Sherry and Marcel Wahlstrom are 2019 Custer County Chronicle Citizens of the Year

Ron Burtz
Compared with most Custer business owners, Marcel and Sherry Wahlstrom are relative newcomers. After all, they purchased The Bavarian Inn motel only a little over five years ago. 
However, in that time, they have turned the establishment into a first-class destination resort and have immersed themselves in community life with an attitude of “what’s good for one is good for all.”
That’s why the Custer County Chronicle has named them Citizens of the Year for 2019. 
The Walstroms will tell you that when they first rolled into Custer from Rapid City half a decade ago, they were simply looking for some peace and tranquility in their hectic lives.
After working in the highly demanding Rapid City hospitality industry for a number of years, both were tired and in need of a change. 
“I had spent the last 22 years at the Holiday Inn Rushmore Plaza right by the Civic Center with the last eight of that being the general manager,” said Sherry. “That was a really big job at a really big place.”
Marcel had also worked at the Holiday Inn (where the couple first met) and at the time was working at the then new Main Street Square.
“I was the events coordinator,” said Marcel, “putting together all of the plans to grow and market the 200 events a year that they did there.”
“We weren’t looking to purchase a property,” said Sherry. “We were looking to purchase a condo to get out of housework and lawn care and things like that. We were looking to downsize.”
That search led them to take a Sunday afternoon drive to Custer to look at a three-bedroom condo attached to the Bavarian Inn property as a rental. Upon arriving at the hotel, which just happened to be on the market at the time, they were struck by the atmosphere of the place. 
“From the first time we set foot on this property, we knew it was something special,” said Marcel. 
Sherry also recalls thinking, “This just feels like we should be here.”
“We never looked at another property,” said Sherry. “We didn’t go look in Keystone or Deadwood or Hot Springs. We knew enough about Custer to know that, as far as tourism goes, we would be successful.”
The Wahlstroms said through their work in the Rapid City market, they learned that Custer is the place to be for Black Hills recreation. 
“Working in Rapid City, we would send so many people here,” said Marcel, noting that visitors would fly into Regional Airport, but would spend most of their stay in the Custer area. So they began to think, “Why not be where all the action is?” 
“This is the playland that everybody talks about,” he said. “It was easy to sense how great the tourism market was tourism market in the Black Hills!” 
Through serving on various tourism boards over the years both had learned Custer is “the hot spot” in the Hills.
Sherry points out that five of what are commonly called “South Dakota’s Great Eight” attractions are mere minutes away from Custer: Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave and Custer State Park. 
“There’s nowhere else in the Black Hills where you can be 20 miles away from everything,” said Marcel. 
With that information in mind and the positive vibes coming from the property, it was an easy choice for the Wahlstroms to put an offer on the Bavarian Inn. But in the process their plan of slowing down got turned on its head. 
“Our idea of downsizing turned into a hotel,” laughed Sherry, noting she now has “more housework than ever. We’ve fed more kids than ever. All of a sudden we have 20 teenagers that we’re managing. It’s been good, though. It’s been really good!”
“From there it’s like it just exceeded every expectation,” she continued. “Soon the little ‘ma and pa’ hotel was no longer ‘ma and pa.’ It was 25 people on the team and hiring managers and supporting our family and other families.”
The Wahlstroms’ entrepreneurial spirit combined with a strong sense of community was a major factor in their being nominated for the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year Award, which they received at the annual awards banquet Oct. 17.
The person making the nomination was the COO of competitor Custer Hospitality, Leah Scott, who also serves with Marcel on the Custer Business Improvement District (BID) board of which he is president. 
Scott said she made the nomination because since the Wahlstroms came to town they have opened up new avenues for business and employment and encouraged a culture of cooperation in the community.  
Although they have been in Custer a relatively short time, Scott said they have made a big impact through their various involvements. 
“It’s inspiring to the rest of the community,” she said. “Community is of the utmost importance to Marcel and Sherry.” 
Scott said the Wahlstroms lend their support for anything that contributes to economic growth and helps out the community. 
“They’re quick to jump in with new and fresh ideas,” said Scott, adding that they want all businesses in the community to succeed believing that, as President John F. Kennedy once said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Last fall, Sherry echoed that same sentiment when she said, “We’re all successful if we’re all successful.”
“If one succeeds, we all succeed together,” continued Scott. “I think they’re just a shining example of that true community spirit.”
In reference to Marcel’s work on the BID board, Scott said Wahlstrom has been extremely proactive, having met personally with officials from Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park to build bridges and encourage a team spirit. 
“He’s everywhere,” said Scott. “Everything I ever go to, Marcel is always there and not only that, but he encourages.”
Moreover, Scott said the Wahlstroms are active not only in business-related endeavors, but support non-profit and purely social events as well. She cites their promotion of their new “Feel Good Cafe” in the former Bavarian Inn Restaurant building as a community meeting space as an example. 
When the Wahlstroms opened the cafe just a few weeks before the end of their season last fall, it was the realization of a dream they have had for the building for several years. 
While they will keep the popular free pancake and parfait bar in their lobby area, they said the cafe was in response to their guests’ pleas for a place to gather and an upgraded morning breakfast experience. 
Upon entering the newly-renovated space, it is immediately obvious that the Wahlstroms put a great deal of thought and effort into the remodeling project. To begin with, they raised the ceiling of the entryway on the north side of the building, accenting the space with an oversized dream catcher chandelier designed by a Lakota artist friend. 
To the left is a spacious game room with a fireplace and a chessboard on the floor with oversized chess pieces. Straight ahead is a large dining room space suitable for larger groups. 
The cafe itself, which opens onto the veranda, is outfitted with the usual tables and chairs, but some of the tables are actually vintage game systems with games like Pac Man set to free play, and some of the chairs look like huge lime green leaves.
The cafe serves coffee, cocktails, breakfast sandwiches, muffins and “grab-and-go” items. The cooks will also take special orders for a picnic basket for those who want to take lunch with them on their Black Hills adventure.  
The whole facility is equipped with fast and free internet and the Wahlstroms can also use the space for checking guests into the Bavarian Inn. 
Both say they are looking forward to the cafe becoming a community gathering spot next season. 
One of the people instrumental in helping get the cafe off the ground was Marci Reuter of Rapid City who has known Sherry for 15 years. The two women met at the Holiday Inn in Rapid City where both were employed and the pair have remained friends over the years. Reuter also managed the Chop House for the Wahlstroms for two seasons. 
Saying that she considers Sherry her mentor in the hotel industry as well as one of her best friends, Reuter said early on in their relationship Sherry’s selfless attitude became evident to her in a dramatic way. 
“When I started at the Holiday Inn, the position Sherry had at the time was assistant general manager, food and beverage director and after I got to know the business after a few months I told her that was something I was interested in doing in the future,” said Reuter. “Well, most people would feel threatened that you want their position and don’t treat you the best. Sherry was never like that. Sherry wanted me to have that position...she has always set out to help people become successful in any way she can.”  
“They genuinely want others to succeed,” said Reuter of the couple, adding that their positive attitude is contagious. “Marcel is just the most positive person ever. The guy is just an incredibly positive person and so is Sherry.”
Reuter confirmed what others have said about the Wahlstroms’ cooperative community spirit. 
“They don’t ever feel like anybody new coming in or a change of ownership on something or some new business starting is ever a threat,” she said. “They just feel like that’s gonna help us be that much more successful.”
Asked for her thoughts about Wahlstroms being named Citizens of the Year, Reuter said, “I think that they are incredibly deserving of it. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
While Custer has embraced the Wahlstroms and their cooperative and innovative approach to doing business, the feeling appears to be mutual. 
When asked how she feels about the business climate here, Sherry lights up.
“Oh, my goodness. I love it. I just love it,” she exclaimed. “It feels like the food and beverage sector has just kind of become the ‘thing’ for Custer, which is great for us. We definitely push people downtown every night.” 
The Wahlstroms even give their guests rides downtown so they can try out different places to eat and drink.  
“We work together really well with everybody downtown,” said Sherry, “and we’re hoping this business just complements it. I think the business climate is great.”
Marcel is equally enthusiastic about doing business in Custer, noting that a growth spurt started here about the time they came to town and “hasn’t let up.” 
“New businesses and new ideas coming to Custer just benefits everybody,” he said. 
Pointing to The Custer Beacon and its new evening entertainment venue as an example, Marcel said, “The downtown scene has changed so much since we moved here five years ago and all for the better. We’re excited to be part of it! We see a lot of people coming from Rapid City and using this as a staycation because Custer is different from any other place. It’s not like Rapid City, and though we’re only 45 minutes away, it feels like you’re in the mountains and away from all of that.”
In the spring of 2019 the Wahlstroms unveiled their newly renovated luxury EO Bungalows downtown across from the post office and behind the historic LeRoy Hotel building which they also own. 
“Those are going great,” said Sherry. “They’re built to be open year-round. There are quite a few weekends already booked for the winter — many by Rapid City staycationers.”
The Wahlstroms look forward with anticipation to the 2020 season and their sixth year of doing business in Custer. Marcel said he is expecting yet another banner season.   
“Go Custer,” said Sherry. “Custer’s just exploding!” 

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