Clint Lunde needed a change.
Back in 2014, the company that owned the mini-mall where he operated his UPS Store in the Heights had declared bankruptcy and sold off the property.
Lunde had been operating there for a decade and his business had long been prosperous. But the bankruptcy of the property company and the subsequent sale of the mini-mall injected some uncertainty into Lunde's otherwise stable professional life.
Early this year, he found himself driving by DanWalt Gardens on Washington Street just north of King Avenue East. It had a for-sale sign up in front and looked tranquil and inviting in the late winter sun. He stopped and walked around.
"It was completely serene," he said.
So he called his wife Suri and told her he had an idea.
Dan Jellison and Walt Williams, who have owned and operated the gardens for 21 years, were ready to retire last year when they decided to finally put their property up for sale, asking $1.29 million. The gardens went on the market last November and Jellison said almost immediately they got offers.
"But they weren't right," he said.
He worried about the potential buyers' commitment to the gardens, and the more he and Williams asked questions the more it became clear that those interested in the property didn't share the same enthusiasm for the gardens as he and Williams did.
"That was a big deal to us," Jellison said. "That the gardens would continue."
The Lundes wanted nothing else. They were eager to maintain and nurture the gardens, and to expand what the property could offer visitors. They met with Jellison and Williams and made an offer.
Jellison and Williams were struck by the enthusiasm the Lundes showed and began working with them to transfer ownership. It took six months and two different banks to work out the financing and other arrangements.
"Yellowstone Bank really came through for us," Lunde said.
The Lundes sold the UPS Store in the Heights, sold their motor home and their house, and poured the money into the deal. Jellison and Williams live in the main house on the property, which complicated the process.
After selling their home, the Lundes moved into the guest home at the gardens and will soon move into the main house when Jellison and Williams move into a home they're building on the west end of town.
That will allow Jellison and Williams to assist the Lundes through the summer wedding season as they make the transition. The deal was finalized earlier this month and the Lundes are now the official owners.
And they've got plans.
"It's going to stay gardens," Clint Lunde said, smiling.
In fact, one of the first things the Lundes did was seek permission from the city to run the gardens as a year-round operation rather than seasonal, which is how it was regulated in the past.
The Lundes are currently working on the guest home, renovating it with plans to list it as an Airbnb property to be rented by bridal parties or simply by visitors traveling through town.
They also plan to expand the gardens as a venue for live shows and entertainment that can take place in the off-season. They all feel like the gardens have the potential for doing some really cool things.
"We have to keep evolving," Clint Lunde said.
"You've got to add something new every year," Jellison added.
Still, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the main focus will be weddings, receptions and other life events. DanWalt Gardens is one of the few venues in town that offers wedding planning and coordination with its services.
Suri Lunde worked full-time at the gardens over the summer, working closely with Jellison and Williams to learn the process of planning and organizing ceremonies. Clint Lunde worked part-time while still overseeing the UPS Store.
There's a sense of trepidation as the Lundes embark on this new career. But they've been eager to find something that's not so tied to the economy. Clint Lunde felt like he had run his UPS Store well, and it prospered. But the recession still impacted him. He watched as the company that owned the building where he was set up filed for bankruptcy and then sold off the property.
With DanWalt Gardens, it will be the Lundes who control the operation and they're hopeful it will be insulated from the vagaries of a shifting economy. People will always get married and they'll always want it to happen somewhere pretty, Lunde said.
"The gardens seem to be recession-proof," he said. "Amazon's not going to put us out of business."
The Lundes know owning and running the gardens won't make them rich. But that was never the goal. Running the gardens, they'll be the ones who make it successful or not. And they'll be nurturing and caring for a place that brings serenity and joy into people's lives.
"There's real satisfaction there," Suri Lunde said.
They plan to expand the gardens' koi pond and add seating. The small exotic chickens that Jellison began raising as a boy and that still live on the property will stay. One of the gardens' most famous trees, a McIntosh apple that was planted by Jellison's grandmother in 1896, will be highlighted, as will be the small vineyard and fruit trees on the property.
The Lundes will have to become expert event planners and master gardeners as they make this transition.
"There's still a lot to learn," Clint Lunde said.
"We're gonna ease them into it," Jellison said. "And we're going to ease out."
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