to sample the fragrant fields of maturing hops.

Such is life in a place called the Front Door to South Dakota. Such is that life in Valley Springs.

On the border with Minnesota, just miles from Brandon and metropolitan Sioux Falls, Aadland, Hudelson and Anderson help to drive an economic engine in Valley Springs that in many ways typifies the small-town entrepreneurial spirit.

Hudelson just opened a convenience store-bar-casino-cafe in June in a building that housed a Ford dealership back in the 1920s. Aadland and his wife have spent 47 years building, restoring and repairing pipe organs. And just southwest of town, Anderson and his family are chasing an agritourism dream built on raising their own hops, brewing their own beer and doing it all on a farm that counts six generations of Andersons who have worked this land.

They are all small businesses in a community that also has a beauty parlor, an elevator, a couple of mechanic shops, an elementary school and home builders. While Valley Springs certainly fancies itself more as a bedroom community, Mayor Carl Moss said the search for even more economic opportunities is constant.

“We are looking,” the mayor said. “We do have an industrial park, and there is space available in that yet for business. You’re always searching for those opportunities.”

Hudelson was searching for a place to store her lawn care equipment when she and Sioux Falls businessman Rick Gourley came across 13,000 square feet of possibility on Valley Springs’ Broadway Avenue.

“We got the building cheap,” she said. “And as we looked at it, we knew we could do more than just store lawn care stuff there. We just figured they could use something more in this town.”

She called it Broadway and turned it into something it had been five or six years earlier –a convenience store with candy for the kids, chips and other snacks, and a few of life’s necessities. But Hudelson’s vision was much grander. She started a cafe there as well, specializing in pizza but offering specials such as barbecues, pulled pork sandwiches and walking tacos. Open most days from at least 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., she even serves up bacon, eggs, French toast and pancakes to the breakfast crowds.

Broadway is a bar and casino too. And someday, Hudelson might even bring the gas pumps back. For now, she’s paying the bills and creating a community gathering space, whether it’s the old gents swilling coffee in the mornings or the kids playing the video games she installed in the back.

“I’m hoping. I really am,” Hudelson said of her optimism for the venture. “People have their routines. They haven’t had anything here for so long they’ve established other routines. I’m hoping over time, as word gets out about us, we become that routine.”

Down the road on Jackson Street, Art and Ellen Aadland have a 47-year-old routine going called the Aadland Pipe Organ Co.

They make pipe organs – one per year – primarily for churches but also for theaters and other institutions across six states. The product is so good that even without advertising and only by word of mouth, requests for their organs have been growing by six churches a year over the past five years.

Art Aadland said what customers like about their pipe organs is how well they hold up to humidity, temperature change and the variability of climate from season to season. They lead the industry in tuning stability, improved performance reliability and reduced maintenance requirements, he said.

“Most pipe organs are soft wood inside and will have a hard wood case,” Aadland said. “Ours are hardwood all the way to the core, and then they’re stabilized both with lamination procedures and with 42 coats of penetrating finish. So they’re much higher stability than the average organ, and they’re also designed with greater service access and efficiency.”

The Aadlands not only build the organs but repair them and restore them as well. While they rely on Sioux Falls for much of their resources – and they’ve actually had conversations about moving into Sioux Falls or somewhere else – they inevitably come back to their love for Valley Springs.

“We have had and do have the opportunity to expand the business here in Valley Springs, so we’re comfortable with that,” Aadland said. “The overhead in a small town is quite a bit more reasonable. It’s just nice to have the small-town atmosphere yet have the resources of supplies from Sioux Falls.”

That comfort with one’s ties to a community and surrounding area is captured in another successful Valley Springs business – a family-run venture that embraces a farm-to-table approach to brewing called A Homestead Brew.

In 2012, descendants of Martin Anderson, who homesteaded land seven miles south and two miles west of Valley Springs, started Anderson Hop Farm to grow hops to sell to breweries and home brewers in and around South Dakota. Five years later, they decided to create their own brewery and taproom, and A Homestead Brew label was born.

Visitors today typically need a GPS to find their way to the farm and brewery at 26685 486th Ave. But all the activity out there suggests that’s not a problem. The venture has hosted birthday parties, wedding receptions, office parties, chili cook-offs, fundraisers, hot air balloons and parachutists – even the Midwest All-Pro Wrestlers – at the Anderson Hop Farm, said Nancy Kreulen, one of the owners of A Homestead Brew brewery.

Her son, Lee Anderson – the fifth of six Anderson generations with ties to the land – has given tours to groups as far away as Texas and as close as a Southeast Technical Institute class, knitting together the field-to-glass process for planting, nurturing and harvesting hops, and then brewing it and serving it. His children, who are 10, 6 and 4, represent the sixth generation on the land.

“There’s not a lot of places where you can go and see agricultural tourism,” Anderson said. “And since we do a lot of barrel-aged living sours, we draw a lot of tourism where people come through, start looking at this and go, ‘Oh, these guys do (living sours). It’s a real rarity.’ ”

While the taproom is open from 5  to 9 p.m. Fridays, 2 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and by reservation on Sundays through Thursdays, it’s not unusual for Anderson to host customers and friends who want to brew their own beer for, say, their weddings.

Indeed, Kreulen characterizes their business as a neighborhood venture that relies little on advertising but through the word of mouth of customers coming from Larchwood, Iowa; Valley Springs; Brandon; Sioux Falls; and Hills, Minn.

She also emphasized A Homestead Brew’s reliance on the surrounding community. They use honey in their brewing they get from Valley Springs. Watermelons from Brandon. Elderberries from across the border in Iowa. They sell bison sticks from a gentleman who raises the animals north of Brandon. They sell Stensland Family Farms cheese curds, and meat and cheese that come out of Pierre.

While he’s the only full-time employee, Anderson said the plan is to grow the business and create more employment so he can perhaps lessen the 70 hours a week he spends growing hops, brewing beer and organizing events at the farm.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “Hopefully five years from now, everything is paid off, and we’ve got a few employees, and we’re sustainable.”

Despite its bedroom-community reputation, Valley Springs appears well positioned geographically to make such goals more than a dream.  And who knows? Mayor Moss said a new technical high school is coming to the community in the years ahead. There’s talk of resurrecting an abandoned rail line that runs through town as well, something that could spur interest in their industrial park, he said.

That has Hudelson at least envisioning an even brighter tomorrow.

“That’s right,” she said. “Who knows? A new tech school maybe brings new people, extra teachers. You know, extra flow to the town. You have to look at that optimistically. I know I do.”

Valley Springs: ‘Front Door to S.D.’ is home to diverse small businesses

Valley Springs calls itself the “Front Door to South Dakota.” Walk through that “door” and you’ll discover some unique homegrown businesses.

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