NEW ULM Theodore "Ted" Jafvert, the new manager of the Herberger's half of the Marktplatz Mall, has made a living off of revitalizing ailing businesses. During his lifetime, he has turned around a historic hotel, a restaurant and another mall. But, Jafvert has also dedicated his life to helping people that are down on their luck. In doing so, he has built a reputation for giving and helping those in need.
A Life Helping Needy Place, Needy People
Jafvert was born in Edina, but he grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. His father, Lloyd, was among the first to sell mutual funds.
Ted Jafvert, the new manager of the Herberger’s portion of the Marktplatz Mall, will work to revitalize the mall and bring more businesses in.
Jafvert enlisted in military during the Vietnam War in August of 1970 at the age of 17. His father was instrumental in helping him be able to enlist. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and survived being shot during combat. He ended his service in August of 1974 with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
After his military service, he earned a degree at North Dakota State University and then a degree in Business at Fox Valley Technical College in Apple Valley, Wisc.
Following his graduation, Jafvert moved on to what he calls a "half real, half self-created" career of working with ailing or failed businesses. His first venture was taking over a historic, underperforming motel in Winona that he took over in 1977. Working with his father, he was able to turn the business around and make it profitable. He said he learned that the hotel had originally been for men-only.
"It's funny. I never knew places like that existed until I learned more about the place," said Jafvert.
He ran the business for seven years before selling the business. In the meantime, he added a restaurant that he named "Theo's." Around the same time, he took over a supper club in Blaire, Wisc. that had been closed for two years after a fire in the kitchen. He named the supper club "Theo's" also and sold it a few years after the hotel. While running the supper club, his young son Richard started helping out as one of his first job. Richard went on to work with his father's various businesses for the majority of his career, with a brief interlude when he earned his own education.
Jafvert bounced around various businesses after the supper club, including working satellite TV for two years, a furniture business for a year and running a car dealership. He ended up sticking with the dealership from 1991 to 2005, when he lost ownership in a divorce.
Jafvert's father passed away in the early 1990s, so he moved closer to his mother to take care of her until she passed away from cancer in last May. During the time in between, he attempted to open a discount store in the T-Rex Plaza Mall in Dickinson, N.D. in 2007. While he visited the mall, he noted it was in need of cleaning and improvements. In attempt to have the issues addressed, he contacted the mall's owners: Mike and Cliff Strand of California. The two Strands are the current owners of the Herberger's portion of the Marktplatz Mall, which Jafvert is now managing.
Jafvert's conversation with the Strands resulted in them requesting that he take on the task of reviving the mall. He accepted the offer and was able to turn the mall around.
"When we started in North Dakota, the mall was working at 50 percent full. Now it's about 95 percent filled," said Jafvert.
At the same time, Jafvert ran his store, which he said he used to implement the lessons his father taught him.
"My father always taught me that you treat people how you want to be treated. I make it a point to have always have free coffee out for [mall patrons] and get to know people on a friendly basis," said Jafvert. "I just like giving. I made it a thing in my store that I'll occasionally give people free small items for stopping by. If kids behave themselves when they're in the store, they leave with a small toy."
One strong example of Jafvert's attitude is how he helped a young boy from a poor household that attended an alternative school in his mall. He said he noticed the boy would walk to the mall by himself, often with no boots and only a sweater for winter gear.
"I knew this boy had a tough situation at home. So, I bought him boots, a Columbia jacket and a bed spread," said Jafvert.
He said that he also learned how intelligent the boy was, especially with computers, so he allowed him to learn off of his equipment on occasion. Jafvert eventually ended up buying the boy a laptop computer for Christmas.
In another instance, a tornado tore through Dickinson and destroyed many peoples' property. When those affected by the disaster would come into Jafvert's store, he couldn't help but provide them with supplies for free.
"My store wasn't very profitable that month. But, that's OK. Some things are more important than money," said Jafvert.
Jafvert joked that it was sometimes difficult for him to give to others because they found the experience so unusual.
"They're so surprised, they think you're trying to do something," said Jafvert.
Besides Jafvert's activities during his time in North Dakota, he has also been a member of Newt Gingrich's Tax and Prosperity Taskforce. The taskforces were set up in each state during Gingrich's time in Congress. He was nominated by another person for his work on the T-Rex Plaza and was invited to several dinners high profile dinner that Gingrich attended. He declined each of them because he said he felt he would fit in with the more affluent crowd. Because of this, he has never met Gingrich in person. In his office, he has a gavel and plaque sent from Gingrich for his time in the taskforce.
Jafvert is now taking over management of the Herberger's half of the Marktplatz Mall, at the request of Mike and Cliff Strand. He has left management of the T-Rex Plaza, but he will leave his store operating. His son is assisting him in the effort, primarily providing mechanical knowledge for repairs to various machines.
Jafvert is also in the process of starting another one of his stores in the Marktplatz Mall. The store will offer an eclectic mix of whatever products he finds interesting to sell from his wholesale distributor. The products offered at reduced prices will run from furniture to utensils, though many will be products shown in TV infomercials. He added that he would be running a smaller, more low-key store than the one he established in North Dakota. He has not announced a day he will open yet.
Jafvert said his plan for revitalizing the mall will be similar to how he approached the South Dakota mall. He said his first priority is cleaning the entirety of his portion and completing all needed repairs. He has already restored the lights along the mall's ramp and the neon sign on the mall's arch. He said future plans for his section include completely redoing the floor with new material.
He said he will also be tackling the empty store fronts. He said his strategy focuses on filling as many empty spaces with businesses, not matter what kind of businesses, in order to improve the attractiveness of the mall and attract better businesses.
"[People] want to be were there's a lot going on. They want to be where the action is," said Jafvert.
He said one method for achieving this could be dramatically lowering rental prices with them tiered over time to slow raise back to normal levels. He said he has three prospective businesses interested in moving into his section already, but he declined to name them at this time.
He said that ideally, he would like to get a men's shoe store, an upscale men's clothing store, a sporting goods store and some unique store like a smoke shop in the store fronts.
Other miscellaneous ideas he said he might pursue include placing nice outdoor picnic tables on the ramp.
Jafvert said that most of all he looks forward to working in New Ulm, which he said has been full of nice and helpful people.
"This is a good town. I look forward to spending more time with the nice people here," said Jafvert.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.