Peggy Grey has had a life-long involvement with wool, yarn, and the things that can be created with them. Grey's mother sat all five of her children down, including Grey, and taught them to knit, she said.
She also has had a life-long involvement with her community. First in St. Peter, where her family's woolen mill and yarn shop were founded 50 years ago, and now in Mankato.
The woolen mill part of the business is still in St. Peter, owned by her sister. Mary Lue's Yarn and Ewe is now at 605 North Riverfront Drive in Mankato, in the heart of the district known as Old Town, and is owned and operated by Grey.
"I knew right away this was the right place," Grey said. "It's quaint, it has great ambiance, and it's not the run of the mill strip mall. It's long and narrow, with an airy, old feeling."
Since Mary Lue's Yarn and Ewe opened in August 2007, many improvements have been made to make the entire district more successful. Grey has been a part of that energy from the beginning.
When she moved in, she said, "Things were rough down here. Streetscaping, curbs, sidewalks — it all was pretty bad. It was kind of scary at that time ... When we came here, people said, 'Oh, nobody goes down there anymore.' We had to change that."
Grey knew talks were underway about long-range planning for the area, and she wanted to be involved in that. Grey has a track record of helping businesses work together. She started Girls Night Out in St. Peter to help businesses work together and was confident she could do the same thing in Old Town. She started to rally area business owners by knocking on doors, beating a path and presenting ideas.
Grey believes if the City Center Group had not taken an active interest in the area, the district would have deteriorated more than it already had. "It was pretty dilapidated, and that was the direction it was headed."
Most store fronts were filled when Mary Lue's Yarn and Ewe opened, and owners were meeting regularly. Then three businesses closed in a short period of time. "It took the wind out of our sails," Grey said. "Then major street work came in, and it cut us off for a while. We lost our fire."
But what Grey calls "the second wave of momentum and focus" is happening right now.
Business owners in the district are risk takers, she believes, but they are people who are invested in the long term. "I started a wave of energy, but people who are more stable are here to see it through."
Grey envisions better traffic flow, better parking, full buildings, and more visibility due to events at Riverfront Park. She said the mix of retail, service businesses, the concerts and other events at the park and residences make the area a perfect spot to visit.
Specifically, Grey is looking toward a low level parking ramp in Old Town and street decorations at Christmastime. The next wave of momentum will hopefully spark these things. "Businesses decorated their windows for Christmas, of course, but there are no street light decorations, and nothing spanning the road." Area business people are talking about pooling their money for these decorations as was done in the past.
Grey credits all the business owners in Old Town for the momentum now in force. As a team working with City Center Partnership and the city of Mankato, they are gaining traction for a better Old Town experience for visitors. Building owners working with their tenants is another positive force, she believes.
"I'm excited," she said. "Good things are coming out of the meetings that are taking place now. It's a never-ending evolution."