Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Biancabella, books & bliss at Becky’s bookshop October 30, 2017

 

PRINCESS BIANCABELLA first drew me to the business along Milaca’s main drag. Stretched out atop carpet next to stacks of books in the front window display area, the calico cat appeared blissfully content. Not even my photographic efforts disturbed her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scene delighted me—this bookstore cat in one window, a vintage typewriter in another and a creative OPEN sign crafted from a book and propped outside Bexter Book & Copy.

 

 

It’s not often anymore that you find an independent bookstore, especially in a town the size of Milaca with not quite 3,000 residents. This shop, which opened about a year ago, anchors a corner of the downtown business district in an historic building. And it appears the owner, Rebecca Rittenour, is working hard to make her business a success. She not only sells new and used books, but also offers hometown copy services and engages her patrons via a Mystery Book Club, creative in-store displays and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I especially like her artistic vignettes that encourage folks to shop local. I didn’t speak much with Becky other than to greet her, ask for permission to photograph and praise her store. But I got the sense, both from wandering the bookshop and from reading the Bexter website and Facebook page, that she truly holds a passion for books and for sharing her love and knowledge with others. That’s always the benefit of shopping local—excellent customer service from a passionate shopkeeper.

 

 

 

 

Milaca is fortunate to have an independent bookstore with books tucked into open drawers, filed onto shelves and showcased in artful ways.

 

 

On my quick stop in town, this bookshop charmed me with its vivid chartreuse walls, homey character and resident princess cat.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite independent bookstore? If yes, what delights you and draws you to this bookshop?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Minnesota Faces: The butterfly-loving bookseller March 13, 2015

Portraits #11 & 12: Russell Mattson, purveyor of books

My first portrait of Russ, taken in October 2011.

My first portrait of Russell, taken in October 2011.

His eyes hold a certain depth of sadness that I can’t define. Or perhaps his eyes simply hold stories of hard times or too many good times, or wisdom that comes with aging.

Russell Mattson, St. Paul, Minnesota, native and owner of Chandler’s books in the Mississippi River town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, seems a free spirit, a character, a former hippie type.

I first met him in October 2011 at his cluttered bookstore along Stockholm’s main drag. I learned that he’s an amateur photographer, a candle maker, a car nut, a lover of Monarch butterflies and, clearly, a bibliophile.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Last fall I revisited Stockholm and Russell. I found him behind the counter of his book shop, the same blue print do-rag bowling his head, the same FUN METER button pinned to his apron.

Russell was still offering customers free milkweed seeds to maintain the Monarch population. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed, making the plant essential to the butterfly’s survival.

Personalities like this shopkeeper intrigue me for their individualism, their eccentricities, their uniqueness—all of which are synonyms really. The Russells of this world offer interesting portraits, interesting conversation, interesting studies in small town life.

I find a certain hope in meeting individuals like Russell who care about something as simple as Monarch butterflies.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My writing connection to a Fargo bookstore November 9, 2012

A snippet of the many bookshelves at Zandbroz Variety. So artful and colorful and inviting.

MY PURPOSE IN CHECKING OUT a downtown Fargo, North Dakota, bookstore/gift shop recently focused on a single reason—Lake Region Review.

I wanted to see this Minnesota literary journal on the shelves of Zandbroz Variety because, well, my poetry is published in volumes one and two. Recently-released LRR 2 features 34 pieces of writing by selected authors in Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas.

Lake Region Review 2, with wood print cover art by well-known Minnesota artist Charles Beck of Fergus Falls, nestles next to the first volume of LRR. Beck’s cover art is titled “Cardinals.”

Given that 430 fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry submissions were submitted to the Battle Lake-based Lake Region Writers Network for volume two, getting into the collection is an honor and accomplishment. I’m in the company of mighty fine writers, many of them with an impressive list of writing credentials.

I also happen to live in southeastern Minnesota, far, far away from most of the writers featured in LRR and also far away from events related to the release of the second volume.

The back room of Zandbroz Variety, site of readings, book club meetings and other events and gatherings.

Visiting Zandbroz Variety offered me an opportunity to connect with the Fargo bookstore which will host a Lake Region Review Two Reading Event at 2 p.m. Sunday, December 9. I didn’t know about the event when I visited Zandbroz and introduced myself. And when I photographed the delightful back room of Zandbroz, I was unaware LLR 2 contributors will soon be reading in this cozy and inviting space.

Artwork in Zandbroz Variety’s back room with a favorite quote of mine from the book, The Help.

It was pure coincidence that, two days later, I would receive an email from Luke Anderson, president of the LRWN inviting me and other LLR 2 writers to participate in the reading at Zandbroz. I wish I could, but a 300-mile (one-way) road trip to Fargo is not in my plans as I’ve been to that North Dakota city four times already since February. (My son attends North Dakota State University.) Gas, hotel and dining expenses add up.

Likewise, I couldn’t join other LRR 2 writers who recently read their works for a program to be aired November 30 – December 2 on nine western Minnesota radio stations from Worthington in the extreme southwest to Fergus Falls on the north.

So it goes. I’m not much anyway on public appearances, preferring to write rather than perform. But I’m learning, too, the value in reading poetry aloud to an audience, having done that thrice now.

Promoting is also part of this writing gig. And that, too, can be a challenge given my Minnesota predisposition not to call attention to myself.

However, I did inform the young man staffing Zandbroz Variety that I had poems in both volumes of Lake Region Review. “Perhaps you remember the first; I mentioned cow pee,” I told him. “And in the second, I mention beer.”

He laughed, considered for a moment and replied that “cow pee” sounded familiar to him. Maybe. Maybe not. But I expect he’ll remember me now.

The lines, the books, the setting…this a scene in the back reading room. Love the ambiance.

A close-up of the chair back in the photo above. I have no idea from what book these pages were pulled. But I’d place a literary chair like this in my home any day.

Jolts of color on a door in that welcoming back room.

A rug for sale in the variety section of Zandbroz where you will find an eclectic mix of funky and retro and otherwise interesting merchandise. This made me think of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

An enchanting Christmas display near the front of the store.

Outside a front door of Zandbroz, I found this lovely tile work. I apologize for the lack of exterior store photos. But a light mist was falling at the time and I was reluctant to pull out my camera. I also limited my interior shots as Zandbroz was busy, busy and other shoppers do not always appreciate someone aiming a camera at them.

FYI: To learn more about Lake Region Writers Network, click here to reach the writers’ group website.

To see where you can find copies of Lake Region Review, published in 2011 and 2012, click here. LRR 2 includes writing by the following: Maxine Adams, Luke Anderson, Joe Baker, Frances Ann Crowley, Holly Dowds, Cindy Fox, Yahya Frederickson, Susan Gilbert, Ruby Grove, Vinnie Hansen, Audrey Kletscher Helbling, Nancy Klepetka, Karla Klinger, Elisa Korentayer, Judy R. Korn, Ryan Kutter, Julie C. Larson, Kim Larson, Linda Frances Lein, Kathleen Lindstrom, Ethan Marxhausen, Linda Back McKay, Travis Moore, Kristine Price, Candace Simar, Doris Lueth Stengel, Liz Sweder, Francine Marie Tolf, Benet Tvedten and Kevin Zepper.

Click here to see where you can listen to readings from LRR 2 airing soon on nine western Minnesota radio stations.

Finally, click here to learn more about Zandbroz Vareity, founded by brothers Jeff and Greg Danz and with stores in Fargo (420 Broadway) and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Do you see how they came up with the clever name for their business?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Russell, the bookseller of Stockholm October 25, 2011

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Bookseller Russell Mattson in his shop.

The old-fashioned screen door entry to Chandler's Books, Curios.

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU to Russell Mattson, purveyor of new and used books, amateur photographer, sometime candle maker, car nut and lover of Monarch butterflies.

I met him on a recent Monday afternoon in Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

We struck up a conversation in his Chandler’s Books, Curios, in this Mississippi River village of 89 founded in 1851 and dubbed the oldest Swedish settlement in western Wisconsin.

You’ll find a Swedish import shop here, run by the Norwegian Ingebretsens, and an array of other quaint shops and eateries and more in this charming small town along Wisconsin State Highway 35 south of Prescott, or southeast of Red Wing, if you’re from Minnesota, like me.

Russ originally hails from St. Paul; he’s lived in Stockholm for 38 years. For 31 years, he made candles at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival before retiring in 2003. His store, once called Candles and Lanterns, previously catered candles until that market deflated.

He still makes candles now and then. He also collects swamp milkweed seed to give away in his shop, encouraging others to grow milkweed as food for Monarch butterflies.

But mostly, Russ focuses on keeping the bookshelves stocked in this cramped, don’t-meet-another-customer-between-the-shelves bookstore.

You'll find lots of book, old vinyls and other curiosities, but not much wiggle room, in Russ' shop.

If you're seeking vintage used books, you'll find them here.

The bookshelves stretch nearly to the original tin ceiling in Russ' store.

Ask Russ what sells best and he’ll pause before pointing to the rack of car books and then pulling out photos of vintage cars he once drove, wishes he still owned.

That leads him to step outside to a display table and show off the photos he’s taken, some dating back decades. Of particular interest is a blurry black-and-white image of a locomotive that looks more painting than photo.

Russ took the picture of the Canadian National in northern Minnesota in 1955 when he was only 14. He’s pretty proud of the photo. Not because it’s the best image he’s ever taken. But because of how he took the shot. He snapped the photo with his Baby Brownie by placing binoculars in front of the camera lens.

All this I learned from Russell Mattson, purveyor of books, when I asked to take his photo on a Monday afternoon in October in Stockholm.

A front window of the bookstore features an eclectic mix of merchandise.

If you need swamp milkweed seed, you'll find it in a jar on the store counter. Help yourself. It's free.

Or perhaps you need a "new" phone. Russ has one for sale "from the slow old days."

A collection of buttons inside an open drawer in the bookstore.

CHECK BACK for more photos from Stockholm, not Russ, and other Mississippi River towns in future posts.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling