Putting the focus on downtown Huron

Photos courtesy of Craig Lee/Facebook Above: The front of the building that now houses Craig Lee Studio in downtown Huron before the July 5 storm damage. Below: Photographer Craig Lee often utilizes downtown location in senior photo sessions.

This is the first in a series regarding the renovation of downtown buildings in Huron.

HURON — When Craig Lee was out with his family and the July storm hit, he received a call from a neighbor that said the power was out.

“I thought, ‘we have power here, so may as well stay,’” recalls Lee. “Then, I got another call. That one told me that windows were broken out at the studio. I told the family to pack it up!”

It turned out that the front windows of the Craig Lee Studio in downtown Huron were taken out. The storm also did significant damage to the structure supporting the entire entryway to the studio, leading Lee down the road of contacting Greater Huron Development Corporation (GHDC) for the second time.

The GHDC grant that Lee utilized for his business was initially for display windows on the second level.

They were put in by Creative Printing and feature large displays of senior pictures Lee has taken over the last few years.

Now the second project will be more functional, simply to get a front entrance back on his building, but Lee says that’s really the point of the grant project.

“When you drive through town, you may not immediately notice some of the stuff that I’m doing or (fellow downtown business owners) are doing,” Lee explained. “When those buildings sit empty or no one is taking care of them, however, you notice it, and fixing them up really presents Huron in a much better way.”

GHDC President/CEO Ted Haeder believes that’s exactly the point behind the facade grant program.

“This started during COVID with some private funding to help businesses with small two-year loans in 2020,” Haeder stated. “Now we’re two years later, and we approached those donors and discussed the idea of rolling those funds into this program to potentially spruce up the downtown area. They were all for it, so we plugged $100,000 into it and we’ve had great response so far.”

Haeder explained that the program offers downtown building owners the opportunity to have GHDC match up to $7,500 of improvement expenses on the building.

“If you have a $10,000 project, we’ll match $5,000 of it,” Haeder further explained. “The goal is to see improvement in the buildings in the downtown area.”

Haeder rattled off more than a half dozen buildings that have utilized a full or partial frontage grant to improve the building.

When asked about the potential of GHDC expanding the program beyond downtown, he said that it is absolutely a possibility.

“This is our focus right now, obviously,” Haeder noted. “However, with the success we’ve already seen with this program, I could absolutely see this working in other parts of the community down the road.”

Craig Lee is familiar with heading “down the road.”

Lee operates studios in Huron and Pierre, and he frequently travels to do shoots, though he says that he has had a few come to his Huron studio to take senior portraits.

Myers’ Cigar Store, a longtime landmark in downtown Huron once was located in the space that Craig Lee Studio now occupies.

One of the things he loves is finding beauty that others may not see when setting up pictures.

“I was going to take a picture of a girl in front of the barn, and the dad said, ‘let me trim up the tall grass in front of the barn first,’” Lee recalls. “I told him to leave it, and not to clean up any of the other stuff in front of the barn either.”

He continued, “When they got the pictures back, the dad immediately noticed how great the scene around the barn looked.”

Going through the Craig Lee Studios Facebook page, there are multiple posts of “what I see versus what you see” showing final pictures and also showing Lee taking the photo.

He also sees plenty of that hidden beauty within the city of Huron, citing times that he has pulled over to snap a picture of a field of sunflowers or a building behind a particular setting sun.

He applies that to his current space in downtown Huron.

“Many of the buildings are older, have not been taken care of well by previous owners, and/or need some big improvements in lighting or wiring,” Lee observed. “The GHDC grants help with someone who wants to put the effort and investment into a space.”

Within his own building, Lee discussed the storms this year also wreaking havoc on the roof of his building.

“It’s not something that anyone will see,” Lee said. “It’s something that you have to do, though, and something that prolongs the life of the space.”

With the work he’s done to revitalize his location, once known as Myers Cigar Store and Myers Pub, as well as other businesses over the years, Lee is attracting plenty of attention to Huron for his exceptional work, though he is quick to turn the focus away from himself, as any good photographer would.

“These kids come up with amazing ideas, and they really make it easy for me,” Lee remarked, with a smile and a shake of his head. “When I was taking senior pics, you had a few set poses that everyone used. Now we can do so many things to really bring out each subject. That makes it so much fun.”