PHELPS - Colin Snook looks across the street at what people in Phelps call "the big store."
"This store was awesome when I was a kid," Snook says. "You could buy anything from underwear to bullets."
Snook grew up in Phelps. He's now the Town Chairman. "The big store" hasn't been open for almost a decade.
It's just one of the things that have changed over the decades in Phelps. The only medical clinic only bank left Phelps within the last few years. A grocery store and hardware store have been absent even longer.
But Snook and economic developers have a plan for downtown.
"Where the building stands now," he says, looking at the rundown store, "would be what we refer to as the Lumberman's Lodge."
The Lumberman's Lodge would include a restaurant, tavern, lodging, and gift store.
"Across the street from that, we would have the hardware store and the grocery store," he says.
Those are two things Phelps sorely wants.
"(They're) something that we haven't had in Phelps in a long time," Snook says. "These are services that we really need."
The vision for Phelps might not be possible if not for the community's location. Its downtown is perched on the shore of North Twin Lake, an expansive, picturesque body of water.
"(It's) everything," Snook says of the lake. "In one word, everything."
The lake is the major reason why the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC) wanted to get involved in Phelps.
"We looked at other communities in Vilas County and decided this would be the first place to start," says VCEDC Project Manager Barry McLeane.
McLeane and Snook know Carl Ruedebusch well, and it serves their cause well.
Ruedebusch is the chairman of VCEDC and a developer. He bought the land on which "the big store" sits, and, with input from people in the town, proposed the Lumberman's Lodge idea with the grocery and hardware stores next door.
Snook can visualize the draw behind the restaurant and lodging right on the lake.
"The sun sets right there, so in the evening, this is just phenomenal," he says, looking west over the lake.
"I think a lot of people have been very hungry for this for a long time," says McLeane. "This time it's for real."
Phelps likely needs people in town, private investors, and economic development groups to help financially to make the vision a reality.
If so, it could happen within two years.
But the idea for revitalizing Phelps spans beyond just the small downtown area.
VCEDC helped the town set up a business accelerator in a newer building just south of downtown. The Phelps Chamber of Commerce has moved in, as has a barber shop. But there's still room.
"We're working actively to try and get a pharmacy in, and also some clinic space. We have high hopes for this building," Snook says.
The Aspirus clinic in Phelps has been shuttered for years.
"The average age in Phelps is 58, so we're a population that needs medical care," Snook says. "We really, really want to have a clinic back in town."
Between that goal and downtown revitalization, the people of Phelps seem to have an interest in improving their community. About 200 people attended a meeting in late January to learn more about the potential for changes in Phelps.