Living in LeRoy: Locals enjoy the benefits of a self-sufficient townPublished 4:05am Friday, March 15, 2013
—This feature originally appeared in Progress 2013. Get a copy at the Austin Daily Herald office, 310 Second St. NE.
Justin Brandau will be the first to tell visitors to LeRoy: there’s more to this small town than they might expect. Brandau is a perfect example of a LeRoy expert.
“I’ve lived here almost my entire life,” he said.
Brandau is lead bartender at Sweet’s Hotel, a prominent attraction in LeRoy. Originally constructed in 1898, the building features eight themed suites and rooms to reflect its history, five of which have Whirlpool tubs. The hotel caters to all guests, from business travelers to those looking for a romantic getaway. Local legend says the hotel is even haunted, and “ghost investigators” visit from time to time.
The bar is open all day at Sweet’s, from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. With advance notice, the restaurant accommodates parties of up to 35 people. It also has won several awards for best food in Mower County, Brandau said, and a lot of the establishment’s business is out-of-towners coming to visit the restaurant they’ve heard about so much.
For Brandau, bartending is a fitting trade. He has been doing it at Sweet’s for about three years.
“I seem to be good with people, so that’s where I’m at,” he said. “Eventually, I would like to own my own place.”
If he were to open his own place, Brandau said he would like to keep it about the size of Sweet’s. The establishment is small enough to keep a cozy atmosphere, but large enough to accommodate a crowd.
When friends come to visit from Rochester or Austin, Brandau will routinely take them to Sweet’s to enjoy drinks, food and a bit of conversation.
While he does enjoy spending leisure time at Sweet’s, he also likes to mix it up once in a while and head over to the Travel Lanes Supper Club, just a block down Main Street. Travel Lanes is a blend of bar, liquor store, bowling alley and restaurant in the heart of town.
“It’s a very nice place,” he said.
Newly-elected LeRoy Mayor Jennifer Gumbel said she was pleasantly surprised by the community when she and her husband moved to town.
“We initially were just looking for a place equally distant from Austin and Preston, for our jobs, and where we could find the type of home we wanted for our budget,” Gumbel said. “We found out that LeRoy has so much more to offer than just location and home prices.”
Amenities like a grocery store, two restaurants, hardware store and a florist make the town more self-sufficient, and residents don’t always have to drive to Austin to run errands or catch a meal.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled we landed here,” Gumbel said. “It’s a great place for young families just starting out and for retirees looking for a small-town atmosphere.”
During his free time, Brandau can often be found pedaling the Shooting Star Bike Trail for a workout. The trail extends about 23 miles and runs from LeRoy through Taopi, all the way to Rose Creek. On the way, it passes through all sorts of natural scenery, from prairie and woods to Lake Louise State Park.
“I usually ride my bike out on that at least once a day for a couple of miles,” Brandau said. “The state park itself is a beautiful area and a very enjoyable place to spend time, especially in the company of friends or family.”
Gumbel also highlighted the town’s relationship to the outdoors.
“We’re just a walk away from a bike trail and state park,” she said. “We literally feel like nature is in our backyard, while still having access to the necessities.”
When the weather gets cold, there are still ways to keep in shape. Brandau frequents an Olympic-size, indoor swimming pool in town, which becomes very popular during the winter. Residents can get memberships in three-month, six-month or yearly rates.
If Brandau isn’t wrapped up in physical activity, chances are he will be at the local library. He appreciates the resources available and has made it a regular facet of his life.
“I’ve always been a huge reader,” he said. “The city librarian I’ve known since I was a kid.”
So often did Brandau go to the library that he asked if he could volunteer. Now he spends a good chunk of his spare time helping in any way he can.
Lately, Brandau has also become involved in the workings of the city. He was elected as a LeRoy City Council member in November 2012.
According to Gumbel, it’s the LeRoy way to be an active community.
“Even in our small town, there’s a theater company and numerous ways to get involved and get to know your neighbors,” she said.
Brandau is one of those who keeps active in LeRoy’s theater community, where he both takes on acting roles and assists in the stage crew. Not long ago, he participated in an old-time radio-style show, where the audience observed what was happening in a typical serial drama from back in the day. The actors dressed in period clothing for the performance and even had someone on sound effects detail to imitate the way old radio shows used to run.
Overall, Brandau said LeRoy is an active, pleasant community, and likens it to the types of towns that were prevalent in early television.
“You watch enough of those old shows like Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver,” he said. “People are always helping each other out, waving hello.”
LeRoy by the numbers
930: Approximate number of people living in LeRoy.
5: Number of churches in LeRoy.
115: Age in years of the Sweet’s Hotel building.
1856: Year the first school in LeRoy opened at a home in town.