Hot Topics: updates Lant Hardware, La Chicana Cafe – RIVER COUNTRY


Proposed creative district sets Third Thursday at KHN Center for the Arts among programming goals

Wednesday, April 12th 2023, 11:51 AM CDT


NEBRASKA CITY – Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce’s Hot Topics forum Wednesday provided an update on downtown Nebraska City from hardware to desserts, as well as the application for a creative district.

Jeff Lant of Lant Hardware said he and his wife Angie love purchasing houses and fixing them up, but never really contemplated going into the hardware business until they learned that Gene Mercer was retiring.

Lant said they consistently relied on Mercer’s not only for hardware, but on expertise on how to do home improvement jobs and wondered how they would manage with Mercer’s out of business.

Lant: “There knowledge base was incredible, a value to the city and something that was important to us that we wanted to replicate.”

By 2019, Lant was involved in full-time management and handyman for their properties.

He said it exploded into another full-time business for his wife.

Lant: “What we found is that when people see you working on things – there’s a shortage of contractors – they realize, ‘oh, you know how to do this,’ so can you do this for us?”

It turned into a painting business for Angie and their daughter.

The Lants had learned a lot from taking care of their properties, but realized they could not reach their goal for the hardware store to carry on the Mercer tradition of expertise by themselves.

His sister-in-law Jeannie Lant has experience in construction and flooring, and his uncle Tom Lant has experience in gas and water.

His daughter Becky brings experience in social media marketing and runs the front desk with Lant’s mom.

Rick Beutzer, who worked with Lant with the Nebraska City Police Department, is part of the knowledge base in heating and air conditioning.

Nebraska City’s youngest downtown business owner also provided an update on her restaurant La Chicana Café and its mix of American-Mexican food.

Owner Valerie Bennie is a former president of the National Honor Society and student council at Nebraska City High School, where she competed in state speech and tennis before graduating last May.

She is still a full-time student in college, but opened her cafe in November of 2022 because the opportunity arose.

Bennie: “We wanted a very, just kind of like a cute café that you’re able to go to downtown that specializes in desserts, because we don’t have a lot of dessert space here.”

Her cook also creates the wall murals, which is the type of artist collusion embraced with a Nebraska City Creative District.

Kelly Bequette and Doug Friedli provided an update on the application to the Nebraska Arts Council.

Four goals were submitted in the application, including marketing and programming.

Bequette: “We were trying to think of something we already do well, because we do do a lot well,  and something we could piggyback on and bring more awareness to that and grow that. “

A main programming effort will coincide with the Third Thursday artist reception at the KHN Center for the Arts. For a season, Bequette said, they want to plan weekend activities around that.

She said the creative district would also like to help find solutions to expensive fire suppression sprinklers for downtown buildings to make more space available for a lively art area or living quarters.