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News from the week of August 17, 2005


Fill'er up... and bring lots of money

By Megan Meyer

Gas prices are soaring upwards all around the country. And Tracy is no different. The prices took another big jump Monday morning to $2.49 a gallon, which is more than 20 cents higher than last Monday’s prices. By Monday night, Food-N-Fuel had taken another increase to $2.59 per gallon. reported that parts of the country will soon see a gallon of gas priced over $3, That sounds like bad news, but will our corner of southwest Minnesota see prices that high?

Average gas prices for Minnesota had reached $2.48 on August 16, according to the Minnesota AAA organization’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That number has climbed from $2.23 one short month ago. The national average, according to Minnesota AAA, is above $2.50.

Nobody seems to be happy about handing over the dollar after dollar it takes to stay on the road.

“It’s outrageous, but working in Marshall doesn’t give me much choice,” said Shanel Hansen of Tracy. She is employed at Hy-Vee. Driving to and from work keeps her visiting the gas pumps regularly.

Rising gas prices have been a part of life over the past 12 days for Joe and Dina Baunoch, who filled up in Tracy on August 8, en route from their home in Ohio to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. They planned to be on the road for 25 hours on their trip to Mount Rushmore, and 18 hours on their return trip.

“Awful,” was the word Joe used to describe the gas prices they have seen since the start of their trip. The highest prices he and Dina had come across were in Wisconsin, where each gallon cost the consumer $2.44.

On August 8, when they stopped in Tracy for gas, unleaded regular prices stood at $2.24 a gallon.

“We stop where it’s cheap,” Joe states.

“Well, cheaper,” says Dina with a laugh.

The couple, both in their 20s, could not remember a time when a gallon of gas has cost as much as it does now. Joe can remember when it was only 89 cents per gallon to fill up.

“This is absolutely the highest we’ve seen,” Dina said.

One doesn’t have to be traveling across the country to feel the effects of the record high prices. Tom Morin, who drives almost every day as part of his job, says that it has been a lot more expensive to be on the road. His mileage is reimbursed, but only at an already fixed price, which doesn’t always cover the escalating gas prices.

“I wish I had a better vehicle,” Tom states, speaking in terms of fuel efficiency. But he added that more expensive gas prices have not kept him and his family from visiting places of interest this summer.

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How much of an affect have record high gas prices had on car buyers.

According to Jeff Salmon at Salmon Motors of Tracy, not much.

“People aren’t knocking down the doors to get the smaller new cars which are fuel efficient and sell for less money,” Salmon shares. “The dealership has sold some cars to people who would have otherwise bought an SUV, he said.

But that number hasn’t been significant because many people don’t want to give up the extra space for either people or cargo that a SUV or truck can offer. The power to pull things like a boat also has an effect on what the consumer is buying.

He cited a recent family vacation as an example. His family recently drove an SUV, instead of a car, up to the Boundary Waters area. He figures the increased fuel cost for the SUV was only about $15 a day, which isn’t enough for most people to want to sacrifice the power, room and comfort of an SUV.

Have more expensive fuel prices hurt vehicle sales?

“There are so many other factors affecting local sales that it’s difficult to pinpoint, but yeah, gas prices have had some affect,” said Salmon. “But again, the overall consumer doesn’t worry that much.”

What do the prices mean to the gas stations in Tracy.

Donna Caron of Swen’s Fuel said she has not seen a big drop in sales.

“It seems like people still need to get to work, go shopping and travel.” She recalls a few years ago, when gas prices also exceeded $2 a gallon.

Dawn Quigley, manager of Food-N-Fuel, feels that increased gas prices have affected sales volumes. “Sales have dropped off a bit,” she said.

Amoco manager Rhonda Fredricks, said she hasn’t noticed a drop-off, but thinks that might happen soon.

“I have been here for ten years and I have never seen higher prices,” she said.

Quigley said the same about her fifteen years. “Never higher.”

New bakery planned in Downtown Tracy

A local group plans to renovate a vacant downtown Tracy building into a commercial bakery.

Tracy Growth and Development has purchased the former P Plus Asian grocery building on Third St. Plans are to establish a full-service “made from scratch” bakery in the remodeled building.

“We hope to have it open sometime this fall,” said Deb Schenkoske, a Tracy Growth & Development board member.

The new bakery, she said, will specialize in a complete line of breads, rolls, specialty breads, pies, cookies and cakes. The bakery will also offer decorated wedding and other specialty cakes.

Table seating for about 14, where patrons can enjoy coffee and rolls, is envisioned near the front retail area.

Plans are to market the bakery’s products in a 30 to 40 mile radius, at both a retail and wholesale level, Schenkoske said.

She said that Ray Hay, who has leased and operated the Tracy Bakery since 2000, has been offered a position as head baker in the new operation. There are also plans to hire a manager to oversee business operations and spearhead sales. All told, Schenkoske said, the operation will eventually have eight full and part-time employees.

The new bakery will be outfitted with reconditioned, but relatively new equipment, Schenkoske said. A 12-loaf oven will be supported by a steam box, donut fryer, mixers and a walk-in cooler. All equipment will meet state codes, Schenkoske said. The new bakery will have a handicapped accessible public bathroom.


Local investors

Tracy Growth and Development, organized last year, has 14 local investors. Tim Byrne is the group’s president, Nicole Larson is treasurer, and Lary Parker is vice president, with Schenkoske serving as secretary. Other board members are Ken Schiller, George Hebig, and Claire Hannasch.

Schenkoske said that the group was organized for both “non-profit” and “for profit” business ventures in Tracy. The organization’s main objective, she said, is to maintain and create jobs in Tracy. She said that Tracy Growth & Development began researching a bakery operation in Tracy, after hearing that Hay was considering discontinuing operations at the Tracy Bakery.

Hay declined to be interviewed for this article. But he did say that he had planned to close his bakery business earlier this year. He continued operations at the Tracy Bakery, he indicated, only after Tracy Growth & Development began looking into the possibility of buying the building and equipment.

Schenkoske said that Tracy Growth & Development had seriously considered the possibility of purchasing the building and equipment from the Fritz’s. The two parties were “very close” to finalizing a purchase agreement, she said. But, after further research, the group changed its mind about purchasing the Tracy Bakery building and equipment. Schenkoske said that the group decided that it made more sense financially to locate the new bakery in a remodeled facility with newer equipment.

“It came down to a business decision. We had to do what we thought made the most sense for the business.”


Built for Rignell Hardware

The former P Plus building has been vacant for several years. Tracy Growth and Development purchased the building from Lyon County as a tax-forfeited property.

The steel-frame structure was built in 1953-54 as the new home of Rignell Hardware. NAPA Auto Parts and Sears were located in the building in the 1990s, before the P Plus Asian Grocery Store opened in the late 1990s.

School activities ramp up

The first day of school in the Tracy Public School District is still two weeks away. But Tracy school buildings are already bustling with activity.

Panther athletic practices got underway Monday, and school staff continue to prepare facilities for the return of students. Teachers, new and old, can be seen in schools getting ready for classes.

The first day of school in District 417 is Thursday, Sept. 1. Several student registration and orientation events are planned next week.


Tracy Area High School

An orientation session for new students is planned Tuesday, August 23, 9 a.m., in the high school cafeteria. The session is designed for incoming seventh graders and older students who are new to the school district. Students will get an overview of school policy, programs, and facilities. Tours will be conducted following the general session.

During the orientation, students will receive their schedules and a locker assignment. Each student is required to purchase a padlock for his or her locker at $6 each. Undamaged locks can be returned at the end of the school year for $5.

Parents are encouraged to attend the orientation. Any student and/or parent who can not attend the August 23 orientation is invited to call 629-5500 to set up an appointment.


Tracy Area Elementary School

Registration for all new and returning Tracy Area Elementary students is planned Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, August 23-25. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Kindergarten students are included in the registration.

Parents will be asked to provide emergency contact information, and set up school lunch accounts.

An informal open house is planned Wednesday, August 31, from 1 to 3 p.m. A parent or guardian must accompany all students.

Parents and students will be able to check on home room and teacher assignments, and visit the homeroom. Homeroom class lists will not be posted until 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 30.


Teacher workshop dates

District 417 teachers will gather Monday and Tuesday, August 29-30, for workshop days. Faculty at St. Mary’s School will have workshops beginning Thursday, August 25, and continuing through Wednesday, August 31.


First day of school

School for students begins Thursday, Sept. 1, and continues Friday, Sept. 2. After a Labor Day holiday on Monday, Sept. 5, school resumes Tuesday, Sept. 6.

The pre-Labor Day opening is a change from recent years, when the first day of class in Tracy has been the Tuesday after Labor Day.


Athletic competitions

The first Tracy/Milroy/Balaton varsity athletic competitions begin Monday, August 29.

The Panther volleyball team opens its season with away matches at Slayton, August 29, and at Marshall Sept. 1.

Cross-country action begins Wednesday, August 31, at Mt. Lake.

The Panther football team hosts Canby in their opener Thursday, Sept. 1. The gridders travel to a scrimmage in Sleepy Eye Saturday, August 27.


St. Mary’s School

Students at St. Mary’s Catholic School will also begin classes on Thursday, Sept. 1.

Parent information night is scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 7, beginning at 7 p.m.

Volunteers sought for academic excellence panel

Are you interested in promoting academic excellence in K-12 public education? Then you are invited to serve on a new Tracy Public School advisory committee.

“We want to discuss ideas for improving academics,” explained Supt. of Schools Dave Marlette.

The new “Community-Parent-School Committee for Academic Excellence” will be comprised of parents and community members, as well as teachers, school administrators, and school board members.

Marlette sees a unique mission for the committee. Community involvement and suggestions, the superintendent feels, can help an already good school system do an even better job of educating its students.

Committee members will get a detailed look at how District 417 students are now performing. Strategies and ideas to improve student test scores and meet the school district’s “Adequate Yearly Progress” targets will be discussed. Marlette indicated that the committee can also serve as a forum for community questions about school academics.

• • •

An organizational meeting for the academic excellence committee is scheduled for Thursday, August 25, 5 p.m., at the Tracy Area High School district office. Marlette invites interested people to contact him at 629-5500.

Future of Tracy Bakery operation is uncertain

The future of one of downtown Tracy’s oldest businesses is uncertain.

Mike and Sue Fritz, owners of the Tracy Bakery building and equipment, said that the business and building is for sale.

“I’ve got a couple from California that is going to look at it, but nothing definite,” said Sue Fritz Monday.

The Tracy Bakery has been in the Fritz family for three generations. Mike and Sue Fritz operated the bakery from 1983 to 2000, when they accepted jobs with the bakery department at the HyVee supermarket in Marshall. Ray Hay has leased and operated the bakery since 2000. However, a local group has announced plans to open a new bakery in Tracy, and offered a job to Hay. (See related story).

Until early last week, the Fritzs had expected the Tracy Growth & Development group to purchase their property.

“I was absolutely stunned,” said Sue Fritz, of her reaction on August 9, when she got a phone call from a Tracy Growth and Development representative, informing her that the group was no longer interested in buying the Tracy Bakery property. “I thought it was a done deal. We were just waiting to sign the final purchase agreement.”

Hay is continuing to operate the Tracy Bakery, but has been offered a position at the new bakery planned by Tracy Growth & Development. Sue Fritz said that they have given Hay a proposal to continue at the Tracy Bakery, but she and Mike do not have any plans to come back to Tracy and operate the bakery themselves. They indicated that if Hay does not want to continue with the Tracy Bakery, and a new owner is not found, the Tracy Bakery will close. The Tracy Bakery building includes a large second story apartment.

A bakery has been in the building since at least the 1920s, according to Merrill Starr’s Tracy history book. Mike Fritz’s grandparents, Al and Helen Hess, bought the bakery in 1945. The business was carried on by Jim and Pat (Hess) Fritz, Mike’s parents, who in turn sold the business to Mike and Sue Fritz.

“We have a lot of feelings for this place,” said Sue Fritz. “This has been a very good business in Tracy.”

Country View Senior Living sets Thursday open house

An open house is planned at the Country View Senior Living Community located in Walnut Grove, Thursday, August 18, from 5 to 8 p.m.

The newly constructed complex, which opened this spring, includes 28 apartments. Twelve units are designed for independent living while the remaining 16 designated for assisted living Country View is located on the south edge of Walnut Grove.

The complex has a fitness center, common areas, Internet services and a van for transportation to town.

Each individual independent living apartment is equipped with a washer and dryer, dishwasher, patio/deck and emergency call system. The apartment is spacious and activities and outings will be planned for residents.

The assisted living group of apartments will have 24-hour on-site staff. Weekly housekeeping and laundry service, three meals per day, and a quarterly nursing assessment is included.

Marcia Burnett, an employee of Country View Senior Housing, reports that there are still five independent living apartments and 15 assisted living apartments for rent.