By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service
STANLEY, N.D. — In 1996, Ruth and Robert “Hod” Hysjulien took a risk despite a flat economy in their small western North Dakota town.
Open in time for that year’s holiday shopping season, Prairie Outfitters, their 3,600-square-foot retail store on Stanley’s Main Street, was a hit.
“We had a great Christmas. We were all amazed,” Ruth said.
Back then, the couple was unaware the future was even brighter for their town of about 1,300 — that by 2010, store sales would see a 300 percent increase.
“It was so busy in 2012,” Hod said, recalling the many people living in RVs and campers two years ago.
“We were here almost every night until 10 p.m.,” Ruth chimed in.
“It was overwhelming,” the couple said in unison.
With the region’s energy boom, gone are the days of businesses dying and business owners having to fight for sales.
“I think we were losing a lot of businesses in the ‘90s and 2000s and the population was dwindling. Now we’re growing the other way and business is expanding. … It’s hard to keep up with it,” said Mayor Gary “Fritz” Weisenberger, who has known the Hysjuliens for 40 years.
He estimates the town’s population could be as high as 3,500, more than double since the start of the boom.
What originally started as a store to fill a niche in the agricultural community has since expanded to a 6,100-square-foot space filled with flame-resistant clothing and steel-toed boots, as well as jewelry, casual wear and denim jeans with “bling” for women.
Ruth had worked at the local medical clinic for about 27 years prior to running Prairie Outfitters. After a 33-year career in the furniture and carpet industry, Hod joined her full time in 2013.
He said the big moment for their business was when an oi field company supervisor ordered 550 caps with the company logo, telling Hod they would try to do their shopping locally.
“It’s been huge. We got some of the big companies. They all talk about our prices — that our prices are lower.” Ruth said. “Word-of-mouth advertising has been awesome.”
Weisenberger said Stanley received its official designation as a Renaissance Zone last month. Business owners and residents located within 20-something blocks of the old part of the town will be eligible for tax breaks to stimulate development along Main Street.
He said at least a dozen or more businesses have opened or expanded in the past year in the downtown area or on U.S. Highway 2, including a gas station, Tractor Supply Company, O’Reilly Auto Parts and La Esperanza Mexican Restaurant.
Hod said with the population growth in the Oil Patch, comes the negative, but “our experience has not been negative.”
Ruth admitted they have made friends with a lot of the people who have come from all over the country, from Louisiana and Texas to Idaho.
As they look forward to another holiday season, the couple’s recipe for success in balancing marriage and business is a blend of flexibility, respect and care.
“We’ve just always gotten along, he’s made my job easier,” Ruth said.