Let’s go downtown

Published 9:53 am Friday, September 21, 2012

From left, Ryan Heath and Brent Erickson look on Thursday as Albert Lean Russ Olson points out something in an old photo. Heath and Erickson were interviewing Olson and his wife, Phiz, for the documentary “Buildings of Broadway.” -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Two Albert Lea men are calling on area residents to share their stories of life in historic downtown Albert Lea prior to the early 1980s.

In the middle of making a documentary titled “Buildings of Broadway,” Brent Erickson and Ryan Heath are hoping to create a collected history of the downtown.

Albert Leans Ryan Heath and Brent Erickson, right, interview Russ and Phiz Olson at their home Wednesday about downtown Albert Lea.

“Somebody should be able to sit down and listen to the history of downtown Albert Lea,” Heath said.

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The men announced their project earlier this spring, and so far, they’ve conducted group interviews with residents at Thorne Crest Retirement Community, sent out surveys to residents at a series of nursing homes, gone up into the Albert Lea Art Center building, toured the Freeborn National Bank Building and talked to other residents about their memories of the downtown, among other tasks.

“The stories are out there,” Erickson said. “Our feat is to catch the stories that are most gripping. The personal stories are what’s going to make it.”

On Thursday, the two men interviewed Russ and Phiz Olson, who owned the Name of the Game, at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Main Street.

They asked questions about former restaurants, shopping and even cruising Broadway.

“It was really fun to go uptown,” Phiz said. “It was wonderful to shop here.”

She talked about several stores at which she would buy women’s clothing and talked about people coming from out of town to shop here.

The couple also talked about when they noticed a shift away from the downtown in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the creation of shopping malls on the north and west side of the city.

They gave the men a series of photos to look through as well.

Erickson and Heath, who ultimately met through employment at Wedgewood Cove, have partnered with the Freeborn County Historical Museum for the project. The museum has 25,000 pictures of the downtown, and they plan to include many in the documentary.

“The historical society has been very helpful at getting this project advanced,” Erickson said.

When it comes time to putting the information together, Erickson and Heath said they plan to bring in local musicians from the Twin Cities for the soundtrack.

The two men said they both grew up in Albert Lea, moved away and then came back.

Erickson said he recalled how his father used to work in the building now housed by Christian & Peterson Law Firm, and Heath in January opened a gallery in part of the Shoff Building.

“We want to give the younger generation a chance to know the history of the downtown,” Heath said.

Though their goal is strictly informational, they said they would be excited if as a side effect the project contributed to downtown revitalization.

If people have photos or stories they would like to contribute, they can email them to buildingsofbroadway@yahoo.com.

People can also check on the progress of the project through buildingsofbroadway.blogspot.com.

They hope to have the project completed by the holidays.