When Pete Woodworth’s grandfather’s plane landed in Winona on a Sunday in 1943 at the then municipal airport, Walker Woodworth was met by three people, including Winona’s mayor, and the President of Merchants National Bank, J.R. Chappel.
By the time Woodworth left Winona the next day, Winona had a new business, the Winona Knitting Mills, and Merchants Bank had started a long-term relationship with the Woodworth family.
The relationship has grown. Walker’s son and Pete’s father, Les, was on the Merchants Bank Board of Directors for more than 20 years, and Pete has been a member of the Merchants Bank Board of Directors and the Merchants Financial Group Board of Directors since 1988.
By the Fall of 1943, the Winona Knitting Mills was up and running, and it ran for 57 years in the same location at 902 E. 2nd Street, expanding along the way. The building went from three stories and 8,000 square feet to more than six buildings and 175,000 square feet. By 1995 the company had grown to be the third largest men’s sweater manufacturer in the United States.
By late 1995, the Winona Knitting Mills merged with Hampshire Group Limited, the largest woman’s sweater manufacturer in the USA, and by 2002, Pete and his wife Joyce, had sold their interests, but there still was the issue of what to do with the property. Pete and Joyce converted the property into a professional business campus.
“We took the chance and developed it into a community resource,” Pete said.
The campus, which includes the main building that Walker first purchased, a warehouse, and four satellite buildings on eight acres, now has more than 40 tenants. The tenants are varied. The terms given the businesses are as varied as the types of businesses themselves, including graduated rates over time and phased in rental payments.
“We’re trying to make it easier for them to get up and running so the businesses are viable for the long-term,” Pete said. “It’s pragmatic. It’s good for them. It’s good for our family. It’s good for the community, and it’s good for Merchants Bank because many of these businesses are borrowing from the bank, and we’re borrowing from the bank.”
In 2004, Pete and Joyce gave WKM Properties to their children Nathan, Jacob and Lindsay. In 2009 Nathan took over running the business, which also includes a 7000 square foot building in downtown Winona, a 10,000 square foot building in Goodview and a 40,000 square foot building in Rochester.
“I’ve always liked tweaking and strengthening things, and this has been very satisfying,” Pete said. “We thought of it as planting something that would grow, something we could pass on to benefit Merchants Bank, the community and our family.”