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922 South Morton Street
Bloomington, IN, 47403
United States


Cardinal Spirits is a craft distillery in Bloomington, Indiana that specializes in producing extraordinary spirits from local ingredients.  

Helpful Hard-Working Humans: Dave Harstad

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Helpful Hard-Working Humans: Dave Harstad

Adam Quirk

The people who have helped Cardinal Spirits get to this point are so awesome and enjoyable, we’d shout their names from the mountain tops, if we had such things in Indiana. Instead, here on the blog, we’ll introduce you to our architect, insurance broker, general contractor and other partners on our roster, one by one. We're calling the series Helpful Hardworking Humans.

We start today with our commercial real estate broker, Dave Harstad.

Dave Harstad from Summit Realty Group in Bloomington helped Cardinal Spirits find a home at 922 S. Morton St., close to downtown. It’s a warehouse space right on the B-Line that we’ll start rehabbing soon to create a production facility and tasting room.

When it came to Cardinal Spirits’ real estate, Dave wasn’t always in the picture.

We began looking for buildings on our own a couple of years ago. Hire a middle man? No thank you. We were capable men in the age of the Internet. We’d find something ourselves, obviously, saving gobs of money and time. We drove all around and called the phone numbers on for-sale signs, combed the MLS and managed to see dozens of buildings that were never quite what we needed once we looked inside.

Frankly, it was exhausting. We weren’t getting any closer to finding a home for Cardinal Spirits.

So, more than a year ago, we met with Dave, who was referred to us by our insurance broker Jeff Sullivan — another great guy who we can’t wait to tell you about soon.

Here’s something about Dave that we learned almost immediately: He sees real estate as a game, and he likes to win. Dave thinks real estate is one of the best sports you can play.

And here’s something we didn’t know until recently: Dave has a cat named Dave. (What!)

Dave is one of those people who has turned a lifelong passion into a career.

“I’ve always been fascinated by cities and architecture — and bridges and roads and all those sorts of things that go into building a city,” says Dave. “Even when I was a kid, I knew that the Sears Tower was 110 stories, 1,554 feet tall. When I was in second grade, that's the kind of stuff I memorized.”

One way or another, he’s always worked in real estate. Before he was a broker, Dave was a real estate developer in Indianapolis, and worked on everything from hospitals to residential subdivisions. Before that, he worked for a lobbying firm that represented the City of Indianapolis. And even before that, young Dave went to law school, thinking he wanted to be a real estate lawyer (turns out, he did not).

Most of the time, real estate is about the future, but Dave likes the part where real estate and history cross paths, too. He is chairman of the Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission, which helps the city find that balance. Pursuit of the past is probably something he got from his dad, a former history professor and director of the Indiana Historical Society.

Since our first meeting with Dave, we’ve exchanged 781 emails, spent hours on the phone and in person, meeting up at our homes, inside potential buildings, at coffee shops, and even inside Assembly Hall one morning this summer. Dave would meet us anywhere, really.

In the end, he helped us lock down a building — an old sheet metal factory — that wasn’t even on the market. When you run a small business, it’s tempting to try to do everything on your own. Self brokering? We gave it a shot, but we found tremendous value in having a commercial real estate broker. Dave is a crucial part of Cardinal Spirit’s story.

All I do, all day, is think about buildings,” Dave says. “If you had to learn the market yourself, that would take a lot of time. I also have a pretty good handle on what stuff is worth, which takes a lot more research to figure out on your own.”

“The way you add value for clients is to know what other people don't know.”

And he does. Dave anticipates problems with a building even before walking inside. He uses valuable connections with city officials to get a feel for whether a location will work, or if zoning will be an issue. He knows the good and bad landlords and neighbors. He forced us to become very specific about what we were looking for, whittling our list of wishes in to needs vs. wants.

Even then, it took us nearly a year to find the right building that could serve as both our production facility and our tasting room. And it had to be downtown, we told Dave, not in an anonymous industrial park on the outskirts. We wanted to be able to ride or walk to the distillery, and for our customers to be able to do the same.

“This was a really, really difficult deal to do because Cardinal wasn’t looking for just a warehouse and they weren't looking for just a storefront. They had to have this combination of the two,” Dave says. “There's just not a lot of buildings like that in Bloomington. Frankly, none. So, that was a challenge.”

Lastly, here’s five final questions for Dave:

What’s the most enjoyable part of your work?

I like the creative side of it — the very beginning stage. That’s the developer in me. Trying to figure out, what does this building want to be, or what does this piece of land want to be, and trying to match up the right people with it.

What’s the most enjoyable thing you do outside your work?

Every year, I set a learning plan for the year and choose a theme. One year, I wanted to learn everything I could about World War I and another year I was obsessed with early Christianity. One year, it was trees.

It’s a combination of reading and traveling. I really wanted to learn about cooking and spices, so I read a book about spices. As I read, I learned that lot comes from India, so my wife and I went to India and saw how pepper grows, and how nutmeg grows, and so on. In the past, I’ve been very "me" focused, so (in the future) I want to — and this is broad — learn how to be a better person through philanthropy.

What are three important things you’ve learned about working in real estate?

First, Bloomington's a very small town, so reputation really matters.

Second, the devil's always in the details. People always spend a lot of time quibbling over their rent, but what matters is the details of the building.

Third, at the end of the day, it's people who own buildings, or lease them. There's an emotional element. You really have to try to read people. My wife has helped me with that — she's a psychologist — and I’ve learned a lot from her. She's exceedingly skilled at reading people.

What’s a common mistake that small businesses make when buying or leasing a building?

Getting the right amount of square feet is always difficult for commercial clients — more with retailers than industrial users. Typically, people want more real estate than they need and they end up paying too much money on rent or their monthly payments.

If you weren’t a real estate broker, what would you be?

If I had another life to live, I think it would be fun to be a history teacher or professor.

You can reach Dave through Summit Realty.