Red Cloud Rising: Building a Vibrant Downtown

Red Cloud Rising: Building a Vibrant Downtown

November 30, 2020


by the Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee/Red Cloud Community Fund

Downtown Red Cloud has been getting a bit of a facelift recently with a number of rehabilitation projects going on simultaneously. As of November 30th, the the Garber Bank Building, the future site of the Hotel Garber (see below), the former location of Gary's Barbershop, Subway, H&R Block, the former location of Stock-Aid Liquor, the State Bank Block Building, and the former location of Red Cloud Hardware are all being rehabilitated to various degrees. Add to that the opening of The Corner Nook (see story below) in June of this year at the former Taylor's Drugstore building, the soon to be open Riverwood Bakery, and the demolition of the dilapidated structure that used to house Dr. Cook's drugstore back in Willa Cather's time and it's obvious that Red Cloud is making progress towards creating a vibrant and active downtown.

Dennis Hansen, who purchased the former hardware building and the lot next to it, is betting on the future of the community. Hansen and his wife Sally "decided to fix up an old building in Red Cloud for our eventual living space on the second floor, because we’ve made the decision to continue to live in Red Cloud. We want to stay in the community because we are excited about the future of Red Cloud and are both inspired and invigorated by all of the hard-work people are doing. We believe Red Cloud is and will continue to be a great place to live." 

In 2012, Hansen was one of the local leaders who decided that an economic development strategy centered around Heritage Tourism would be Red Cloud's best bet to build on the assets it already has in place in order to promote growth. Long-term, the hope is that this will diversify the local economy, create jobs, and bolster Red Cloud's already strong tourism sector. Besides attracting more tourists and more frequent visits from the community's beloved alumni network, it is hoped that improving amenities and experiences will also improve the quality of life for locals. While behind the scenes work on this project has been going on for years, the opening of the highly visible National Willa Cather Center in 2017 with its loft apartments on the 2nd floor and retail space including the On the Brix Tasting Room was a real catalyst for change and people attraction. Since that time, entrepreneurs like Val and Danny Benge at Hometown Market, Brad & Andrea Frey with Abundant Life Honey, and Emma Jaeke and Corrina Hubl at Riverwood Bakery have decided to take a risk on Red Cloud with many citing the positive momentum happening in the community as inspiration for their investments. While the Freys and the Benges were either living in town or had family living in the community, Jaeke and Hubl have less well-rooted connections but decided to take the plunge anyhow. According to Jaeke, "more than feeding people, we wanted to create a place in small town Nebraska where all walks of life are accepted and celebrated. We picture kids trickling in as school gets out, and hope they claim it as their new hang out." 

Despite all the obvious progress, Red Cloud Tourism & Commerce Director Jarrod McCartney says that there is a lot of work remaining to be done and that the community cannot rest on its laurels. McCartney explains, "now is the time to strike while the iron is hot and build on the momentum we already have. That so much development is happening is inspiring and a good sign that people believe in the future of Red Cloud. More than anything, however we need the Hotel Garber project to be successful as it will generate the sort of revenue that will lift local businesses up and to the next level. That's why I am so excited that we are entering an aggressive phase of fundraising for that project." Accordingly, McCartney believes that short of buying a building or starting a business yourself, the best way to help Red Cloud thrive is to either invest in or donate to the Hotel Garber project. 

McCartney believes that with the right plan, Red Cloud can leverage government funding such as Downtown Revitalization and Tourism Development grants to make the community's business district into a more welcoming environment. Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee members are eager to talk to former community members who want to help leave their legacy in their hometown by investing or donating to a project that will help sustain and grow Red Cloud. While it may look like the community is figuring out a lot on its own, the fact that it is moving forward on a lot of projects means we need your help now more than ever so that they succeed. Red Cloud has limited resources and volunteers involved in the projects have limited time and money to invest. Your investment could really help push everything forward. Eventually passing economic development funding connected to the State of Nebraska's LB840 initiative and eventual repair of US Hwy 281 in an historically appropriate yet safe fashion will also help.



Perhaps Red Cloud's most architecturally significant structure, the Farmers & Merchants Bank (aka the Garber Bank Building) is receiving several updates and cleanings of its exterior. Additional interior work will be completed as well, including improved and updated interpretitive work. The building is one of the featured locations on most tours available from The National Willa Cather Center. It will share an elevator with the forthcoming Hotel Garber next door and is part of the Willa Cather Foundation's "Campaign for the Future" which will result in the rehabilitation and restoration of 7 historic properties, most of which are in Red Cloud. According to WCF, "The campaign is 83% complete and only $1.1 million away from meeting our $6.5 million goal. Thanks to an anonymous donor, all gifts to the campaign made prior to December 31 will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $175,000. We hope you'll take advantage of this special opportunity to make a lasting impact on the preservation and promotion of Cather's legacy."

The campaign is also raising money for the Hotel Garber project


Todd & Lisa Mahin are giving this property an extreme facelift, which has already resulted in a transformation of the east side of Webster Street in downtown Red Cloud. Todd's father Gary operated a barbershop out of the building for years but now Todd & Lisa are giving it a modern update that pays homage to the past. While Todd & Lisa have some clear-eyed plans for the property we will let them be the first to announce those ideas to the public. Like the H&R Block Project listed below, this project is coming to fruition because of the hardwork and vision of a younger couple seeing the possibilites Red Cloud has to offer and investing their time, talents and treasure. Both projects also received small grants from the Historic Preservation Commission which aid in the restoration of downtown and other historic buildings in the community. 


Subway is in the middle of revamping its storefront and has removed the prominent green awning. A new sign will eventually go in, but it will likely match the feeling of the historic downtown better. The paint job of the storefront and the adjoining stairway to the unused 2nd floor has improved the look and feel of the exterior. Additional work is going on at the Garwood & McCracken Law Office next door. 

H&R Block & Stock-Aid Liquor 

Brad & Andrea Frey have made several improvements to this building on the southwest side of downtown, all of which contribute to its overall improved look and historical feel, especially in the storefront. The Freys have also purchased the former Stock-Aid Liquor and will remodel it to resemble how it looked when it was Rudy's Standard Station many years ago. The building was once owned and operated by Rudy Olson, Andrea's grandfather. The Freys own and operate Abundant Life Honey.


Dennis & Sally Hansen purchased the first two buildings on the northeast corner of the intersection of Hwy 281 & Hwy 136 (see quote from Dennis above). They plan on rehabing the former Red Cloud Hardware building and eventually living in the 2nd floor apartment. The  building next door was too far gone to save. Plans for that space and the retail bay below the future Hansen residence are pending. The viewshed from the National Willa Cather Center has already improved with the changes to the Mahins' building. It's exciting to think of what the spaces owned by the Hansens will look like when completed. The east side of main street could potentially see the transformation of the properties owned by the Mahins, Hansens, the Sewing Box, the Hotel Garber (formerly Brenda's Shoppe) and the Farmers & Merchants Bank building. 


This building was given a facelift when it was occupied by Twisted Sisters a few years ago. In recent years, the living space on the 2nd floor has been finished and additional improvements and modifications are being made to house Riverwood Bakery. The Bakery hopes to open its storefront before Christmas. The west side of downtown is seeing improvements to this building, the awning for Village Pharmacy, and the aforementioned work on the State Bank Building, and H&R Block. The former Taylor's Drugstore building also got a new tenant this year: The Corner Nook


Work continues to progress with the Hotel Garber project. Presently, Heritage Tourism is seeking serious investors and is deeply enmeshed in the fundraising portion of the project. Significant work on stabilizing the basement, demolition of the interior, and other improvments have been made. When rehabbed, the building will add a third floor and make a significant change and improvement to the look and feel of downtown Red Cloud from a variety of angles. Currently, the Board in charge of this project is looking into signage, the possibility of restoring ghost signage, and the feasibility of creating arched windows. 

Sugar & Spice

This building on the south end of downtown was purchased recently and will be an adaptive reuse project (non-retail). Look for more information soon on plans for this space. 

Al's Old Home Repair & Tru-Built Construction

Tru-Built Construction out of Lincoln is doing or has completed work on several prominent structures in Red Cloud, including the Hotel Garber, the Hansens' building, 7 historic National Willa Cather Sites including the Farmers & Merchants Bank, the National Willa Cather Center/Moon Block, and The Valley Child Development Center. RCHS Class of '92 alumn Steve Powell is a co-owner of Tru-Built Construction and the lead on these Red Cloud projects. Red Cloud's own Al Leal from Al's Old House Repairs has been activitely involved in many of the storefront improvements along with building owners themselves. 


Red Cloud was fortunate to receive over $2 million in aid from the State of Nebraksa recently to create a fiber network throughout the community. Because of this, now any home or business in the community will be able to get Fiber to Home Internet from Great Plains Communications. The funding was made possible due to the Nebraska Department of Economic Department apportioning the state's slice of money from the Federal CARES Act specifically towards Rural Broadband expansion and in Red Cloud's case, Fiber to Home/business Installation. A new business should feel confident that high speed internet capable of competing with just about any spot in the country will soon be available in Red Cloud. 


Want to get in on the action? There are several locations still available for the right entrepreneur. These spaces include 2 finished retail bays in the National Willa Cather Center available for a very reasonable rent (call Ashley Olson at 402-746-2653 or email her at and the possibility of further improvements, including bathrooms, with a signed commitment.

The former McFarland Hotel space is completely available for the right entrepreneur. While that building needs some work, the caretakers of the property would consider giving it away to a future owner with a clear plan and a commitment to ensuring the building retains its historical character. It would be a prime location for a restaurant and its upstairs would be perfect for lodging. 

Entrepreneurs interested in the purchase of Shades West or renting office space in the building formerly occupied by Midwest Regional Agency/Conway Insurance (who themselves are pouring new lifeblood into the building formerly occupied by Dr. Chan across the street from the Community Center) should contact Jarrod McCartney at 

If you're not interested in opening up a shop or fixing up a building, the best way you can help is by spending money at local businesses and by making donation to the Heritage Tourism account at the Red Cloud Community Fund so that this work can continue. Donating whatever amount you can or investing in the Hotel Garber Project would also be a huge way you can help. Contact McCartney or Olson at 402-746-2653 for more information or read the Case for Support

Red Cloud's rising will continue--we are restless awaiting the changes that will surely help transform and sustain the community for years to come! Thank you for your support!