Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part II from La Crosse: The impressive Pearl Street Books March 23, 2017

The tiled entry to Pearl Street Books reveals its history as the home of Arenz Shoe Company, founded in La Crosse and once housed at 323 – 327 Pearl Street. The La Crosse shoe store once boasted eight stores in Wisconsin and Iowa. Today only one, a fifth generation family-owned Arenz Shoes, remains open in nearby Sparta, Wisconsin. 

 

FIRST I NOTICED the sprawling oak and the organic shoe store message of Quality to the Roots embedded in the entry way tile.

 

 

Then I glanced to the window display and the heart shaped note of appreciation purposely placed among earthy books.

 

 

Both drew me inside Pearl Street Books as if I really need anything to get me inside a bookstore. I don’t.

 

An overview of the bookstore taken from the second floor and looking toward the front.

 

Ladders slide along the built-in towering shelves allowing access to the books.

 

Chairs scattered between shelves invite shoppers to sit and peruse books.

 

But I’ve never been in a book shop like Pearl Street Books in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. I walked inside and then just stood there for a minute taking in the scene before me.

 

The wood floor lends a signature vintage look to Pearl Street Books.

 

A Minnesota mom snapped a photo of her daughter and I asked to do likewise. Shortly thereafter the daughter climbed much higher and was kindly asked to come down for safety reasons.

 

This inviting section houses kids’ books, new and used.

 

From the worn wood floor that speaks of age and history to the ladders that slide along side shelves packed with books to the massive quantity of books, this place impresses. The shopkeeper working the day I visited said 55,000 volumes fill this store. Now I don’t know how that compares to your average mass market book retailer. But for an indie bookstore, I’d guess that’s a significant number beyond the norm.

 

Just another overview from upstairs.

 

This beautiful stairway leads to the upper floors, including a lounge space on the second floor for book groups or just a spot to hang out.

 

You could spend hours here…

 

Pearl Street Books, on its Facebook page, bills itself as a specialty used, new, collectible and antique bookstore that “can procure almost anything.”

 

My husband purchased this updated adult version of the Dick and Jane books.

 

 

Pearl Street Books offers some additional merchandise such as these bumper stickers.

 

Based on the extensive inventory, I believe that statement. And, yes, I bought a book and so did my husband.

TELL ME: Have you ever visited Pearl Street Books or a similar bookstore?

FYI: Please check back for more stories as I continue my series from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Click here to read my first story.

© 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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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

 

About those creepy clowns October 14, 2016

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POKING AROUND MS. MAC’S ANTIQUES in Janesville on a recent Friday afternoon, I came across clowns nestled in a basket. There was nothing frightening about them. They’re just dolls crafted from fabric—some homemade, others manufactured.

But seeing them on display got me thinking about the clown sightings around the country. Last Saturday evening a clown costumed 15-year-old boy was arrested in Crookston, Minnesota, for allegedly scaring people with a butcher knife. All across the U.S., creepy clowns are showing up in communities, creating fear and sometimes chaos.

Even McDonalds has been impacted. The fast food chain is limiting appearances by Ronald McDonald, apparently thinking he best keep a low profile until this whole clown thing blows over.

 

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In my southern Minnesota community, police are being proactive, issuing this statement last week on the Faribault Police Department Facebook page:

We have now gotten a couple of calls about clowns around town. These are actually young people dressed as scary / crazy / kooky clowns. We have no information to indicate they pose a threat to anyone locally, other than being creepy.

The clown craze is the latest attempt at social media influenced hysteria. There have been several arrests around the country in recent days for making terroristic threats and disrupting public school functions.

If you see, or are concerned about, clowns hanging around, please call us and we will gladly check them out.

 

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

I photographed this clown Halloween mask last October at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

In neighboring Kenyon, noted Police Chief Lee Sjolander isn’t taking things quite as seriously. If you follow his department’s Facebook page, you know that Sjolander thinks, writes and acts outside the box. Here’s the Chief’s take on the clown issue:

I was asked by a parent for my opinion on their young child dressing up as a clown this Halloween. I was told this has been planned for a while and I also know our Kenyon Park & Rec. are planning a clown theme for their Halloween event as well.

Here is my opinion. Dress as a clown if you like, and here is why…

We live in a small town, we know almost everyone, and I’m not one to fall into conspiracy theories, rumormongering, fear, or hoaxes. We have had no “clown sightings” and if we do, we will follow up on them just like we would any other call.

I’m also a huge supporter of common sense. Now a young child dressed as a clown walking with their parents or friends holding a bag of candy is way different than an adult dressed as a clown carrying a weapon and scaring people. That’s like someone dressing as a deer and walking through the woods during deer season… Not the best thought out plan and that can lead to someone getting hurt.

When you say “clown” in Kenyon, most people think of Frank and Bob, who are two of the most loved and respected shriner clowns you could ever meet, and they are local residents.

So there you have it. My opinion. I think I’ll dress as a small town cop again this year, like I do every year…

Please use good judgment, common sense, and if you have any questions or concerns this Halloween, please feel free to contact us.

 

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac's Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It's a 1940s balloon machine.

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac’s Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It’s a 1940s balloon machine.

 

I don’t understand this whole clown thing. I don’t understand why anyone considers it a good idea to dress as a clown for the purpose of scaring, threatening and/or harming people. There’s nothing funny about this. Nothing at all.

Clowns are supposed to make us smile, make us laugh, bring us joy. They are not meant to terrorize.

Legitimate clowns are, as Chief Sjolander writes, to be loved and respected.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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The basement also provides space for additional treasures.

 

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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.

 

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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.

BONUS PHOTOS:

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Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

 

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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

 

Vending rural & rustic in Zumbro Falls October 7, 2016

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TIS THE SEASON OF FALL occasional sales.

 

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Although I haven’t shopped one yet, I showed up a day early for The Rustic Hinge Fall Gathering in Zumbro Falls. Not on purpose. My husband and I were on a day trip, no specific destination in mind, when we happened upon a yard full of stuff in the heart of this small southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

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Stuff would be defined as collectibles, antiques, primitives and such all with a definitive rural and rustic theme.

 

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My disappointment rated high when I inquired and learned the sale opened the next day. And nope, no early shopping. Except window shopping, minus the windows. Too bad for me.

 

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I glimpsed new, aged, repurposed and other merchandise in the Hinge’s outdoor lot across the street from a building presumably packed with lots more.

 

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You have three more days to shop this occasional sale. That would be today (Friday) from 1 – 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

You can’t miss the sale. Downtown Zumbro Falls is only a few blocks long.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite occasional sale that you shop?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hot Sam’s Part II: Like an I Spy book August 16, 2016

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One of several beach themed scenes at Hot Sam's.

One of several beach/water-themed scenes at Hot Sam’s.

IT’S EASY TO BECOME distracted by the showy scenes that target your attention at Hot Sam’s Antiques, a multi-faceted attraction in rural Lakeville. There’s so much to take in, to enjoy, to photograph in this wooded site next to a pond.

Grandma in her rocking chair was just sitting there on the ground under the trees.

Grandma in her rocking chair is just sitting there on the ground under the trees.

I’ve learned during two visits here to slow down and look, really look. Hot Sam’s is like stepping into the pages of an I Spy book. Turn the pages (walk) too fast and you’ll miss an object, a find, a work of art, a whatever. To see everything that defines this place which defies defining, you need to focus.

The road into Hot Sam's is lined with treasurers.

The road into Hot Sam’s is lined with treasures.

Art on the fence lining the driveway.

Art on the fence lining the driveway.

More miscellaneous treasures on the fence.

More miscellaneous treasures on the fence.

That visual concentration starts at the gate with a hodgepodge collection of objects decorating a fence alongside the gravel driveway.

There's parking up by the log cabin/antique & collectibles shop.

There’s parking up by the log cabin/antique & collectibles shop. Explore inside and out.

The hard to miss Hardware Hank.

The hard to miss ginormous Hardware Hank.

Don't miss the crashed plane on the other side of the pond.

Don’t miss the crashed plane on the other side of the pond.

Park your vehicle and explore with the eye of a treasure hunter and a riddle solver. Only then, with an I Spy attitude, can you truly appreciate everything that is Hot Sam’s.

BONUS PHOTOS:

One of my favorite works of art at Hot Sam's.

One of my favorite works of art at Hot Sam’s.

No lamb and lion...

An odd pairing of sculptures.

For the Popeye fans.

For the Popeye fans.

An adorable woodcarving for sale.

An adorable woodcarving for sale.

Details matters, like the suitcases atop the cab.

Details matters, like the suitcases atop the taxi cab.

Just hanging out...

Just hanging out…

Heed the signs and don't explore the restricted area.

Heed the sign and don’t explore the restricted area.

FYI: Click here to read my first in this two-part series about Hot Sam’s Antiques.

Note that you must check in with Kathy or Jake before taking photos as a photo fee applies.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling