Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The corner bar in Canton October 17, 2012

If you can take your eyes off the vintage phone booth, you’ll notice a beer sign suspended from ZZs Tap (bar) along Canton’s Main Street.

PEER DOWN THE ONE-BLOCK Main Street of Small Town, USA, and your eyes likely will land on a bar or two anchoring a business district comprised of primarily vacant and crumbling buildings.

That’s an over-generalization, of course, but sadly all too true for many once-thriving small towns.

That’s the Canton Pub on the left and the Canton Municipal Liquor Store on the right with an unknown business sandwiched in between.

While hardware stores and grocery stores, even hometown cafes and barber shops, have closed, the corner bar typically endures.

I’ve never been a frequent bar customer and honestly can’t remember the last time I stepped into a small town bar where heads swivel when a stranger enters. You know what I mean, right?

Food and drink and Tuesday night bar bingo can be found at the Canton Pub.

On a recent stop in Canton, a town of 328 nudging the Iowa border in southeastern Minnesota, I spotted the Canton Pub. I didn’t even try the pub door to see if I might slip inside for a cold one on an autumn afternoon.

I was too busy photographing the beer signs.

I photographed this sign at the Canton Pub for my oldest daughter’s boyfriend, Marc Schmidt, who recently relocated to the Twin Cities from LA.

Another beer sign on the Canton Pub.

I almost missed the classic “land of sky blue waters” Hamm’s sign until my husband pointed it out at the Canton Pub.

CHECK BACK FOR ANOTHER post from Canton. There’s more to see in this small town than the bars.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


28 Responses to “The corner bar in Canton”

  1. cecilia Says:

    It is always sad when i see empty buildings, where are the little businesses now. Where are the cafes and little restaurants and appliance stores and hairdressers.. where have they all gone.. how do we get people to shop locally and keep their little stores open if no-one has the heart or money to open them and make these little buildings live again. Surely not everyone wants to go to WallyWorld. Love the signs.. c

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      How do we get people to shop locally is the question which tips the tongue of every small town Main Street merchant. The only answer I can some up with is this: service. I recently visited an old-time hardware store in a regional hub city 40 miles from my home. It’s a second generation family business, your typical old hardware store with narrow aisles, a little of everything and nails in bulk. It is friendliness and service which keep this business going. I will be posting about it eventually.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    But the bars have a lot of character!!!! 🙂 Anxious to see more!!

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    So much has to do with the fact that many work in the larger towns, do the needed shopping as soon as they leave their workplace and then crawl in their car (“dog tired”) and don’t want to make any more stops ’til they arrive at their own garage/home. Do to space constrictions, most small town shops can’t carry all the items on one’s list or may be out of that item. To need something and bypass the larger town store only to arrive in the smaller hometown shop to find that they are waiting on the delivery causes a person to make sure the purchase is made before leaving the larger venue. It really is a “catch 22” situation and very sad!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You summarized the situation quite well.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        This dilemma has been discussed much here in Houston when it came time to decide what to do about the local grocery. It is now a customer-owned coop (same supplier as the surrounding IGA groceries) and thriving under the latest mgr (been here several years). Requests are given strong consideration and fulfilled if feasible…the produce is quite nice which is the more important item for us.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        My hometown of Vesta did a similar thing when the local cafe closed. The single cafe in town is now community owned. Seems to work. No grocery store in town, though, and the closest is 20 miles away.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Major “ugh”!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I agree: “Major ugh” on the bookstore.

  4. It’s funny how the bars stay in business. Our town is a little larger and actually has some successful shops and restaurants downtown, but I believe the longest running establishments are the bars and the adult book store.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Canton is in a tourism area, so there are at least two antique shops in town (I’ll post about one tomorrow). Location makes a difference. But, yes, the bars always seem to endure beyond most businesses.

  5. The Hamm’s sign is my favorite. Just need one with the bear on it, now!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yep, I’d say the Hamm’s sign is my favorite, too. Only in recent years have I begun paying attention to, and appreciating, old signs. They are a part of history, a form of art.

  6. Jackie Says:

    My grandparents along with other relatives farmed near Canton. Dad graduated from Mabel-Canton high school. Dad and I never really slow down to admire the little things in town. Thanks for sharing the photos, next time we won’t just drive through….I’ll pay attention to the little buildings and signs….Love the photos

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Here’s my theory, Jackie. When you’re all too familiar with a place, you tend to overlook the beauty that a visitor might see. Glad I helped you see the details in Canton. We did not make it to Mabel. Next trip. Gee, I keep saying that, don’t I.

  7. What a Cute Little Place to Hang Out for a Cold One or Just Catch Up with Friends – thanks for sharing – have not seen a phone booth in a long time! Have a Great One:)

  8. Donna Says:

    Looking forward to seeing you at Crossings Friday night.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ah, yes, I really should practice reading my poem for the “All About Water” event. Be sure to track me down so I can get an update on Patrick’s mystery novel.

  9. I just love the tours of these little towns! I have started looking at my daily travels differently since finding your blog Audrey!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I love hearing this because I really want my readers to slow down and enjoy small towns and other “things” they might overlook.

  10. Michael Says:

    I’ve actually lived in and around Canton for my entire life…that little unknown business is no business at all…not since before 1990…likely closed its doors in the mid 80;s. Canton had businesses..2 gas stations, lumber yard..a store where zz tap now is, the one across the street from the pub…but the owner was killed in there restocking shelves..something fell and hit him on the head..he was found the next morning, name was Steve. In 1990 there was a nice lady who did briefly re-open the store but..cheaper prices elsewhere shut her down..the gas stations couldn’t turn enough profit to cover the bills and they too shut down…you missed the Old Villager out along the Highway..it’s barely holding on though, only open in the non-winter months and then only during the latter hours of the day and with restrictions like they don’t turn the grill on until after 4…Even the school was abandoned in 98…Ya the small towns are slowly dying that’s for sure..but it’s harder to see when it’s your own.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Michael, thank you so much for all of that information on Canton, including that tragic story about Steve. So many other small towns are in the exact predicament as Canton. I can remember when my hometown of Vesta, same size as Canton, also had a lumber yard, several gas stations and bars, two hardware stores, a cafe, a school…

      Yes, we did miss the Villager along the highway. But we caught the antique store on the corner; very helpful man there who directed us to an Amish farm near Henrytown. That’s another post.

      Anyway, I hope the people of Canton realize what treasures remain in that old Masonic Lodge, the depot and the old elevator. They are all worth saving.

  11. “Where the heads swivel when a stranger enters” – love that!

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