STURGIS | LifeSpring Wesleyan Church Lead Pastor Matt Shulaw and church board members knew their congregation would likely outgrow their current location on Junction Avenue before too long.
“Our church has been growing and good things have been happening,” Shulaw said.
“A year, year and a half ago we sat down and tried to do some long-range planning and really thought we were looking at a five-year plan on trying to put something in place,” he said.
What they didn’t know was that since earlier this summer, a sensible solution to their building and parking needs was sitting vacant on the other side of town.
On Oct. 28, the Northwest District of Wesleyan Church, of which LifeSpring Wesleyan is an affiliate, closed on the purchase of the former Shopko Hometown building at 2105 Lazelle St.
According to the Meade County Register of Deeds, the purchase price was $1.95 million for the 30,000-square-foot retail space built in 1984.
Shulaw said a pair of consultants visited the church and the city this summer, looking at options for expanding the existing sanctuary at the corner of Boulevard Street and Junction Avenue, or new construction at a different location, or renovating a larger existing space.
About five years ago, the church purchased the Lantern Motel across the street, demolishing the aging motel and turning the site into a parking lot with 54 spaces.
That helped alleviate parking for an estimated 350 parishioners who attend two Sunday services at the 17,000-square-foot sanctuary, but it also meant the church, surrounded by residential and existing office space, had nowhere else to grow.
“The problem with adding on to our current church is that we’re already short on parking. That’s not a new problem for us,” Shulaw said.
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Building a new church large enough to meet current needs, with room to expand further, was cost prohibitive.
“Between site development, land cost and the square footage that we would need, it was just going to be unreal. There was just no way we could afford it,” Shulaw said.
A second consultant inquired about existing buildings for purchase that could be remodeled, he said.
That put the spotlight on the former Shopko building, vacant after the general merchandise retailer declared bankruptcy in January. Shopko eventually closed all its Black Hills area locations in Hot Springs, Belle Fourche, Custer, Rapid City and Sturgis by the end of June.
“At that point, Shopko had been on the market for a while, but we really hadn’t thought of that,” Shulaw said. “When a building became available with lots of parking and one level, and all that, man, this just makes all sorts of sense."
The congregation approved going ahead with the purchase on Oct. 20.
Having just closed on the building, Shulaw said the church is in the earliest planning stages for how best to utilize the former retail space, with no timetable for a move.
“There’s a lot of things that have to fall into place,” he said.
Shulaw said the church has built its congregation on its dedication to being active in the community, often substituting service projects for Sunday services.
Among the service projects the church has hosted are $1 car washes (actually giving $1 to each car wash customer), along with sponsoring heavily discounted gasoline sales for the public, and bagging groceries at local supermarkets.
“We believe a church is a group of people and not a building. The building is a tool we use to reach our community. We see a lot of opportunity in that building to serve our community,” he said.
Elsewhere in the area, other vacant Shopko buildings in Belle Fourche, Custer and Rapid City remain on the market, while in Hot Springs, Bomgaars Supply, Inc. a Sioux City, Iowa-based farm and ranch retailer, has acquired the former Shopko store there.