Since the inception of the town planning grid, the main street of any town in the United States has been the mecca for businesses of every service or industry and has served as the community gathering place on a Friday night after the local football game.
As with everything, Main Street in Minot and Rugby have experienced their ebb and flows, but both are on an uptick thanks in part to dozens of local women who have opened shops on their respective city's blocks.
"Women like downtown because of the feeling of home and togetherness. You get to know your fellow business people better than at a shopping center," said Bonny Kemper, president of the Minot Downtown Business and Professional Association. "We want to keep that spirit alive, that's why we try to have events that bring the community, the college and the (Minot Air Force) base together. We want to promote and keep that small community feeling."
Through events like the Fall Festival, Christmas in Downtown, the Wine Walk and Halloween Treat Trail, the owners of stores like Esoterica, United Pantry, Cookies for You and Dot's Uniform Shop and others have come to know each person by name, and that of their spouse and children.
"We are kind of like a family, we watch out for each other," said Denise Lindbo, owner of Gourmet Chef. "We have so many things in common in the community that we not only want our own businesses to succeed, but we want downtown to succeed."
Having been in the same downtown building for 16 years, Lindbo has been witness to the changes and consistencies of downtown life.
"There are more now, but we've always had a lot of female business owners in downtown," Lindbo said. "It's harder to open a shop at a shopping center, but I think the real reason women want to open a store down here is because of how vibrant downtown is. It's got a different feel to it than other areas of town. We are all local people who live, shop, work and raise our families here."
And, contrary to popular entertainment myth, there are no "cat-fights" when these ladies get together.
"The conflicts we have are the same as if you had 50 people in a room," Lindbo said. "People have different personalities some click and some don't but we are all shooting for the same goal, so infighting is counter-productive."
Like that of bigger cities in the state, Minot is a hub for female-owned businesses.
According to the 2002 Survey of Business Owners the most recent survey available Minot had 806 female-owned businesses in town, 92 of which employed paid workers. Greater Ward County had the third-highest number of female-owned firms in the state, beaten out only by the counties of Cass and Burleigh, which include Fargo and Bismarck, the No. 1 and No. 2 positions respectively for female-owned businesses.
The SBO Survey, part of the Census Bureau, is conducted every five years to gauge the progression of businesses in the U.S. Although the 2007 SBO survey is complete, the data is still be analyzed and won't be released until July.
Reflecting national figures, nearly one-quarter of the 56,000 businesses in North Dakota are owned by women, but of those, only 15 percent employ paid workers. Women-owned businesses in the state generated $1.32 million in sales and receipts in 2002, but of that, $1.12 million was generated by the 1,976 firms that have paid employees.
Following the U.S. trend, most women-owned firms operated in the health-care and social assistance sector, followed by retail, other services and finally professional, scientific or technology services.
As in Minot, a vast majority of the businesses in Rugby are involved in the retail industry sector.
"It seems like specialty shops dominate the (women's) main line of business, but we do have the only female-owned radio station in the state and other unique businesses," said Don Sobolik, director of the Rugby Chamber of Commerce. "Being in a small town, I think, makes it easier to network and share ideas."
According to the Rugby Chamber of Commerce, 23 businesses in the town of roughly 2,600 are owned and operated by women.
Of those, nearly one-third are located on Rugby's Main Street and Avenue.
When Holly Niemi first opened her business, Holly's Stitches and Craft, on Main Avenue in Rugby more than eight years ago, it was a different place.
"We had lost a lot of businesses and there were a lot of empty buildings then. But then Rugby started coming back," she said. "The women were the ones to pick up the business by starting their own businesses on Main Street."
Although female-owned businesses like WornABit and Backstage Gallery and Gift Shoppe had long ago located on Main Street, within a decade a half-dozen more female-owned businesses situated themselves on Main Avenue and Main Street.
The infusion of business and female comradery has helped breathe life again to Main Street in Rugby.
"Everyone is so different and everyone carries totally different things that we complement each other," Niemi said. "There's been no troubles. No one steps on each other's toes. Actually, we all work well together."
That cooperation extends beyond Main Street in Rugby.
"We just recently started the Rugby Small Business Network, where small businesses come to talk about any issues, coordinate upcoming events and celebrate being a small business," said Lila Harstad, owner of radio station KZZJ. "We work on the three c's communication, coordination and celebration so it's been very positive."
As the only solely female-owned radio station in the state, Harstad knows the difficulties of running a small business and has the added knowledge of running it in a traditionally male-run industry.
"Radio is a pretty male-dominated industry. There are a lot of women that work in the ad and marketing department, but few that manage or own a station," she said. "It's not that they're excluded, it's just an unusual path to take."
As part of Group 20, a networking organization of independently-owned radio stations in small markets, Harstad is the only female member.
In Rugby, however, she has plenty of company.
"In Rugby, they (Chamber of Commerce and Job Development) don't look at us as female-owned businesses, but as individual businesses so we don't really stand out," she said. "I think Rugby is progressive that way. It doesn't matter if you are male or female, it just matters that you're an entrepreneur."