“Growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will be better.” — Brook Reinoehl, President of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce
Brazil, Indiana started as a “Gold Rush” type of town in the 1850s; but instead of gold, the rush was around coal. Brazil coal was a sought-after commodity and sold as a standard on the Chicago Board of Trade. The city was founded in 1866 by farm owners who named their farm after the country of Brazil. In 1876, the county seat was relocated to Brazil from Center Point, following the city’s development.
The town is known for its famous residents, including Jimmy Hoffa, Orville Redenbacher, Ivan Fuquae, Olympic Gold Medalist in the sport of track and field, and Charles B. Hall, an American combat fighter pilot and U.S Army Air Force officer who was the first African American combat fighter to shot down enemy aircraft.
Brazil currently has a population of 8,225, according to the 2020 Census, and boasts approximately 446 businesses. In many ways, the town has continued to thrive, which is credit to its business community and the residents that work hard to guarantee tomorrow is better than the day before.
A Main Street Like No Other
In the heart of Brazil lies Main Street. Only this Main Street is unlike those in other rural towns. Brazil’s Main Street is also U.S. Route 40, a major east-west highway that travels across the United States, from the mid-Atlantic to the mountain states. Route 40 was built on top of the National Road, which was created in 1806 by Congress to serve as the first federally funded highway construction project. Route 40 is known as the Main Street of America and is a major contributor to Brazil’s business climate and growth.
“Main Street is the living room of your community and it’s where the impressions are made,” said Josh Alsip, a Brazil resident and president of Brazil Main Street, a non-profit and volunteer-based group that strive to make Brazil a better place to live. They do this through various projects designed to promote and strengthen the downtown area, as well as Clay County as a whole. Over the past five to six years, several new businesses moved downtown, which not only strengthens downtown, but the entire town and community.
Located on Main Street is the Clay County Chamber of Commerce. Brook Reinoehl is in his second year as president of the Chamber, and he’s committed to making sure the Chamber grows in businesses, service and impact.
“We’re committed to growing our enthusiasm for what we have in Clay County,” said Reinoehl. “Everything we have in this world and our lives comes from growth. We’re created to create, relate and celebrate. We want to be part of the environment that creates, relates and celebrates together as a community.”
There are currently 142 businesses that are Chamber members, and the team is constantly connecting with the myriad of businesses to bring them into the fold. The Chamber provides services to local business with the goal of helping them grow and reach new customers, as well as serves as a resource for small business development.
Small Business is at the Heart of Brazil
Located on Main Street is A&B Farmhouse, a home décor and furniture shop owned by Andy Stone and Brandon Sneath (the A and B in A&B Farmhouse). The two are passionate about bringing life back to older buildings, so they purchased and restored the storefront that previously held a machine shop and Clay County Search and Rescue. At the time of purchase, the building was vacant for six years and the front of the store was boarded up with a false façade. The two worked to restore the building, which is a great example of people investing money into a downtown building to truly invoke change.
A&B Farmhouse opened in October 2020, which was challenging given it was during the pandemic. However, Stone and Sneath have been overwhelmed by the Brazil community that welcomed their small business. Customers travel to the Farmhouse from Plainfield, Avon, Brownsburg, Greencastle, Terre Haute, and Marshall, Illinois.
Lynn’s Pharmacy has been a Brazil business staple since 1872. While the family business has had five different owners and several locations, every iteration of the pharmacy has been within a block from its current location on Main Street. Its current owner is Lynn Hostetler who has owned the store since 1970. There are very few independent pharmacies remaining in the United States and Lynn’s is one of them. It is also one of the few places that sells home medical equipment. The pharmacy is a destination shop with nearly 50% of its customers coming from surrounding areas, including Terre Haute, Greencastle, Sullivan and Parke County.
While the pharmacy’s medical equipment is the business driver of Lynn’s Pharmacy, Hostetler wanted to bring nostalgia to his shop, which he did in the form of an old-fashioned soda and ice cream parlor. The soda shop is located within the pharmacy. His philosophy is to celebrate nostalgia. Hostetler buys Coca Cola syrup gallon jugs and measures the syrup individually for each drink. He also purchased antique fixtures dating back to the 1870s and 1890s and the soda fountain is full of pharmacy treasures.
Located just off Main Street, Off the Hinge Antiques is a true antique store with 5,000 square feet of furniture and treasures. Michael and Michelle Churchill were selling antiques on a part-time basis while working their full-time corporate jobs in Montana. Just over two years ago, they moved to Brazil to start a new chapter of their life, which included the full-time venture of starting Off the Hinge Antiques. The couple, who hadn’t set foot in Indiana before, bought two plane tickets to purchase the McGregor House and made Brazil their new home. During that trip, they walked down Main Street and asked people what they liked about Brazil. Every person they spoke with loved their community, its small town feel and were kind and generous with information.
They bought the Off the Hinge Antiques building (originally built in 1905) in 2021 and opened in October of that year. Their customers come from all over the country to visit the store, which is evidenced by the guest book on their counter. One customer signed in from North Pole, Alaska.
“People seeking antiques come here for our store,” said Michael. And when they’re done here, they go onto Main Street and into the Brazil community for a place to eat and find other stores to shop in.”
The words independent and radio stations are not ones you hear synonymously much anymore. But DLC Media in Brazil is home to six stations, all owned and operated by Dave Crooks. DLC Media believes local media improves communities. For more than 20 years, Crooks’ stations have been focused on building positive relationships with their audiences and advertisers. The station formats vary from classic country, light and easy listening, super hits and rock and roll.
Crooks has been in the radio business for 42 years and has seen the programming of radio stations change significantly over the years. Gone are the days when an actual disc jockey was required to be in the studio programming music and providing live voice overs. Today, while the program decisions are all made locally, radio stations receive their programming from Local Radio Networks, which provides content across the country. That being said, many of their morning shows are live and high school sports broadcasting is also live. The WAMB station not only covers Northview High School sporting events, but also provides video of the games that can be watched on the station’s website.
“It’s a big change from years ago when you played every song and had to have someone in the building to manage it all,” said Crooks. “It’s kind of strange for an old radio guy like me to have video with the radio, but here we are.”
Preserving Art and History in Brazil
The 2022-23 season marks the 39th year the Community Theatre of Clay County has been in its Main Street location and providing opportunities for residents to experience the arts in Clay County. The Community Theatre boasts five shows each season, with the first one being a children’s show. Approximately 70 kids participate at no cost to them, which gives them experiences they would not have otherwise.
Community Theatre of Clay County also hosts a week-long summer workshop program where kids work on every aspect of theater, including sewing costumes and constructing sets, while simultaneously gaining confidence and improving their public speaking skills.
One of the largest buildings on Main Street is home to the Clay County Historical Society. The building itself is the former Brazil post office. The property was bought in 1908 and building construction began in 1911. It was designed by James Knox Taylor, supervising architect of the United States Department of the Treasury. The bid to build the post office was $55,675 to include brick and limestone, and maple wood floors. It opened for business in 1913.
Over the years, the post office building became more than a place that simply sorted and delivered mail. The upstairs floor was the place residents were instructed to go to sign up for the Vietnam War draft. The building was auctioned to the Clay County Historical Society in 1977 for $31,750. It is now home to the Society and is a museum that is open for visitors to learn about the history of Brazil and Clay County.
From residents working to improve their community to business owners investing in downtown and Main Street, Brazil is working to guarantee itself a better tomorrow. The town has embraced change, while also staying true to its roots and maintaining a bit of nostalgia in its businesses and buildings. The town has a powerful past with influencers who made history, and there is no question that trend will only continue.
To learn more about the Clay County Community Builders Institute, please contact Jonathan Eilbracht, Clay County Community Engagement Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article written by Leah Singer, a freelance writer who lives in the Wabash Valley.