Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inside Grizzly Canyon in downtown Sleepy Eye August 22, 2019

Grizzly Canyon Antiques & Collectibles in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.


GRIZZLY CANYON. The name doesn’t really fit Sleepy Eye, a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. There are no grizzly bears, or canyons, here. But the business name seems to fit Montana Mielke, the young man who owns Grizzly Canyon Antiques and Collectibles on Sleepy Eye’s main drag.


A local stops in to chat and play cards with Montana Mielke, left.


With a head of thick curly hair, a full beard and a stout build, his appearance suggests a rugged outdoorsman. This is all conjecture on my part. I never asked about his interests or the stories behind his personal and business names.



Not that either matters. He’s a personable guy, son of Brent Mielke who owns Zooman’s Wacky World of Fun across the street next to Sleepy Eye Stained Glass. His dad does his thing, he does his, Montana noted as we chatted.



As antique shops go, Grizzly Canyon is neat, orderly and not at all stuffed. I appreciate that. I often feel overwhelmed with too many antiques and collectibles cramming most antique stores.



While browsing and photographing some of the merchandise, with Montana’s OK, I noticed one particularly unusual piece—a Cape Canaveral U.S. Air Force Missile Test Center toy replica.





But I also spotted what I would expect to find in Sleepy Eye—items featuring Chief Sleepy Eye, the Dakota leader after whom this town is named.





Names. There’s that word again. Somehow Grizzy Canyon fits this narrow store with the Beware of Rattlesnakes poster and the wide-mouthed striking rattlesnake flashing its fangs inside a glass case.



FYI: Grizzly Canyon is open from 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Topiaries & a trading post in Pillager August 20, 2018


PILLAGER TRADING POST and Antiques. There’s something about the name that holds history. History of a place, that place being the small town of Pillager some 10 miles southwest of Brainerd in central Minnesota



The overflow building is interesting with a beautiful stone fireplace.




Antiques pack the overflow building.


Randy and I stopped there briefly last September while heading north to Park Rapids for a book release party. With minimal time, we didn’t poke around this town of several hundred. Just checked out the Trading Post and the business’ second building across the street. And a nearby green space.




More merchandise in a side wing of the Trading Post.


The open space featured topiaries ringed by homemade wooden benches. An odd contrast of modern natural art to the vintage finds within the antique shop. A city park perhaps? I left town without an answer. Sometimes a bit of mystery adds to the allure of a place like Pillager.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



This & that from my tour of downtown Sleepy Eye, Part IV March 13, 2018

Editor’s note: Today’s post concludes my four-part series from downtown Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota. This final photo essay presents a mishmash of images. Enjoy.


The Sleepy Eye Farmers Elevator stands as a visual reminder of this area’s strong farming base. However, the elevator has not been used since 2009 and was purchased by a private party from Central Region Cooperative just a year ago.


An Indian chief, spotted in a storefront window, connects visually to the town’s namesake, Chief Sleepy Eyes.


I took my camera inside K & J Antiques & Collectibles where shopkeeper Kurk Kramer graciously allowed me to take photos.


Red Wing crocks and a beautiful vintage tile floor drew my attention in this former bakery turned antique shop.


Dakota Chief Sleepy Eyes is the town’s namesake. Kurk Kramer pulled this A.J. Pietrus & Sons vintage promo from a display case. He has plenty of Sleepy Eye collectibles for sale.


Native American collectibles are prominently displayed in this town named after a Dakota chief. This doll is offered for sale at K & J Antiques.


Sleepy Eye has a strong faith community with St. Mary’s Catholic Church and churches of other denominations. These figurines are shelved at K & J Antiques.


This photo shows a corner of a promo for the Orchid Inn, once a fine dining, banquet and dance hall in Sleepy Eye. These vintage paper pieces are for sale at K & J Antiques. The promo boasts (in part): “Of prime importance is the fact that while conveniently located, the Inn does provide the host with a site free of metropolitan distractions–a vital factor in group control.” It’s an interesting piece of literature for a former regional gathering place. Plans call for the property to become a STEM learning center with a focus on agriculture.


On a stalwart former bank building, I noticed this vintage alarm.


On another building I spotted this rusted mail slot. It looks like it’s been there awhile, as has the door.


I notice details, including this Minion towel hanging in a second floor window in an historic building. Made me laugh.


If you are interested in reading past posts written about Sleepy Eye through the years, please type Sleepy Eye into my blog search engine. Note that Sleepy Eye is much more than I presented in this four-part series. These posts are a result of about an hour spent walking through the downtown area before I had to be on my way. Plan your own trip to explore this community in Brown County, Minnesota. Click here to visit the Sleepy Eye Chamber of Commerce & CVB site for more information. 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Music & merchandise at Flour Sack Antiques January 17, 2018

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THIS MARKED A FIRST for me, hearing accordion music inside an antique shop. I rather enjoyed the rhythm of songs as I eased around corners, dipped into rooms and keyed in on merchandise inside Flour Sack Antiques just south of Pequot Lakes.







While I don’t recall the songs performed during my mid-September stop here, I remember how fitting the music for a place brimming with all things aged, all things vintage.







After you visit a few antique shops, they often blend into a sameness of overstocked shelves in too tight quarters. But the Flour Sack I’ll remember for the two musicians squeezing music from boxes while seated behind the front counter.



And I’ll remember, too, the handwritten receipt penned by the male accordion player/shopkeeper.



Joy comes in music. And joy comes in memorable nuances of a place like the Flour Sack.



FYI: Flour Sack Antiques is located along Minnesota State Highway 371 at its intersection with County Road 168 two miles south of Pequot Lakes in Central Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The antique shop next to The Van Man November 29, 2017


Next to Bay Lake Antiques, used cars, trucks, and a few vans, cram a fenced lot bannered with signs like WORKING MANS TRUCKS, THE VAN MAN, TRUCKS AND CARS FOR THE WORKING MAN.



But what if you’re a woman?



I suppose you’re still welcome. Not that I was in the market for a different vehicle, being on vacation and all. Yet, as Randy turned our aging van off Minnesota State Highway 18 between Garrison and Brainerd, I considered the potential alienation of female customers via that marketing strategy.



After my initial surprise and after taking a few photos, I focused on the neighboring antique shop and the content therein.





The gracious proprietor accepted my request to take photos as I poked around the main shop, in several stand-alone units and in a roofed wagon jammed with merchandise.





I found several priced-right rural-themed vintage trays that interested me, but passed on them because of their condition. More and more I can talk myself out of a purchase by repeating, I don’t really need more stuff.




Yet, that doesn’t keep me from antique shops, from thrift stores and such that more and more these days hold the treasure of memories.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Photo shopping in New Prague May 2, 2017

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A front window at Vintique in downtown New Prague. The shop specializes in vintage Czech jewelry and in vinyl records.

A front window at Vintique in downtown New Prague. The shop specializes in vintage Czech jewelry and in vinyl records.


WHEN I SHOP, it’s sometimes with my camera. I’m shopping for photo ops. Most of the time shopkeepers are OK with me photographing inside their businesses as they recognize the value of media exposure. But occasionally I encounter a resistant merchant. Not that that happened while snapshotting these scenes. I photographed outside the shops, thus no permission was needed in a publicly visible place.


It was the mannquin peeking from behind the sign that prompted this photo at Vintique.

It was the mannequin peeking from behind the sign that prompted this photo at Vintique.


I just liked what I saw in the windows of the antique and music shops in downtown New Prague.


I mean, how fun would it be to play one of these guitars. Yes, I pumped up the color saturation a tad because, well, I just could. Call it artistic license.

In a music store window…


I mean, how fun would it be to play one of these guitars? I pumped up the color saturation a tad because, well, I can. Call it artistic license while photo shopping.

TELL ME: Do you notice window displays? What appeals to you in a display?

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Westward, ho: A surprising discovery at the Cannon Mall March 16, 2017


I’VE SHOPPED MANY ANTIQUE stores and malls. But this is a first: an 1840 Conestoga wagon for sale. Not to be confused with a covered wagon, this heavy-duty wagon hails from the Conestoga River region of Pennsylvania.


Beautiful lighting marks Thora Mae’s inside the Cannon Mall.


Inside the Cannon Mall, which houses about a half-dozen businesses.


Storefront windows to Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures, 31284 64th Avenue Path, Cannon Falls.


If not for my husband noticing a fabric Antiques sign fluttering in the breeze along the highway, we would have missed this rare find inside the Cannon Mall in Cannon Falls. We didn’t even know the mall existed and we’ve visited this southeastern Minnesota community numerous times.


Vintage and other signage directs shoppers to Thora Mae’s.


Thora Mae’s has lots of vintage signage, most of it rural, for sale.


Another sign at Thora Mae’s…


But there is was, hidden from our view and housing a hardware store, Chinese restaurant, dollar store, an occasional shop and Thora Mae’s Timeless Treasures. This is one antique shop worth your visit. It’s bright, well-organized and filled with an abundance of yesteryear merchandise.



Given our late arrival shortly before closing on a Saturday afternoon, Randy and I had minimal time to poke around. And I spent some of that precious shopping time focused on the Conestoga wagon. Signage reveals the wagon traveled four times along the Oregon Trail and was used on the set of the TV western “Wagon Train.” That series ran from 1957 – 1965.



Dr. Joseph Link Jr. donated the wagon to the Hamilton County Park District in, I believe, the Cincinnati area in 1975. I couldn’t access online info to learn more during a quick search.


There’s even a western theme in a portion of this Thora Mae’s window display.


Now, if you’re my Baby Boomer age, you grew up watching and re-enacting westerns and appreciate anything that jolts those childhood memories. Right now I’m thinking straw cowboy hats, cap guns, stick horses and a red wagon, aka an improvised covered wagon.



For $6,000, I could have the real deal, the real experience and a genuine piece of early American history.



TELL ME: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever seen for sale at an antique shop?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The artsy allure of a Jordan antique shop February 22, 2017

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I’M DRAWN TO ANTIQUE SHOPS. Not necessarily because I’m scouting for an antique or collectible. Rather, the history, the art, the nostalgia, the connection to childhood memories draw me inside.

In an antique shop I find a certain comfort remembering days past, of simpler times, of stories, of the saving of an object that once meant something to someone.




On a recent stop in the Minnesota river town of Jordan, I explored several antique and specialty shops, including LB Antiques along Water Street in the heart of downtown. Natural light poured through the lengthy front windows, adding warmth to a space that would work well as an art gallery. I always appreciate antiques grouped artfully in uncluttered settings.

Within LB Antiques, I saw the work of an artistic shopkeeper.




I delighted in the graceful curve of an unadorned water pitcher symmetrically balanced between two ornate angel candle holders.




Tucked into a mostly unseen floor space, a vintage clown graphic grabbed my attention. I’ve always appreciated graphics, a nod to my days working as a newspaper reporter, photographer and occasional page designer.




On a shelf, the contrast of utilitarian textured metal pots created visual interest against signage in bold hues of yellow, orange, red and pink.




Likewise, a fabric banner advertising the 1967 Saint Paul Winter Carnival contrasted with the day—an exceptionally warm February afternoon of temps reaching near 60 degrees.




My eyes were drawn, too, to a beer bottle from Ernst Fleckenstein Brewery, a long ago brewery in Faribault. I alerted a local collector to this mint condition bottle with the lovely gold-edged type face.




Even the block letters of a hand-printed sign soliciting merchandise caused me to pause and appreciate.




In a back room, albums—two for $1—were stacked on tables, awaiting anyone willing to take the time to sort through them. For a collector of vinyl, this would equal striking a jackpot.




That’s the thing about antique shops. What I might care about, another shopper would find of no interest. And vice versa. Our pasts shape our interests. And nowhere does that seem more evident than inside an antique shop.

TELL ME: Do you browse antique shops? Why? What draws you inside?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Janesville: Discovering Ms. Mac’s Antiques October 13, 2016



ACROSS FROM THE OLD GRAIN ELEVATOR, in the solid brick building that once housed a bank, Ms. Mac’s Antiques anchors a corner of downtown Janesville.




I was delighted when, last Friday afternoon, the OPEN flag fluttered from a post outside this southeastern Minnesota business.




My expectations were not particularly high. But, surprise. I stepped into a shop so skillfully and artfully designed that it could be featured in the pages of a national magazine like CountryLiving.






My favorite piece in the entire shop because this statue reminds me of me as a young girl.

My favorite piece in the entire shop because this statue reminds me of me as a young girl.


For a few moments I just stood there, taking in the vignettes displaying a plethora of collectible, vintage, antique, architectural salvage and other merchandise.


Ms. Mac's signature crow sales tag.

Ms. Mac’s signature crow sales tag.


And then, after a quick perusal of the front ground level section of Ms. Mac’s, I introduced myself as a blogger to the man behind the counter. He’s Ron Hardeman, known as Mr. Mac in this family-owned business. Susie McConville is Ms. Mac, the talented designer. And the couple’s daughter, Jessica Oberpriller, is Ms. Mac, too. She runs a second shop, Ms. Mac’s, too, in Carver.


The picket fence mimics the shape of the old grain elevator across the street.

A section of picket fence inside the shop mimics the shape of the old grain elevator across the street.


While Susie still works full-time as a clinic manager in nearby Mankato, Ron runs the shop solo weekdays. He quickly obliged my request to photograph Ms. Mac’s Antiques. As we chatted, I learned that the couple, who live in Mankato, fell in love with the old bank building. I can see why. It has character with worn wooden floors, high ceilings, nooks and generous light pouring in through an abundance of windows.


There's lots of merchandise in the basement.

There’s lots of merchandise in the basement.






The basement also provides space for additional treasures.




Still, even a good bones appealing historic building does not make the shop. An eye and hand for displaying merchandise do. And Susie possesses both. Plus, a good strong business sense, connections and networking also make this business work. Ms. Mac’s customer base stretches across the U.S. with antique dealers coming to this small Minnesota farming community to find merchandise they can’t find in their locales.




As I poked around, I assessed that Ms. Mac’s offers an eclectic mix of unique merchandise not typically found in Minnesota antique shops I’ve visited. And, no, the Hamm’s beer bear is not for sale.






Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.







Sitting on the front counter, this Scripto service station is being used and is not for sale.

Sitting on the front counter, this Scripto service station is being used and is not for sale.


Even the OPEN sign on the front door is creatively appealing.

Even the OPEN sign on the front door is creatively appealing.


FYI: Ms. Mac’s Antiques is open from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part III: Feelin’ groovy in St. Charles November 20, 2015

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

VINTAGE TREASURES AND HOME DECOR read the vivid yellow sign propped against a building in downtown St. Charles. That was enough to draw my husband and me into this newly-opened shop, relocated here from Byron.

Posted, but not for sale.

Posted, but not for sale.

But before I show you some of the merchandise, let’s discuss that word vintage. What defines vintage? I turned to online dictionaries to find synonyms like outdated, old-fashioned and retro. I choose retro. That seems most applicable to the merchandise from my era that captivated me at Vintage Treasures. Groovy.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

You can say all you want about the 60s and 70s, about hippies and Woodstock and peace marches and tie-dyed and psychedelic fashion. But it really was a memorable period in our nation’s history, a time when young people began to question the establishment and the choices made. Not that previous generations didn’t speak up. But the volume seemed louder, the voices more distinct, the opinions shouted in music and fashion and protests.

These berets (or tams) were popular

I remember crocheted berets (or tams) similar to this from the 60s and 70s.

Personally, I was a shy teen coming of age in a rural area, far removed geographically from the unrest of the 60s and 70s. But I still cared. I kept up on current events, listened to rock-and-roll on KDWB, wore too-short skirts and flashed the peace sign.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

So when I discovered a section of retro merchandise inside Vintage Treasures, I flashbacked some 40 years. This was of my generation. I didn’t need the retro tin Peace and Love trays I purchased for $2 each. But I bought them anyway and would have liked a third, except shop owner Laurie Rucker had already sold the others.

Elvis was a little before my time.

Elvis was a little before my time.

I’m thinking it would be fun sometime to host a 60s and 70s party. Wear tie-dye. Burn incense. Dip cubed bread into a cheese-filled fondue pot. Or maybe fruit into chocolate. Play some Beatles or Chicago. Serve beverages on those trays. Rock it out.

Thoughts? On the definition of vintage? The 60s and 70s?

BONUS PHOTOS: Yes, Vintage Treasures and Home Decor includes more than hippie era merchandise and here’s a sampling.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

The toy section.

The toy section.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

FYI: Click here and here to read two previous posts I published in this three-part series from an early September stop in St. Charles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling