Chisholm waits to learn the future of its reservation center

Chisholm reservation center
The city of Chisholm is home to Northwest's reservation center. Workers at the center are guarded about what Delta's acquisition means for their future.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

Early afternoon and the parking lot is full at the Chisholm reservation center. A few employees scramble back from lunch. They look nervous as a reporter approaches. They don't want to talk, not here, not on this day.

Nearby, Ron Novosalek believes the Northwest Airlines jobs in Chisholm will stay in Chisholm, well after Northwest's acquisition by Delta Airlines.

Ron Novosalek
Chisholm resident Ron Novosalek believes Chisholm's reservation center will be OK in Delta's acquisition of Northwest.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

"The center will be OK, I think that 100 percent," Novosalek said.

Novosalek has his nose buried in a newspaper at the end of the bar in Tom and Jerry's, a popular hang-out on Chisholm's mainstreet. He's ready to believe what's being reported - that only management jobs should be considered at risk. And he knows that Northwest's Chisholm center is considered productive and efficient.

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A town cop for more than 30 years, Novosalek has seen the difference this center made to the economy of this small Iron Range town, when the center opened for business 12 years ago. Losing it is unthinkable.

Tom and Jerry's
Chisholm popular hangout Tom and Jerry's was a buzz with discussion about what Delta's acquistion of Northwest airline met for the town's reservation center.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

"Well, it would hurt Chisholm real bad if that left, you know. Oh, I mean there's a lot of things that could be happening on the Range. They're off in the future a year or so," Novosalek said.

He's talking about hundreds of new jobs that may come to the Iron Range in a new steel mill, proposed copper-nickel mines or a power plant. But those jobs are just on paper right now, while the reservation center jobs are providing paychecks now.

It's pretty slow in Tom and Jerrys in the early afternoon. The sun glows on silent pool tables and the TV drones in the background.

Tom Varichak
Tom Varichak tends bar at Tom and Jerry's. He says people have been talking about the future of Chisholm's Northwest reservation center.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

Tom Varichak is tending the bar. He said people have been talking about the Northwest-Delta news. And he said some people who work there are worried about getting bumped out of a job.

"A lot of people are wondering what's going to happen there, and I think it's the same thing as the pilots went through with seniority type things," Varichak said. "They tell us that the reservation center is safe and they'll still keep the people working there, but I think a lot of it is seniority stuff, and things like that. That's what I've heard so far anyway."

Varichak says the center has been good for the bar. Northwest throws business events his way, and new customers have shown up who work at the center. But he says people in Chisholm are still uneasy while things are uncertain.

"I think when things like this happen there's always a little bit of apprehension. I would guess that the people working there are wondering exactly what's going to happen, but I'm sure they're not going to know until it finally happens. So, it's just kind of a wait and see situation," Varichak said.

And he said he's a little worried, not just for Chisholm but for the state.

"I hope it's for the better; I'm a little apprehensive on whether it is or not," Varichak said. "And I hope we keep as many jobs in Minnesota as we can. But you know, everything you hear is kind of negative that way, saying that they may take Delta to their home base where ever that is, and I guess I'm not exactly sure where that is. So, I'm a little fearful of that."

Mike Jugovich
Chisholm's Mayor Mike Jugovich is guardedly optimistic about the future of Chisholm's reservation center.
MPR Photo/Bob Kelleher

A few blocks away, Mike Jugovich has been listening for any news or analysis on the acquisition.

Jugovich is Chisholm's Mayor. He's in his office, in a classic decades old, stone block city hall.

"It's a big issue. I think employment levels somewhere between five and six now, five and six hundred, so there's a lot of families involved," Jugovich said.

Jugovich wants to be optimistic, but he's probably more guardedly optimistic.

"We're so concerned about our reservation and, and like I said, maintaining our current levels of employment. So, that's what we're worried about right now and we'll see how everything else plays out," Jugovich said.

He said he's looking forward to seeing all the acquisition details on paper.

"You know, just like everyone else. We're checking in and reading all our articles and checking our newsletters and things we can find anything about would be a great asset, Jugovich said. "But you know, personally, I'm a little nervous. Senator Klobuchar had some interesting thoughts. And I know the governor wanted to sit back and see how it played out. And I think I'm a along those lines where if it works out and everyone benefits, that's great. But right now we're just waiting; see what happens."

The center's been Chisholm's biggest employer for a dozen years, and people are crossing their fingers that it will continue to play that role for many years to come.