June 26, 2017
What makes Red Wing so remarkable?
After receiving 14,000 nominations for towns to put in the spotlight during season two of “Small Business Revolution,” we hit the road to visit eight inspiring towns that made our short list of potential finalists. Throughout summer, we’re looking back and sharing the stories of what made each town special – including guest posts from local leaders and some profiles of businesses in these communities. This is the first post in our weeklong focus on Red Wing, Minnesota.
Historic Red Wing, Minnesota, is surrounded by breathtaking bluffs and situated on the serene shores of the Mississippi, which doubles as a natural border between neighboring Wisconsin.
Red Wing’s rich natural beauty is reason enough to visit, with seemingly endless parks and hiking trails that offer sweeping views of the area’s unique topography. There’s no question why Red Wing earned a place on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “distinctive destinations” list.
But it’s the town’s resilient, resourceful residents – and its passionate small business owners – that have built the one-of-a-kind community, causing visitors to fall in love with the town and return time and again. As Red Wing’s motto states: “Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime.”
Like many other American small towns, Red Wing made its mark as a manufacturing hub. But what makes the community truly remarkable is that it built – and retains to this day – a national reputation as a hotbed for industries that require highly skilled craftsmanship, including pottery, stoneware and built-to-last boots and shoes.
Case in point: Longtime employer Red Wing Shoes epitomizes that proud heritage today and has continued gaining new fans amid the “heritage” fashion movement and an increased consumer interest in American-made goods. (When you visit town, don’t forget to stop by Red Wing’s outlet, where you can snap a selfie next to the world’s largest shoe.) Red Wing Shoes, as much as any other company in the world, illustrates what is possible when a business and its employees have an unwavering commitment to quality.
Other historic businesses are also part of Red Wing’s lifeblood. For example, the charming St. James Hotel sits in the heart of Main Street, which itself is well-preserved and feels like stepping into a time machine. Other businesses, like Red Wing Brewery, have opened in more recent years but are reviving old traditions by replicating historic recipes that originated in Red Wing.
But even a town with such a stellar track record of maintaining the things that have made it special for centuries has its share of challenges. For example, Minnesota’s harsh winters create a very cyclical tourist industry throughout the state. But Red Wing, through a concerted effort, has done a laudable job of turning that challenge on its head and actively marketing its Midwestern love of winter, rather than shying away from it.
They promote tours of nearby hiking and snowmobile trails, downtown businesses roll out seasonal specials and the annual “Holiday Stroll” draws upwards of 15,000 shoppers on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Like the other towns we visited on our tour of communities that made the short list for season two of Small Business Revolution, Red Wing is a hidden gem for those who haven’t discovered yet it. For those who have, it’s a treasured home or frequent road-trip destination. Come stroll along this scenic town’s spectacular Main Street, snag a donut at Hanisch Bakery, and soak in the dramatic surroundings yourself. You’ll immediately see why.