Business is booming in small South Dakota town, despite the pandemic

Published: Jun. 14, 2020 at 3:20 PM CDT
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Many towns and businesses have struggled to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. But in northwestern South Dakota, the small town of Lemmon is a success story. The town is booming, even during the pandemic

For just over a year, this has been Sheldon Froleich’s home office. From his basement in Lemmon, S.D., Froelich works as an audit senior associate for Eide Bailly in Bismarck.

"As long as internet connection is good you’re not missing a beat," says Froelich.

Froelich and his wife both grew up here and the high school sweethearts couldn’t wait to get back after college.

"We've always been family driven. We were high school sweethearts and this is where our family is. That family aspect brought us back," he says.

The Froelichs’ hometown is booming. Construction is underway on a new Dollar General and a new school. Three years ago, a new grocery store opened; at 17,000 square feet it's more than double the size of the old store.

"If you build it they will come," says Steph Dauwen, store manager. "We gained a lot of loyalty during the pandemic. People were doing all their shopping here. Their carts were fuller and there were lots of people I hadn’t seen before."

And there were the regular customers, like Cindy Dix.

"Lemmon is where we do all our business," says Dix, who lives on a ranch near Keldron, S.D, about 25 miles from Lemmon.

A look at the city’s sales tax revenues shows just how much people shopped at home during the pandemic. Sales tax revenues are up 169% from a year ago, from $39,000 in March and April of 2019 to around $105,000 this year.

"It is incredible," says Neal Pinnow. Pinnow has been the mayor of Lemmon for 12 years.

City leaders and business owners want to keep customers coming to Lemmon. But they say it’s about more than just increasing sales tax revenue.

"Shop local is more than we want your money. The increased revenue we had during the pandemic allowed us to give our employees bonuses," says Dauwen. "When business is good we can offer more benefits to our employees and donate more to the local baseball team. We put just as much into this community as we get out of it."

"The sales tax dollars help immensely taking care of streets and infrastructure in the city, but it's about more than that," says Pinnow. "We want people to take a look at what we can do for businesses and keep the momentum going. We want to give them a reason to come to town."

A community of 1,200 that’s not only surviving but thriving during these uncertain times.

South Dakota has had nearly 6,000 cases of the coronavirus since March, but it hasn’t hit Lemmon or surrounding communities. In fact, Perkins County, where Lemmon is located has reported zero cases of the virus. Neighboring Harding and Butte counties haven’t had any cases either.