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Forum Editorial: Zandbroz saw something in downtown Fargo when few others did

Zandbroz Variety was a pioneer in revitalizing downtown. The store was a rare infusion of new investment in 1991 when it opened in a blighted downtown, eight years before the launch of the Renaissance Zone incentive program.

Editorial FSA

The former Leeby’s grocery store on Broadway in downtown Fargo was an empty shell when brothers Greg and Jeff Danz somehow found the optimism to resurrect the building as Zandbroz Variety.

They opened the doors to their variety retail shop in December 1991. Downtown Fargo at the time was a rundown relic of a shopping district. Two decades earlier, West Acres opened, emptying out many of the mainstay retailers from downtown.

The Danz brothers remodeled the building themselves. A do-it-yourself job was all they could afford. But they also had faith that downtown Fargo would come back.

And it has.

For years now, downtown Fargo has been a resurging shopping, entertainment and office district, once again claiming its place as the vibrant heart of the city. It’s easy to forget just how shabby — how dead and decaying — downtown was when the Danz brothers decided to open Zandbroz.

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The store started eight years before the Renaissance Zone, which offers tax breaks to revitalize blighted areas, started in Fargo. Since that incentive program started, more than 200 projects have been approved, both renovations and new construction — more than doubling property valuations downtown.

Today downtown Fargo is a destination for shopping and entertainment. But when Greg and Jeff Danz decided to open Zandbroz, there was no way to predict that downtown would become what it is today.

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Greg Danz, owner of Zandbroz Variety in downtown Fargo, shows off part of his store's book selection Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Danz says books shouldn't be too badly hurt by supply chain issues this holiday season, but other items — particularly toys made overseas — have become harder to get and could end up in short supply this year. Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

They were pioneers who took a chance when they invested their futures in downtown Fargo. Their success showed others that it was possible to take an old building and give it new life, helping to create the momentum that continues 30 years later.

Of course, other businesses have also been an important part of the downtown story. Royal Jewelers, to name one example, has long been a fixture of downtown. Randy Thorson and Warren Ackley, who own Old Broadway, a venerable bar and restaurant, also saw downtown’s potential early on.

Besides being a revitalization pioneer, Greg Danz has been an advocate for downtown. He was a member of a committee that pushed for the Broadway Streetscape Project in 2002, an initiative that included the installation of benches, ornamental fences, decorative brick pavers and flower baskets.

The momentum downtown continues. It continues with construction on the Kilbourne Group’s Mercantile Building, Kesler Building and The Landing. And it continues as the city reviews proposals to redevelop the former Fargo Cass Public Health building, senior high rise and former Mid America Steel complex.

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Now downtown’s future as a dynamic place to live and do business seems assured.

But that was far from the case in 1991 when Zandbroz opened, back when to many it seemed that downtown Fargo was destined for a grim future. Those behind Zandbroz’s successful example deserve our thanks.

Related Topics: FARGO
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