Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The death of a most generous soul, the candy store’s nonagenarian November 28, 2016

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I NEVER KNEW HIM. Only photographed him in early October. But I saw in him—in the curve of his spine, in his hands, in the flour on his pant leg—a man passionate about his work.

Herbert R. (Hippy) Wagner, 91, entrepreneur, businessman, and owner of Jim’s Apple Farm and Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store in Jordan, died on November 21 following a sudden illness. So says his obituary published in the Duluth News Tribune.

 

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I regret not introducing myself to this man while visiting the signature yellow candy store along US Highway 169. There I spotted Hippy behind the pie counter, rag in hand wiping the countertop where I presume pie crusts are rolled and/or pies assembled. I purchased a caramel apple pie, still warm from the oven and tastefully delicious.

 

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While waiting in line for that pie, I snapped these images. They are favorites from my candy store visit. I learned of Hippy’s death while researching to publish these photos.

Timing.

As I read his obituary, it wasn’t Herb’s successes in business—he also operated the family-owned Wagner’s Supper Club back in the day— or his many years of community involvement/service that most impressed me, but his generosity.

While a Merchant Marine walking through Antwerp, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, he gave away all of his rations to starving children.

That giving spirit, according to his obit, continued throughout Herb’s life:

He was extraordinarily generous in large and small ways, from baking home-made bread and personally delivering it to the home-bound, to lending money to people who were “down on their luck” and could not get a bank loan for a business or home.

But there’s more. Faith and family were of utmost importance. He was the father of ten and a devout Catholic. He loved classical music and sometimes awakened his children to the rousing marches of John Philip Sousa piped throughout the family’s house. And I know that he also loved polkas, the only music played at the candy store.

To be remembered in an obituary with such loving words and memories speaks volumes to Hippy’s character.

I would have liked him.

FYI: Click here to read my recent series on Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. And please check back for one final post featuring my favorite photo from that visit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Interesting finds inside a candy store, Part III from Jordan, Minnesota November 23, 2016

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BLACKBERRY PATCH SYRUPS in the most tempting flavors.

 

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A TARDIS tucked into a corner.

 

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Cotton candy in buckets.

 

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Dictator soda. Say what?

 

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Minnesota’s largest porta potties.

 

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Pop art.

 

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Seemingly unconnected, they are. All were photographed inside Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, also known as Jim’s Apple Farm outside Jordan along US Highway 169.

I love discovering and photographing places like this to share with you. Jim’s has been around for more than 30 years. But I’d never been there until about a month ago. It’s not quite an hour’s drive from my Faribault home.

There’s so much to see in our own backyards…if we only take the time to discover, then appreciate.

TELL ME: What should visitors see in your backyard?

FYI: Check back for one final post, featuring my two favorite photos from my visit to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. Click here to read my first post in this series and my second post.

Jim’s Apple Farm closes for the season on the last day of November.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of a candy store, Part II from Jordan, Minnesota November 21, 2016

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THERE’S A CERTAIN CHARM to the signage and art at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. Folksy, down-to-earth, eye-catching and endearing, the art connects to shoppers on a personal level. Like an old-time shopkeeper parceling penny candy into a brown paper bag.

 

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Local artist and Jordan High School art teacher Jessica Barnd creates the art, adding a rural roots visual authenticity to this business, officially Jim’s Apple Farm.

 

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This family-owned attraction along US Highway 169 in Jordan is more about candy than apples.

 

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And it’s about successful marketing, primarily through the can’t-miss signature yellow building and picket fence and Jessica’s art.

 

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Jim’s doesn’t rely on a website—there’s none—and only recently went online with a Facebook page. And only cash or checks are accepted; no credit or debit cards. Says so on end-of-the-building signage near th gravel parking lot.

 

 

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For me, the experience of visiting Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store focused as much on the merchandise as on the visual artistry. But then I tend to see my world through the lens of my Canon DSLR.

 

Peanut logs are made on-site as are apple pies.

Peanut logs are made on-site as are apple pies.

This place provides a unique canvas to promote a business in a nostalgic way that takes us back to the mercantile. To the old-fashioned candy counter. To simpler days when a piece of penny candy was enough.

 

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Except at Jim’s, candy counters extend through a lengthy building and the candy supply seems endless.

 

BONUS ART PHOTOS:

Minnesota's Largest Candy Store also boats the World's Largest Soda Selection. You will find flavors here that you would never even consider for pop (the Minnesota word for soda).

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store also boasts the World’s Largest Soda Selection. You will find flavors here that you would never even consider for pop (the Minnesota word for soda).

 

In the new addition to the building, Jessica painted clouds for the ceiling, where hot air balloons are suspended. They move up and down.

In the new addition to the building, Jessica painted clouds for the ceiling, where hot air balloons are suspended. They glide up and down.

 

The basket of a hot air balloon.

The basket of a hot air balloon.

 

On the exterior pathway to the candy store entrance, this sign alerts customers to the availability of homemade pies.

On the exterior pathway to the candy store entrance, this sign alerts customers to the availability of homemade pies.

 

Some of the pumpkins for sale are painted. This was a favorite since it reminds me of Tufts University, my son's alma mater. Tufts' mascot is an elephant, its school color blue.

Some of the pumpkins for sale are painted. This was a favorite since it reminds me of Tufts University, my son’s alma mater. Tufts’ mascot is Jumbo the elephant, its school colors blue and brown.

 

Another surprise: Lots and lots and lots of puzzles for sale, as advertised on the business signage.

Another surprise: Lots and lots and lots of puzzles for sale, as advertised on the business signage.

 

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FYI: Please check back as I show you more of Jim’s Apple Farm. Click here to read my first post in this series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One sweet experience at Minnesota’s largest candy store in Jordan November 18, 2016

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UNTIL YOU’VE VISITED Minnesota’s largest candy store along US Highway 169 in Jordan, you can’t imagine a place quite like this. Better than Candy Land or the Chocolate Factory. Sprawling, brimming with candy. And more.

 

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This 30-plus years family-run business—officially known as Jim’s Apple Farm—is an experience. A tourist attraction. A fun and unique place to shop. Think polka music pulsing through the jolting yellow machine shed style building. Think a lengthy yellow picket fence stretching along the highway like a navigational arrow. Think discovering candy you never knew existed. Think bacon.

 

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Yes, bacon. There’s an entire section devoted to bacon.

 

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And taffy.

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And licorice.

 

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And chocolate. And…

 

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Soda. Soda of common and unusual flavors, some with attention-grabbing names.

 

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I laughed and I smiled in this magical world of creativity, colors and candy.

 

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If you crave happiness, this place excels in that emotion. It’s the type of playful setting that spirits you away from negativity. Erases worries. Offers a temporary reprieve from reality. And we all need that. Especially now.

 

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There are pumpkins

 

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and puzzles

 

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and peeled apples (baking in pies). Reminders of Grandma’s kitchen. Scent of cinnamon. Red checked tablecloths. Pied Piper nuances leading you to pie still warm from the oven. Caramel apple pie for me crafted with locally-sourced apples.

 

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But I resisted Lucky Lights, remembering the chalky taste of those addicting slim cylinders from my childhood days when smoking candy cigarettes seemed cool. I skipped purchasing any candy, which is possible if you convince yourself that you really don’t need the sugar. Other shoppers fully compensated for my solo pie purchase, bulging their shopping carts with candy.

 

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For me, exploring Minnesota’s largest candy store was about the experience. And about the fruity sweetness of caramel-laced apple pie tasting of sky and rain and autumn in Minnesota.

TELL ME: Have you visited Jim’s Apple Farm or a similar candy store? I’d like to hear about your experience.

FYI: Located at 20430 Johnson Memorial Drive, Jordan, Jim’s is open seasonally from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily, June – November. I’d advise visiting on a weekday, like I did, because I’ve heard that on weekends the store is packed. Check Facebook for more info; there’s no website or business phone. Bring cash. Credit cards are not accepted.

Please check back as I bring you more images from this mega Minnesota candy store.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The magic of LARK Toys, a southeastern Minnesota toy store October 6, 2015

A handcrafted sign inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

A handcrafted sign next to a window inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

LARK TOYS IS MAGICAL.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are handcarved.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are hand-carved.

A cozy and creative corner int he bookstore.

A cozy and creative corner in the bookstore.

In the game room, you can try out games.

In the game room, you can try out games.

No other adjective quite as succinctly describes this sprawling toy store along Minnesota State Highway 61 on the outskirts of Kellogg. It’s a business that showcases old toys and new, handcrafted and mass-produced. Toss in a candy shop and a bookstore, hands-on opportunities for kids to try out toys and the focal point—a hand-carved carousel—and you have magic.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Our family visited LARK years ago, when the kids were still at home. But this time it was just my husband and me meandering through the maze of rooms amid lots of grandparents with grandchildren in tow. I made a mental note to some day, when I become a grandmother, revisit this place.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

It's not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

It’s not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant as she watched the ride go round and round.

But this was now and I delighted in watching youngsters scramble onto their chosen animals—like a giraffe, dragon or pelican—as the colorful carousel curator readied the ride for a spin.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

From there I ducked into the candy shop, perusing the vast collection of jelly beans in flavors like juicy pear, strawberry jam and tangerine.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store. I love that detail about LARK Toys.

Then, along the hallway to the toy store, I paid homage to Felix the Cat, a favorite cartoon character from yesteryear displayed in the store’s Memory Lane section of vintage toys.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

Passing a public police box (a TARDIS for those of you who know and understand the BBC sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), I entered the Main Toy Store. And, oh, how I wished I was the grandkid with Grandpa and Grandma carrying a credit card.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

Without doubt, I would have begged for a wooden pull toy handcrafted at LARK Toys. As Randy and I admired pull toys like a fire truck, elephant, snail and even a mud-splashed pig, we remembered the wooden frog our eldest daughter hopped everywhere until the toy eventually wore out. It was not crafted at LARK. But it was similar to LARK toys. There’s something grassroots appealing about the simplicity of a wooden pull toy.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

And there’s something about LARK Toys, too, that’s truly Minnesota magical.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Toy samples are set up for kids to play with within the toy store.

Toy samples are set up for kids to test.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Fun walking sticks.

Fun walking sticks.

Art on display.

Art on display.

Fun on a windowsill.

Religion on a windowsill.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

There's fun outdoors, too, with mini golf and llamas to observe.

There’s more outdoors with mini golf and miniature llamas.

FYI: In December 2014, USA Today named LARK Toys among the top 10 best toy stores in the U.S. A year prior, viewers at WCCO TV voted LARK Toys the best toy store in Minnesota.

The toy store is located at 63604 170th Avenue outside Kellogg in southeastern Minnesota. Take County Road 18 to Lark Lane. You can see the dark brown sprawling building from U.S. Highway 61. (I think the structure should be painted in multiple eye-catching vibrant colors more suiting to a toy store.)

Hours vary according to seasons but are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily from now through December. After that, limited winter hours kick in for two months. Click here for full store hours.

As part of the Wabasha-Kellogg area SeptOberfest celebrations continuing to the end of October, LARK Toys is hosting stories and songs for preschoolers and families in the bookstore from 10:15 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Friday, October 9. A musical march to the carousel follows with free rides.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Little General Store on the Prairie March 27, 2013

I LOVE BERNADETTE THOOFT’S infectious laugh and outgoing personality. And I love what this mother of seven is doing for my hometown.

The Store: Thrift and More sits just off Minnesota Highway 19 in Vesta in Redwood County.

The Store: Thrift and More sits just off Minnesota Highway 19 in Vesta in Redwood County.

In February she opened The Store: Thrift and More in Vesta, population 330 and the only town along the 40-mile stretch of Minnesota Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and Marshall.

The “more” part of Bernadette’s store includes eight shelving units stocked with foodstuff, personal care items, paper products and more in addition to perishables stashed in nearby coolers.

The grocery section of the store includes basic perishables like dairy products, some fruit, lettuce and more. Canned, boxed and bagged foods, personal care items, and miscellaneous items like greeting cards, tape and such fill eight shelving units.

The grocery section of the store includes basic perishables like dairy products, organic eggs, some fruit, lettuce and more. Canned, boxed and bagged foods; personal care items; and miscellaneous items like greeting cards, tape and such fill eight shelving units.

I don’t know exactly how long my hometown has been without a grocery store. But it’s been awhile. Locals, like my 80-year-old mom, have had to drive 20 miles either east or west to find the nearest grocery store. Now this community’s residents, many of them elderly, need only walk or drive to the west edge of town to buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, organic eggs from Bernadette and Matt Thooft’s farm, fruit and an assortment of processed foods that include SPAM, much to my mom’s delight.

This is huge, to have groceries and basic necessities available in Vesta. Bernadette even offered to have her 11-year-old son deliver right to my mom’s doorstep a block away. Such small-town neighborliness simply warms my heart. Many times the good people of Vesta have assisted my mother. And for that, I am grateful.

Looking toward the back thrift section of the floor.

Looking from the front grocery section toward the back thrift area of The Store.

Bernadette tells me she originally hadn’t planned on stocking groceries, rather dedicating her floor space to thrift items that range from kitchenware to toys, books to clothing, gift items to home décor and an assortment of other merchandise.

Vintage glasses in the thrift section.

Vintage glasses in the thrift section.

Bernadette offers a great selection of used books for all ages.

Bernadette offers a great selection of used books for all ages.

You'll also find a selection of clothes.

You’ll also find a shoes and clothing.

One of my favorite finds in The Store, an $8 vintage Pyrex casserole, which I nearly purchased.

One of my favorite finds in The Store, an $8 vintage Pyrex casserole, which I nearly purchased.

But then she started getting requests to carry groceries. So Bernadette decided to buy food and products her family can use. That way, if items don’t sell, she doesn’t lose anything. Once a week this entrepreneur mother drives the 20 miles west to Hy-Vee Foods in Marshall, reselling her purchases in Vesta at a slightly marked up price that will help cover gas expenses.

Jason Kramer stops in to buy a few grocery items from Bernadette.

Jason Kramer stops in to buy a few grocery items from Bernadette.

Already several local families come to The Store once a week to purchase their groceries, she says. On the Saturday afternoon I visited, Jason Kramer popped in from his home across the street to pick up Oreos, chips, bread and milk. He calls opening of The Store “flippin’ awesome.”

It is that type of enthusiasm Bernadette hopes for from other Vesta area residents. She needs their support, and business off the highway, to make her venture work in this isolated prairie town.

Just another view of the store with Bernadette bagging Jason's purchases.

Just another view of the store and Bernadette’s office with Bernadette bagging Jason’s purchases.

In the short time I perused the store and spoke with Bernadette, several others stopped in—two middle schoolers to eye the toy collection and eventually purchase candy, a middle-aged couple scanning thrift items and then Jason for his groceries. I walked out with a kettle for my college-aged son and my husband grabbed packaging tape and a dispenser.

This 1800s general store counter anchors The Store.

This 1800s general store counter anchors The Store. Those are our purchases on the counter, that kettle and tape.

Bernadette says she’s aiming to recreate a Mom and Pop general store with a little bit of everything. I was delighted to find candy lining the 1800s checkout counter, reminding me of the penny candy I bought at Rasmussen’s Grocery while growing up in Vesta. The vintage counter, purchased from a Lake Benton antique store, originated from a general store between Lake Benton and Brookings, South Dakota. It’s the perfect fit for The Store, lending that historic authenticity reminiscent of yesteryear.

Like the old-fashioned general store, Bernadette has set up candy display, including my favorite Tootsie Pops.

Like the old-fashioned general store, Bernadette has set up a candy display, including my favorite Tootsie Pops.

I can remember when Vesta boasted two hardware stores, several restaurants/bars and a grocery store along with other businesses, in its one-block Main Street.

Rarely does a new business open here. But Bernadette, who lives on a farm near Lucan seven miles to the south, was looking to locate along the highway, conveniently next door to her husband’s business, Matt’s Frame Repair.

A young customer exits The Store, left, while three of the Thooft kids, including Maxwell, 4, and Beatrice, 21 months, hang out with Mom.

A young customer exits The Store, left, while three of the Thooft kids, including Maxwell, 4, and Beatrice, 21 months, hang out with Mom. The Thooft’s children include an 11-year-old, two 7-year-olds, two 4-year-olds, a 3-year-old and a 21-month-old.

She likes that Matt can walk over for lunch and spend time with her and the kids, ranging in age from 21 months to 11 years. She affectionately calls her seven, five of them birth children, two adopted, “the hoodlums.” The kids hang out in a room built into a corner of the poleshed style building.

Look around and you'll see Bernadette's sense of humor in signage and props like this doll perched upon the cash register.

Look around and you’ll see Bernadette’s sense of humor in signage and props like this doll perched upon the cash register.

While the kids play and Matt naps in that corner playroom, Bernadette tends to customers on this Saturday afternoon in March. Her laptop sits open on her desk, her reference source for the thrift merchandise purchased primarily from online auctions and also from garage sales.

This sign by the thrift store points travelers along Minnesota Highway 19, left, to The Store and the Vesta Cafe.

This sign by the thrift store points travelers along Minnesota Highway 19, left, to The Store and the Vesta Cafe.

Bernadette is donating 10 percent of thrift sale proceeds to local charities like the United Way, a crisis nursery, area schools and the broader Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. She’s also created a “Believe in the Backpack” charity whereby she fills backpacks for kids in foster care.

In the short time I’ve spent with Bernadette, it’s clear to me that this Osakis native and former daycare provider loves kids and cares about folks in my hometown enough to open her own little general store on the prairie. And for that I am grateful.

This sign graces the front of The Store: Thrift and More.

This sign graces the front of The Store: Thrift and More.

FYI: The Store: Thrift and More is open from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday; and with varied hours on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Tuesday.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Hastings: The comfortable familiarity of an old-fashioned grocery store November 1, 2012

Reissner’s Meats & Grocery in historic downtown Hastings, Minnesota.

YOU KNOW HOW SOMETIMES, when you step into a place, you feel like you’ve been there before, but you haven’t.

That would be Reissner’s Meats and Grocery in historic downtown Hastings.

Third-generation owner Dick Reissner.

Entering this narrow two-aisle store with a mustachioed, gray-haired shopkeeper in a butcher’s apron leaning on the front counter, I experienced a sense of familiarity tracing back to my childhood. Reissner’s reminds me of the corner grocery in my hometown of Vesta where I purchased my favorite Tootsie Pop suckers, Bazooka bubble gum and yellow packs of Juicy Fruit gum from the candy counter on many a trip to town with Mom.

Honestly, I cannot remember much else about Rasmussen’s Grocery except the candy and the wood floors and the big old screen door that banged shut behind me.

Aisle one with the candy counter to the left.

Reissner’s in Hastings possesses that same nostalgic feel, even a vintage look in the red-and-white tile floors, the mishmash of merchandise, the hulking and energy-sucking open cooler that holds pop, and the price stickers adhered to canned foods and more.

Dick Reissner reads at the front counter while I explore his store.

Richard (Dick) Otto Reissner was preoccupied with reading when I walked in on a recent Saturday afternoon and didn’t seem to want to be bothered. So I didn’t query him with the list of questions formulating in my mind as I perused the aisles.

Vintage photos which clued me in as to the history of this place.

Therefore I have no stories to share with you about this third-generation family business. Only photos.

The exterior sign, which dates the business to 1902.

I totally forgot to search for the lefse or ask about  Grandma Ruth.

The vintage toys, etc., are not for sale.

An old, old cooler…

How often do you see price stickers on food anymore?

I have no clue, none, why there’s a saddle, right, in the grocery store.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An old-fashioned grocery store, moosehead and all, thrives in Ellendale August 5, 2011

In the small town of Ellendale, kids bike to Lerberg's Foods for groceries and the occasional slushie. Here two sisters and a friend slurp their slushies while sitting on bags of water softener pellets next to the pop machine.

WHEN ANDREW LERBERG bagged a moose in northern Minnesota in 1919, the animal was brought by rail to Ellendale and the moosehead proudly displayed in the family’s grocery store.

Ninety-two years later, that moosehead still hangs at Lerberg’s Foods, above a framed photo of Andrew with his trophy and above processed fruits and vegetables stacked on grocery store shelves.

Look down the grocery aisle to your left and you'll see the moosehead that is part of Lerberg's lore.

Ross Sletten, who purchased the business in 2007 from Andy Lerberg, will tell you the moosehead came with the store and that originally the rifle used to shoot the animal rested in its antlers. Not any more. Times have changed.

But not everything has changed at Lerberg’s. The original tongue-and-groove maple floor, tin ceiling, small-town-friendly atmosphere and more speak to the history of this 1914 brick building and to the long-standing grocery store owned by three generations of Lerbergs—Andrew, who started the business (in another building) in 1901, Arthur and Andy.

The original tongue-in-groove maple floor in front of the meat counter.

The produce department of Lerberg's Foods.

Ross began working at Lerberg’s in 1976 and, on a recent Sunday, three of his five kids—Brett, 18, Cassidy, 14, and Noah, 12—were all working at the store that anchors a corner of the main street in Ellendale, population around 600.

This long-time employee, now owner/manager, is clearly proud of his grocery store, which he claims is the oldest grocery store in Steele County and the second oldest in Minnesota.

That’s easy to believe when you walk upon the worn tongue-and-groove floor between the narrow aisles—of which there are three—pause to appreciate the tin ceiling, and listen to Ross. He’ll tell you about the tailor who had a shop in the store’s current-day upstairs office or about the eggs, ducks and chickens locals once traded for goods.

He’ll point out the store’s original coffee grinder resting on a shelf above the dairy section or direct your attention to the original wooden butcher block back in the meat department and still in use today (grandfathered in, he says).

Lerberg's Foods owner/manager Ross Sletten points out the original butcher block, which he still uses.

Cassidy Sletten, 14, checks out groceries on a Sunday morning.

He runs a business which, on a Sunday morning, teems with customers—folks picking up a few groceries after church, kids treating themselves to slushies from the machine at the front of the store, a 9-year-old purchasing several cartons of eggs for his mom, a guy buying three bags of water softener salt.

Located just the right distance (meaning too far) from Albert Lea, Austin, Owatonna and Mankato, the store draws customers who will shop locally rather than drive to regional hub cities, Ross says. He can offer competitive prices, he says, through his supplier, Nash Finch.

A street-side sign in Lerberg's front window thanks customers for their patronage.

Already, 12-year-old Noah Sletten is thinking about his future and maybe someday taking over the business. “I think it would be kind of fun to own something old,” Noah says, then smiles.

For someone like me, who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota and frequented a grocery store with tongue-and-groove floors, a tin ceiling, a candy counter (where I bought my favorite Bazooka bubblegum for a penny), a toy rack and groceries lining two aisles, discovering Lerberg’s Foods brought back so many memories. I couldn’t get enough of this old-time style store.

The only thing missing, I told 14-year-old check-out clerk Cassidy Sletten before leaving her family’s store, was the old-style screen door that would bang behind me. She gave me a puzzled look.

“Ask your dad,” I said, smiled, and walked out the door.

Candy at the end of a check-out counter tempts kids. There are peanuts for the adults.

And right before you walk out the door, you'll see this strategically-placed rack of toys.

A side view of the grocery store looking toward the main street through Ellendale. A customer is carrying a bag of water softener pellets, stacked in front of the pop machine. The slushie slurping kids had to temporarily give up their hang-out spot so he could grab three bags of salt.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Detroit Lakes January 17, 2019

 

IN THE WANING DAYS of October into the early days of November, Randy and I headed four hours northwest to Detroit Lakes, a Minnesota hotbed vacation spot in the summer and early fall. Not in late autumn. But friends offered us the opportunity to stay at a lakeside condo timeshare—something we’ve never done—and we accepted. It was exactly what we needed, to get away to a quiet spot in the off-season, to explore a place we’d never been, to take a break from the routine of life.

 

Randy, outside our lakeside condo.

 

A pair of trumpeter swans takes flight at sunset.

 

 

Despite the cold, we walked along the beach. We delighted in the water fowl, including elegant trumpeting Trumpeter Swans cavorting in the lake outside our condo. We appreciated the peace of not hearing a single emergency vehicle siren during our three-day stay.

 

I love thrift stores, this one in downtown Detroit Lakes.

 

We popped into the Historic Holmes Theatre in a former school building.

 

Local shops drew us in as did the arts center. We picked up fudge and double chocolate malted milk balls at the candy store.

On three evenings we dined out, a treat for us justified by the low cost of our three-night stay.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

We even participated in 1 ½ rounds of Trivia Night at a local pizza place. Randy endured an accusing glare from a local after reading a text message from our daughter during the competition. He was not cheating, proven by our mostly all incorrect answers.

 

The waterfall at Dunton Locks County Park south of Detroit Lakes.

 

An example of the beautiful pottery created by Mary Laabs at Dunton Locks Pottery.

 

Unfortunately, many of the sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes had already been moved indoors and out-of-sight for the winter.

 

We hiked in a county park and stopped at a pottery place and searched for elusive sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes.

Now, months out from that mini-vacation and already in the depths of a Minnesota winter, I remember those days in Detroit Lakes with fondness. And gratitude to those friends who gave us the opportunity to stay in a place on the lake where, bonus, I could even binge-watch HGTV. (By way of explanation, we get only a few TV channels at home and one is not HGTV.)

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Check back for more from Detroit Lakes.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poking around Jordan on a Saturday afternoon February 21, 2017

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

JORDAN, MINNESOTA is quintessential small town, the type of place where kids bike to the ballpark, propel skateboards down the middle of the street and walk the dog with friends.

A Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan's many historic buildings.

Empire Wok, a Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan’s many historic buildings.

It’s an historic town of aged buildings, a creekside restaurant dubbed The Feed Mill and a collection of gift, specialty and antique shops clustered within walking distance of each other.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Here curbside benches encourage sitting for a spell.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk with a U.S. map top-side. It would make for a unique end table. And, yes, the desk opens to storage inside.

Creative signage lures shoppers.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats, family-owned since 1893, are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

And the meat market sees a steady stream of customers.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Saturday afternoon my husband and I popped into this 1854 Minnesota River Valley community to poke around a few downtown shops. I appreciate the slower pace of Jordan, the Mayberry feel of this place with railroad tracks slicing through the business district. Here shopkeepers chat it up with customers in a welcoming way that is neighbor-friendly.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

The community has a good vibe. And although our stay was brief and we didn’t see everything Jordan offers, I got a good sense of this small town. Only months earlier I visited Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store located along U.S. Highway 169 on the outskirts of Jordan. That place buzzes with busyness and the rush of traffic on the four-lane, so different from the quiet of downtown.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I’ll return to Jordan, next time better prepared with an itinerary. Seven years have passed since my last stop in the heart of the community. I won’t let that much time lapse before my next visit.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite small town? I’d like to hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a close-up of a Jordan antique shop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling