A new generation of women is revitalizing downtown.
Something magical is happening in Lake Elmo.
The East Metro city, defined by rolling farmland and an intimate downtown, is now one of the fastest-growing places in Minnesota. In an impressive resurgence, a group of female entrepreneurs is rejuvenating downtown to serve the burgeoning population.
“Downtown had felt quiet for so long,” says Lainie Bailen, a Lake Elmo native and co-owner of Thrive Physical Therapy & Wellness.
Over the last decade, a growing number of enthusiastic business owners and entrepreneurs, from near and far, have been drawn to Lake Elmo. They didn’t know each other, and their reasons for starting a business vary, but they’ve all made an intentional choice to start a new chapter in their lives in downtown Lake Elmo. Together, they have become a catalyst for collaboration.
“When these wonderful women started their businesses, [downtown] has boomed,” Bailen says.
Julie Quinn was also born and raised in Lake Elmo and loves watching the community come together. Quinn is a co-owner of Sunshine Coffee Co. alongside Erica Marsden and Sabrina Tvedten-Swinnea. Sunshine Coffee Co. has become a central meeting place, where all residents gather and carry on the spirit of their beloved city.
“We have longtime residents who say they’ve lived in Lake Elmo for 50 years and haven’t seen anything like this,” Quinn says.
Across the street stands Lake Elmo Inn, an iconic establishment that has anchored downtown for more than 40 years. When asked where a downtown shop is located, the response is in relation to Lake Elmo Inn—across the street, kiddie corner or two doors down.
Anna Schiltz is the daughter of Lake Elmo Inn chef and owner John Schiltz. She says the town is busier than when she was younger. Her dad’s restaurant has been a local icon for over four decades and made Lake Elmo a dining destination. As the marketing coordinator for Lake Elmo Inn & Event Center, Schiltz is helping grow the downtown area.
Jodie Meyer opened My Empty Nest gift boutique on Lake Elmo’s main street, Lake Elmo Avenue, in November. “It was a dream of mine since I was a little girl,” Meyer says. She remembers making a storefront out of cardboard and selling items from around the house to friends, who used leaves and grass as currency.
Although Meyer lives in Afton, her roots in Lake Elmo run deep. Meyer’s 90-year-old mother, Rosemary Meyer, lives in the same house where Meyer was born and raised. Opening a shop in her hometown is a dream come true. “I looked all over the area for a location, and when the old bank building opened up, I knew it had to be the place,” she says.
Allison Bahr, another Lake Elmo native, bought Village Wine and Spirits three years ago. She remembers visiting Schiltgen Farm as a child. Though the original property was sold to developers, the iconic preserved North Star Farm Barn remains a reminder of the area’s rich farming history.
Some of the new business owners moved to Lake Elmo from far across the Metro for the feel of the community. Susan Grothe bought a house in the area and moved her business, Lasting Impressions Cosmetic Tattoo, from Minnetonka in May of 2023. She was drawn to the open space and relaxed vibe in Lake Elmo.
“It’s the people that really make the difference. It’s the love; it’s the joy; it’s the richness that we have when we actually care about one another,” says Ally Bowen, owner of Be the Light Hair Studio. Bowen and her sister-in-law, Kelly Bowen, moved their business to Lake Elmo because the ambience felt right. Their clients agree and many are happy to make the drive.
Although each store is operated independently, locals and visitors alike are celebrating a cohesive downtown experience. Katie Pelton’s salon, The Hair Crossing, shares a building with gift boutique La Vie Est Belle. She says her customers often step out of the salon chair with foils in their hair and walk across the hall to browse. Greeted by Finnley, the shop’s resident golden retriever, customers make themselves at home.
And the community is supporting these business owners, too, La Vie Est Belle owner Kristin Rohman Rehkamp says. When a new resident stopped into the gift shop and asked, “What can I do for you?’” Rohman Rehkamp recalls mentioning a need for snow removal as winter approached. Without another word, her wish has been granted—just one example of Lake Elmo’s spirit of service.
Marsden agrees and says random acts of kindness are abundant at Sunshine Coffee Co. Neighbors leave flowers for the doorstep, help care for the shop’s plants and gift handmade artwork.
Jenny Terwedo works at The Fields at Arbor Glen, a senior living community. “A good portion of our residents have raised their families here for a long time. They love that there are so many businesses opening, and it’s becoming a more walkable area,” Terwedo says.
Flower farmer Meg Bicek, owner of Petal and Stick, grows flowers on her Lake Elmo property and has a stall at Lake Elmo Farmers Market. She says the market has grown a lot, and she often watches people walk from downtown to the market and back to shop—a testament to the “shop local, support local” tradition.
Business owners are fulfilling their dreams, lifting each other up and promoting a community. In return, neighbors are rallying behind them and together—ensuring these small businesses and storefronts, which belong to the community and residents, remain.
“We need to acknowledge and thank the leadership and contributions of so many great businesses and residents in our Lake Elmo community. We are so fortunate for the strong foundation from which we continue to grow,” Rohman Rehkamp says. “Lake Elmo is truly a special community!”