Old postcard showing Masonic Temple before widening of Highway 34.

Old postcard showing Masonic Temple before widening of Highway 34.

One of my true loves has died, and I could not save her.

Gale Pifer reports that DeLon Mork and Randy Schaefer will demolish the old Masonic Temple in the heart of Madison sometime after September 20. They bought it in 2007 for $46,000. They were unable to find a productive use for the building. The city failed to heed lessons from elsewhere to make any offer the way it has to promote development of other downtown property. The building went unrepaired, unmaintained, unsealed, and now is unusable and unsavable. So boom, goodbye.

Interior of Masonic Temple, April 11, 2010.

Interior of Masonic Temple, April 11, 2010.

I suppose I'm as much to blame as anyone. I could have gotten rich as a computer security or health IT consultant or stayed a Republican so I could help Mike Rounds sell EB-5 visas, bought out DeLon and Randy, and been up on a scaffold right now putting new brick on Madison's new community cultural center and business incubator. But no, I fiddled around with low-profit activities like blogging and teaching French and thus never came up with the scratch to put my own money where my mouth is. So boom, goodbye.

Taking the band upstairs: Madison's Only Band rides the telehandler to the Masonic Temple roof for an evening concert, August 5, 2010.

Taking the band upstairs: Madison's Only Band rides the telehandler to the Masonic Temple roof for an evening concert, August 5, 2010.

I shall remember fondly the last great thing that happened on that property: M.O.B. playing rock and roll on the rooftop on a sunny summer evening during the 2010 Miracle Treat Day festivities. For one brief moment, we saw the creative, community-enhancing use to which that property could be put.

We can now only hope that once the wrecking ball clears the slate, some creative thinking will make something better of this central corner than just a bigger stretch of blacktop.

Nature does not forgive architectural wounds like this.

Nature does not forgive architectural wounds like this. Crumbling brick on Masonic Temple exterior, April 2010

South pillar and Masonic emblem, April 2010.

South pillar and Masonic emblem, April 2010.

view out NW window, Masonic Temple, April 2010

My office would have been in the northwest room, looking out at the steps, the pillars, and the center of town...

View SW from Masonic Temple roof, April 2010

...or up on the roof, where I could see all of downtown and dream of the next big thing.


The Richard Benda Memorial Apartment Complex holds an open house today in Madison to celebrate the vital role crony capitalism plays in meeting market needs.

Jane Utecht's report on the tax-increment-financed Lake Area Townhomes indicates there is great demand for housing in Madison:

"We have a lot of people call because there is not enough housing in Madison," said Jamie McKinney, manager of the Mills Property office in Madison. Because of this shortage, 15 of the 28 townhouses are already rented, she said, even though only 14 are complete.

McKinney said some calls come from college students, but most of the townhouses are filling with people new to town -- some working at local factories, some at the university, some in health care.

"You hear countless stories of people who commute or turn down job offers" because they can't find housing in the Madison area, said Julie Gross, executive director of the Lake Area Improvement Corporation. "If we want to grow, we need housing [Jane Utecht, "New Townhomes Hosting Open House Wednesday," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.08.26].

Utecht notes that the Lake County Commission just approved another tax increment finance district to support a similar housing development on the east side of town.

Utecht fails to find anyone who can answer this fundamental political and economic question: if these housing units are such a sure sell, if "countless" commuters and job-seekers are aching to come to Madison, why does government have to lift a finger—or in this case, one penny of tax burden—to meet this market need?


Madison's new thrift store, now christened the Encore Family Store, is scheduled to open in November. Store organizers have scheduled donation drives to collect merchandise for the store for Aug. 16, Sept. 6 and Sept. 13 from 9 a.m. to noon. On those days, folks can bring the usable contents of their basements and rummage sale leftovers to the empty lot between Lewis and Montgomery's on South Washington.

The thrift store organizers continue to seek financial donations. A fundraising letter sent around town on July 25 says that the project as reached two thirds of its fundraising goal. Last March, organizers reported that the thrift store had raised $400,000 of the projected $650,000 it needed; that was 62%. Climbing from 62% to 67% (assuming the July 25 letter isn't rounding) in four months isn't exactly a torrid fundraising pace.

Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership will run the thrift store, as it runs similar operations in Howard, Flandreau, and Clark, to generate revenue for its various community service programs, like 60s Plus Dining and rent and utility assistance.

ICAP will need some rent assistance of its own. A flyer distributed with the July 25 letter indicates that the thrift store's operating expenses will include rent. Recall that the landlord, the Madison Community Foundation, acquired the property for free, meaning they have no mortgage to pay off. I suppose someone has to pay the property tax on the lot, and I suppose it doesn't hurt to have one non-profit pay another non-profit to pay the city and county and school district, but I can't imagine the Madison Community Foundation will charge ICAP much more than that.

The thrift store promoters continue to press the fear of federal budget cuts as a reason to support the thrift store and "lessen ICAP's dependence on governmental support." Since that fear of federal budget cuts is generated mostly by the government-crashing politics of Kristi Noem, Mike Rounds, and the GOP, I assume this fear will also motivate everyone supporting the thrift store to vote for Rick Weiland and Corinna Robinson this fall.

In a discussion here in early July, local reader DB, responding sarcastically to comments questioning Madison's commitment to desirable economic development, contended that the thrift store can meet a currently unfilled role in boosting the local economy by recycling otherwise economically valueless goods locally:

Yeah, we have no need for a thrift store. Don't mind the Goodwill Truck shipping thousands of dollars of items out of the city every quarter(it will be in town in the next week), not to mention the overflowing bins located on main, near Nicky's, and near El Vaquero. Let's just keep letting that slip away while someone will fully fund a venture by taking worthless taxpayer assets and turning it into something good. It's a need that can't be filled by one of the many consignment shops in town [DB, comment, Madville Times, 2014.07.09].

I have mixed feelings about that comment. On the one hand, I appreciate the notion of increased recycling and local self-sufficiency. But don't we already meet that need with rummage sales? And should we really let ourselves get into the mindset of thinking of donations to Goodwill and other state and national non-profits as losses to our community? If we must think in economic bottom-line terms, we could argue that the system of rummage sales and current donation exports is more efficient for the local economy. At rummage sales, the owners set up a few tables in their garages and yards for a day or two. The free market quickly sorts the usable treasures from the junk no one wants. The owners strike their tables, leaving no sale infrastructure or overhead. They dump the remaining items in the donation bins, which are emptied by out-of-town interests, leaving Madison with no lingering useless inventory—and remember, from a strict economic perspective, static inventory is a cost.

The thrift store will shift that inventory from basements and closets to a new downtown store. It will shift some of the economic benefit from individual rummage sale profits to a few ongoing salaries and support for charity. But the thrift store will establish new ongoing overhead, and it will reduce the economic benefit of outside agencies removing our junk at no local cost.

Of course, these costs and benefits are all pretty marginal. Remember, Madison is spending $650,000 to turn an empty lot into a secondhand store, a venue with slightly more draw but the same basic mission as the city recycling station on Southwest 7th.

Send your cash contributions for the Encore Family Store to the Madison Community Foundation, 820 N. Washington Ave., Madison, SD 57042


Chuck Clement finds a couple of honyockers preaching on the bypass in Madison. The basic gist of their bad theology: remarried divorcees are adulterers, women should shut up, and salvation depends on your action, not God's:

Two men who are working in South Dakota this summer paid a proselytizing visit to Madison on Tuesday. Wilbur Graybill and Ryan Luedeker, both Missouri residents, held signs displaying a few of the tenets held by the Church of Monett, a religious institution located in a southwestern Missouri community.

Holding one white placard with black lettering that announced "To be married to the divorced is adultery," Graybill said the sayings displayed on the hand-held sign followed Jesus Christ's teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Other sayings on Graybill's signs included "True Christians don't use guns or lawyers against evil," "Christian women are meek, quiet and modestly dressed" and "You must change for Christ to accept you" [Chuck Clement, "Missouri Men Preach Along SD-34 Bypass," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.07.09].

I invite Deb Geelsdottir, about whose clothing I cannot pass judgment but who has struck me in the comment section as anything but meek and quiet, to offer a Lutheran explanation of the mechanism by which Christ "accepts" us. I also invite readers to share the Scripture where the Lord says, "Don't ever hire an attorney."

I also recommend these men be careful which Madison women they call un-Christian for not being meek and quiet... and I warn them to say no such thing to my daughter, whom my wife and I will continue to teach to resist such patriarchal oppression. They might also want to watch out for my Christian friends who've married fine people who happened to have bad marriages before who raise good kids and uphold Christian principles.

The Missouri preachers make a fair point that signs are an easy way to get attention and reach lots of people. But I hope they complement their public display with a willingness to engage in honest conversation face to face with the sinners whom they condemn... assuming they are willing to even entertain a conversation with a woman who disagrees with their preaching.


I've heard this bit of Madison lore in a couple of permutations. Back in the 1960s, a contractor on a new project was planning to pay his workers wages higher than the local going rate. One of the city fathers (has Madison ever had a "city mother", a powerful woman going around and laying down the law?) went to the contractor and told him he couldn't do that. Pay your workers more, said the concerned civic leader, and everybody else will have to pay their workers more to compete. And heaven knows Madison doesn't want competition.

This story jumps to mind as I read Aaron Renn, who asks whether cities really want economic development and the change inherent in growth:

economic struggle can be a cultural unifier in a community that people tacitly want to hold onto in order to preserve civic cohesion.

Jane Jacobs took it even further. As she noted in The Economy of Cities, “Economic development, whenever and wherever it occurs, is profoundly subversive of the status quo.” And it isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

They have political power, an inside track on government contracts, a nice gig at a civic organization or nonprofit, and so on. All of these people, who are disproportionately in the power broker class of most places, potentially stand to lose if economic decline is reversed. That’s not to say they are evil, but they all have an interest to protect [Aaron Renn, "Do Cities Really Want Economic Development?Governing, July 2014].

Replace cities with South Dakota (o.k., and do with does and want with wants). Does South Dakota really want a huge class of well-paid workers who are not bound by local history or state assistance? Does South Dakota really want to invite a creative class that might revitalize local economies but would also include a bunch of people who don't look or pray or vote the way everyone else does? Does South Dakota really want to build an education system that guides students to become something other than cogs in a managerial machine and an economy that invites those independent thinkers to stay and thrive?

It seems nuts that a community of any size would throttle economic development and hold back its own general welfare. But combine concentrated power with an identity built on struggle (oh, life on the prairie is so hard, we're just barely hanging on, just like our homesteading ancestors...), and you can get a community that chooses a plodding status quo over dynamic growth.


My teetotaling heart raps double-quick at Jane Utecht's report that Madison will soon have one less place to get alcohol. (And Gaia be praised, it's not being replaced with a smut shop). Main Street's new addiction: chocolate!

...the Trojan Tap is being revamped into a sweet shop.

Vicki and Ricky Johns bought the building last month and plan on serving homemade chocolate, and they will have an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. They will also have espresso coffee and smoothies [Jane Utecht, "Face of Downtown Changes; 3 New Business Coming to S. Egan," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.06.24].

The only faint downside here: we never got to see the Trojan Tap fight off a copyright infringement suit from Church & Dwight.

Vicki and Ricky will start selling yummy, melty chocolate later in July. Bring a cooler.

But that's not all! Across the street, Madison über-Kapitalist Darin Namken and cronies Scott Delzer and Todd Knodel are gutting Rumors, a long-time anchor of Madison's fabled Four Corners. There will still be beer, but it will be snazzy beer:

The Pub House will serve craft beer, cocktails and full-service food options. It should be ready to open sometime this fall, but "it won't be Rumors anymore," Namken said.

They have opened the front areas of the 6,500-square-foot building so that it will now seat about 120 people. There will be a banquet room in the back for 50-60 people, Namken said.

The new establishment will be casual and fun, he said. "It will be a pretty neat atmosphere."

The kitchen will be mostly new, and they plan on putting in another walk-in cooler "strictly for tap beers," Namken said. They will carry microbrewed beer, but will not be making their own at this time [Utecht, 2014.06.24].

Casual, fun, with food worth showing off to visitors? That's plenty for me! And my wife tells me good beer is very Lutheran.

But wait! Won't such a great eatery and drinker cut into other Madison restaurants' market share? Heavens forfend, cries Namken:

He emphasizes that the purpose of the Pub House is not to compete with other establishments in town, but to provide a "new option" [Utecht, 2014.06.24].

Maybe an über-capitalist can explain how The Pub House offering casual dining and beer doesn't compete with the Stadium Sports Grill or Nicky's, which offer casual dining and beer.

Not that I mind—I hear competition is good for consumers and the economy. (Maybe a little competition will get Nicky's to pave its parking lot.) And hey, a decent place to eat and drink with a big meeting room downtown will boost Main Street... and it could even help make the business case for building a nice downtown hotel and convention center. (Heck of an idea, don't you think, Darin?)


Want to learn the facts about Medicare? Well, you can't count on Mike Rounds to tell the truth about the most popular health insurance program in America. Better go see Rick Weiland, who's holding a town hall forum Friday on "The Future of Medicare":

  • Who: You and South Dakota's next Senator, Democrat Rick Weiland!
  • What: "The Future of Medicare"
  • When: Friday, June 6, 4 p.m. CDT
  • Where: Second Street Diner, Madison, SD

Team Weiland says our next Senator will tackle the following questions (and any others you care to bring):

  1. How does the Affordable Care Act really impact Medicare? (Short answer: positively!)
  2. What are the downsides to turning Medicare into a voucher program? (Short answer: don't vote GOP, and you won't have to find out!)
  3. How can we truly make healthcare more affordable? (Short answer: go easy on the mayo, and vote for Rick!)

Expect some discussion of Weiland's plan to make Medicare and America healthier by extending Medicare eligibility to anyone who wants it.


The Lake Area Improvement Corporation and Madison Chamber of Commerce took nearly a year to talk about the results of the big retail survey they conducted last spring, and they still didn't manage to edit out all of their cognitive dissonance. They look at the results that confirm what everyone in Madison knows (we want more grocery choices) and say we can't do anything about it:

What shoppers would like to see in Madison is more selection and competitive prices. The recurring theme for what is missing in Madison is another grocery store and more restaurants. Jamison said that businesses make their own decision if they chose to come.

"That's their decision," she said, "out of our control" [Jane Utecht, "City Grants Electrical Contract," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.05.06].

Out of our control? We hand tax dollars to the LAIC and Chamber, but they can't do anything to get businesses to come to Madison? Golly, that's not what Madison boosters are chirping as they pat each others' bottoms over plastic manufacturer Integra's announcement of another plant expansion:

"Why not in Madison?"

That was the question Madison's Dick Ericsson asked Mick Green and Royce Quamen about 25 years ago, when they visited with the Madison lawyer about opening up a plastics business in Spearfish. After working out some details, the businessmen did open their manufacturing business, Integra Plastics, in Madison.

On Tuesday they broke ground -- again in Madison -- for a third expansion of their plant. The pair chose Madison again because of the people, said owner Mick Green.

"This whole event is a tribute to the people of Madison," Green said, who "many years ago took a shot on an underfinanced company that would maybe turn into something" [Jane Utecht, "Integra Chooses Madison for Third Expansion," Madison Daily Leader, 2014.05.08].

The nice people of Madison (i.e., the ones handing out economic development incentives to companies in "need") apparently can take all sorts of credit for bringing businesses to Madison. But when it comes to attracting businesses that lots of working folks would like to see come to town to meet their daily shopping needs, well, golly-gee shrugging-whillikers, there's nothing we can do about that. Dick Ericsson will never just happen to be in Spearfish chatting with a grocery executive who's hoping to expand her empire. Mayor Lindsay will never just bump into an entrepreneur at a food service convention who's looking for a place to launch a new franchise. LAIC chief Julie Gross will never fly to Las Vegas and have a chance to pitch Madison to a developer who wouldn't otherwise have even heard of Madison.

Retail development, like any other component of economic development, is subject to decisions and economic factors that are beyond the control of any one community. But economic development as practiced in South Dakota is predicated on the notion that we can make efforts that will make us the captains—or at least the lieutenants—of our own destiny. Why the Chamber and LAIC would so easily dismiss the idea that they could bring a grocery store or other absent retail and entertainment opportunities to Madison demonstrates a selective blindness to opportunity.


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