If you need a place to escape the noise and hum of what is modern-day travel planning at Travel Leaders in Albertville, there is one special place to achieve that goal.
Tucked away on the north wall of the building is a vault, which now houses a small office, instead of security deposit boxes. The door can be closed (not locked) and the rest of the world vanishes.
Such is life in the new Travel Leaders office, which is located at the former Highland Bank building in Albertville. Lee had noticed the little white building off of 60th Street Northeast years back and thought, “that would be a great little space for a growing office,” she said. Now, years later, it’s hers.
“It was sort of one of those things were everything fell into place,” Bonnie said. “The Realtor for the location called us, and we were actually starting to kind of look around because our lease at the old space [at Towne Lakes] was running out. The discussion started in January, and that’s, of course, a busy time for us. But we were able to circle back around in March, and Walt and I talked about it and the deal was just perfect, so here we are.”
Walt and Bonnie have experience in “flipping” houses, something the couple did when the market was strong in southern parts of Minneapolis. After the weather cooperated and they were able to start work on the former bank building in May or so, they ripped through a punchlist of changes and created their own little travel agent paradise.
“I have other owners who come up and say ‘I’m not letting my agents come up here. They’ll never come back. All these windows and the old bank feel make it pretty special,'” Bonnie said.
The business has found, in all likelihood, a “forever” home after 20 years of change. The Lees started their travel agency out of their home, then moved to Towne Lakes after joining forces with what was then Carlson-Wagonlit. A while later, Travel Leaders was spun off by Carlson, and the Lees moved across the parking lot, basically, to its last location on Albertville’s north side.
In its history, the agency has won multiple awards from Disney, Magellan and other entities. In 2013, it was Travel Leaders’ Agency of the Year.
Now employing 10 people, Travel Leaders was part of a huge renaissance on the 60th and Main stretch. As soon as they started work on the bank, Super America and Taco John’s started making changes to the former Sunoco Station. Meanwhile, the soccer club, STMA United, had taken over the former public works building on 59th and Main and the FYCC was moving into old city hall. Topping it off is the La Bamba Restaurant, which is just west of Travel Leaders’ parking lot.
“Six buildings, six new, wonderful places. We were really happy to be a part of that,” Bonnie said.
And there’s also a renaissance, of sorts, in the travel business. Planners far and wide will tell you customers are coming back to agencies for travel planning, with the major impetus being a “more bang for the buck” mantra.
“You can book the hotel and you can book a flight, but if you want to get the most out of a vacation that you’ve worked so hard for the other 355 days out of the year, you need someone with all of the information. That’s what people are finding out travel agents can do. You can plan a vacation yourself, but you can plan a better vacation with some help,” Bonnie said. “An agent will help you make that perfect choice, and we’d rather have perfect than just good enough.”
Lee offers a few tips for those who come to Travel Leaders for a vacation: Come with ideas in mind, and certainly have a budget. Be open to suggestion, but don’t flinch on doing the things you want to do for memories. And realize that things still happen in the world of travel, but working with an agent also gives customers the advantage of help on the side.
“Delta, FunJet, Disney – they all have 24/7 phone lines for help. You don’t get that all the time with something booked online,” Lee said.
Travel Leaders will be rolling out new features for this winter’s coming vacation season, including major changes at Disney resorts, the surge in “river cruise” adventures over in Europe, and, of course, the latest in “warm climate” luxuries for those of us who want to escape another tough Minnesota winter.
“We really are looking forward to being here and doing some great, community things in our location,” Lee said. “We’re still coming up with new ideas, but I can see us getting more and more involved in Albertville from our new home.”
For more information, including hours, contact Travel Leaders via their website, or call