IT’S THE TYPE OF BUSINESS any small town would welcome. Home-grown. Creative. Beautifully-designed. And busy, at least during my weekend stop.
When I entered Young Love Floral & Finds in downtown Plainview on a Saturday afternoon in mid-May, I paused and took in the scene before continuing up several stairs into this inviting space.
In this historic building, which housed the Plainview Hotel, then the First National Bank beginning in 1902 followed by Mallard Seeds, Shantelle Speedling has created a shop that honors the history and stories of this place. She worked in this space for 14 years, testing seed corn germination for the seed company.
Here, in a side room reserved for small celebrations and crafting parties/make-and-take events, local historic photos fill a well-used bulletin board pocked with holes. A bold, vintage Mallard Seeds sign accents the black-and-white and sepia photo collage.
Just around the corner, the in-tact original bank vault now serves as a walk-in storage space and a point of interest in this shop of florals and finds.
As a trained floral designer, this busy mother of three uses wood (yes, wood) and silk flowers to create stunning centerpieces, bouquets, wreaths and more. I observed a collection of her designs ready for a wedding. She also does casket sprays and florals for any occasion.
The “Finds” part of her business is equally as impressive. Home décor and other items, including cow prints which drew my farm girl eyes, are decidedly rural and artfully-displayed. Propped on aged furniture, hung on barn red doors, set atop stacked wooden boxes…
This place feels like it fits Plainview, a small farming community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County. Speedling took care to retain the historic rural character of the building, right down to keeping the original embossed ceiling, refreshing it with a new coat of paint.
There’s something to be said for a shopkeeper who values the past—here an historic building—enough to make it work in the present. Speedling has accomplished that. And now she’s imprinting her stories, her history, growing her business in a building where guests once stayed, merchants once banked and seeds once germinated.
GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.
This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.
And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.
Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.
Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.
The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…
If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.
I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.
Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…
TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.
WHENEVER I’M OUT AND ABOUT with my camera in a downtown business district, I notice details. In storefront windows. On doors. In building signage.
On a recent walk through Northfield, I spotted a typewritten sign at Bridge Square Barbers that caused me to erupt with laughter. And laughter is an expression of happiness that I need more than ever in this unsettled world.
I stood in front of that sign about business hours, read, laughed, then focused my lens.
I love, and appreciate, this humorous approach by a barber unknown to me. Rather than post a straightforward notice of hours, this businessman crafted a memorable message to humor customers should they find the door locked. That’s creative. Smart. Excellent customer relations.
However, I’m left wondering about “if all hell breaks out at home.” As a writer, my brain is drafting multiple stories, none of them probably true, but all prompted by the barber’s words. Does “all hell breaks out” involve children? Pets? Just life in general?
Whatever the story, this writer and photographer appreciates when business owners show their personalities in creative messages like these. I notice. And I laugh. Well done, Bridge Square Barbers!
This wasn’t just about picking up a bag of apples and then leaving. This was about lingering and engaging in a festive setting. This was about chatting with co-owner Tami Theis, who welcomed us with warmth. I felt like more than just a customer. I felt valued. Appreciated. As if I was talking to a friend. And that gives me reason to return (beyond just apples).
Tami and her husband, Kevin, are new owners of the orchard purchased from Dan Ableman. During this visit and a previous one, Tami expressed her appreciation for Dan’s knowledge and help as they learn the ins and outs of operating an orchard.
But the couple is also infusing new ideas into a family-owned and operated agri-entertainment business. Wagon rides. Apple slinging. A corn maze. Photo props. All were a part of their fall offerings. And now they’ve transitioned to Christmas.
As we entered the farmyard, I noticed immediately the Christmas trees fronting the poleshed style store. I had no idea Apple Creek sold trees. They do—Canadian fir at $10/foot—plus seasonal pots, wreaths and garlands.
And inside the boutique, which, yes, includes refrigeration units filled with bagged apples, there’s more. Clothing. Seasonal décor. Honey, Maple syrup. Gift boxes of local goods. And, on this Saturday, the fused glass art of Northfield artist Geralyn Thelen, who set up shop for the day. (She’s hosting a holiday open house from 10 am – 4 pm December 3-5 at her home studio, 2001 Lincoln Street South, Northfield. Guests are required to wear face masks. If you can’t attend, you are welcome to schedule an appointment. Call 507.581.1239.)
A life-sized animated Santa, standing near a Christmas tree and against a sleigh backdrop, adds to the holiday setting. The real Santa visits the orchard on Saturday, December 11, in a “Cocoa with Santa” by appointment event from 10 am – 4 pm. The cost is $20 for a 15-minute visit and photo with Santa. (Register on the website.)
Tami set up a Hot Cocoa Bar inside the store, with offerings of not only cocoa, but also coffee and homemade apple cider. I highly-recommend the cider. I stepped outside to sip my beverage while perusing the trees corralled in portable fencing and seasonal décor staged among straw bales. The cider, hand-pressed at the orchard and made with Tami’s special recipe (cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges), was probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I stepped back inside to tell her that. Eventually, the Theises will sell their cider with Tami’s recipe included.
And come June 2022, if all goes as planned with contractors, the couple will open The Blossom event venue. A place for gatherings—wedding receptions, holiday parties, corporate events, graduation parties (two Theis kids will be the first) and other celebrations.
In keeping with their agri-entertainment goals, the Theises are also adding a wiffle ball field, which Tami says her husband is especially excited about. They’ll also offer homemade pizza, donuts, caramels and that cider I savored so much. I look forward to trying some or all. I fully expect the Theis family to succeed in their endeavor. They are a team. Committed. Enthusiastic. Hard-working. Friendly. They bring something new to the Faribault area. Already, Apple Creek Orchard is drawing customers from all over, including the metro. The Theis family is providing experiences, which create memories and bond families. All in a beautiful rural setting.
I RECENTLY CELEBRATED a milestone birthday and I’ve never been happier to turn another year older. Gone is my absurdly high monthly health insurance premium of $1,245 (with a $4,250 deductible), replaced by affordable (and usable) Medicare coverage. And now I’m also eligible for the Pfizer booster vaccine. Yeah. Here’s to turning sixty-five.
I didn’t celebrate my birthday with great fanfare or the usual birthday treat of dining out. (Even though vaccinated, I continue to be cautious and careful in these days of COVID-19.) Rather, Randy and I hiked across the prairie and woods at River Bend Nature Center, a treasured place to connect with nature in Faribault.
Afterwards, I enjoyed a delicious brunch prepared by Randy. We dined al fresco on our patio at a card table draped in one of my many vintage tablecloths.
Then, in the afternoon, we spent time with our eldest daughter, her husband and our precious grandchildren at their home. I appreciated the grilled burger and vegetables with my favorite, cheesecake, for dessert. A wonderful way to celebrate.
The only thing that would have made my birthday even better would have been the presence of our second daughter, her husband and our son. But they called from southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana and that brought me joy.
Some friends and extended family also texted wishes. I got greeting cards, too.
Andy’s genuine passion for MEG’S Edible Landscapes showed in his pitch and his personality. He is a genuinely warm and engaging person. To summarize, Andy sells a mobile system for growing vegetables like peppers, basil, beans, lettuce, carrots and more in bags that you can easily pick up and move. It’s ideal, he said, for someone like me without garden space. If enthusiasm and knowledge make for business success, then Andy is certain to succeed.
His unexpected birthday gift of those smoked cayenne peppers touched me in a way that resonated deeply. In these challenging times, I needed that affirmation of an unexpected act of kindness. What a great way to begin my next year of life.
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.Little Town on the Prairie. Both are familiar to fans of author Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote books by those titles. But what about Love in the Prairie? Ah, not so familiar.
You’ll find Love in the Prairie outside B to Z Hardware Store. An oversized Sweethearts candy box. A Prison of Love. Spots to cuddle with your sweetheart on a sofa or bench. A kissing booth. Photo cut-outs to pretend you are Danny or Sandy from the musical Grease. Lots and lots of fun photo ops.
WHEN WE SHOP at the local hardware store, it’s typically to pick up necessities for a home repair. Like last Sunday, Randy ran downtown to Ace to purchase a toilet handle operating system. I can’t even count the number of times he’s replaced this as Faribault’s incredibly hard water corrodes the metal piece inside the tank. My apologies to all you plumbing knowledgeable people for that amateurish explanation. But it’s frustrating. This time Randy opted for plastic.
Ace carries so much more than plumbing and other basic hardware necessities. There’ s a Hallmark card shop inside the store. And a paint center. And everything you need for grilling, including the Big Green Egg, although Randy will never deviate from his charcoal-fired Weber. There are tools and slippers and novelty gift items and…
If we needed a Christmas tree, we could find that at the hardware store, too. Real trees lined a makeshift tree lot outside the front door when I stopped by on December 5. Currently all live trees, spruce tops, dogwood and porch pots are priced at 50 percent off. While supplies last. And, yes, we’ve been known to wait until just days before Christmas to purchase our tree. Not this year, though. Plus I’ve found my go-to source for Charlie Brown trees at Ken’s Christmas Trees.
As I walked away from Ace Hardware, I paused to photograph the blow-up Nativity scene above the store entry. I’ve seen Santas and snowmen and every other type of outdoor holiday inflatable, but never the Holy Family. How uplifting to view this little family staged there, in a place of honor, as customers hurried in and out of the hardware store.
IT WAS A NICE GESTURE of gratitude. The free wedge of apple dessert pizza boxed in Styrofoam with a note of thanks handwritten in marker atop the cover.
This thankfulness for our patronage expressed by Basilleo’s 2.0, a Faribault pizzeria, impressed me. These are tough times to be in the restaurant and bar business. But yet Tom and Connie, co-owners of this homegrown eatery, took the extra time and effort to connect with customers in a personal way.
Basilleo’s has a long history in my community, tracing back to 1960 when brothers Basil and Leo Burger opened the pizza place. They combined their first names to come up with the catchy business name. Basilleo’s has long been a favorite local source of homemade thin crust pizza. Spicy Italian sausage remains our family’s top choice.
Randy and I last dined at Basilleo’s with friends on a Sunday evening in early March, the day before Minnesota Governor Tim Walz closed bars and restaurants due to COVID-19. We didn’t know then that this would mark our last time eating inside a restaurant in 2020. Yes, the governor later re-opened bars and restaurants, but with limited capacity. We opted out of in-person dining, choosing to occasionally do take-out. Like last Saturday evening, when Randy picked up our ready-to-go Italian sausage pizza at Basilleo’s along with a complementary slice of apple or cherry dessert pizza.
When Tom and Connie conveyed their gratitude through a simple handwritten message and a free slice of dessert, they made an impression. Their small act of kindness shows they value their customers. And, in these days of COVID-19, I welcome such thoughtfulness.
MANY TIMES I’VE PASSEDthrough Kenyon, usually en route to visit family in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours distant. But many times also, this town of some 1,800 about a half hour east of Faribault has been my specific destination. Last Sunday afternoon on a drive to view the harvest and fall colors (before an unexpected snowstorm changed the landscape to winter), Randy aimed our van north out of Monkey Valley toward Kenyon just a few miles away.
We had no intention of stopping in Kenyon. But the passenger side window needed cleaning so Randy pulled into a corner service station and washed the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.) Then we continued down Minnesota State Highway 60, which runs through the heart of the business district. As luck would have it, I happened to look, just at the right time, at the Held Bus Service building. And there, in the front windows, I spotted a school-themed display. Photo-worthy, I thought, as I asked Randy to swing around the block and return to the bus building. He even pulled ahead so the van wouldn’t reflect in the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.)
Photographing the window art proved challenging given the reflections. But I was determined to do my best. Someone worked hard to craft and create these educational-themed displays that show the importance of the Kenyon-Wanamingo School in this community—right down to the Knights mascot, the happy bus driver in the red cap and the smiling students. Yes, by that time I’d noticed two separate window displays, one an historic classroom and the other themed to school buses.
As someone who grew up riding the bus for 12 years to schools in southwestern Minnesota, I understand the importance of bus drivers. Mine were Jeff and Harley. Great guys. Friendly. Kind. Competent. It’s not easy driving on rural roads during a Minnesota winter. Nor is it necessarily easy dealing with a bus full of kids.
But Jon Held, owner of Held Bus Service, loves kids. According to a 2016 KARE 11 TV feature on him, he is well-loved, too. He knows kids by name, greeting them daily before and after school (pre-COVID), often with hugs. He keeps a candy stash and one year even handed out his company’s signature red caps to some happy students.
That’s a snapshot of the backstory framing these window displays. These are the stories that define small towns like Kenyon as caring communities, more than simply some place to pass through en route to somewhere else.
WHEN MY GIRLS, now in their early 30s, were growing up, sticker books were all the rage. They filled mini books with stickers. Peel stickers from sheets of glossy paper and adhere them to blank pages. Horses. Kitties. And much more. Cute and bold Lisa Frank designs mostly in a vivid rainbow of hues, strong on pinks and purples.
My daughters loved paging through their sticker books. Stickers still hold universal appeal. For all ages. (The stickers of my era were lick-and-stick to scenes printed on pages of a sticker book.)
That segues to Minnesota Nice Enough, a Nisswa-based company that crafts weatherproof vinyl stickers that are not your kids’ mass-produced outsourced stickers. These are promoted as “made by real people who care about quality, art, beer, bicycles & dogs.” Now that appeals to me.
I first learned about this company during a September visit to Nisswa, a small tourist town located in Minnesota’s central lakes region. Randy and I were in the area, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin. One day, we ventured into nearby Nisswa to check out the many shops that define this town. Those businesses include Zaiser’s Gift Shop, billing itself as “serving the Nisswa lakes area since 1947 with the most kick-ass products this side of the Milky Way!”
Many stickers feature a decidedly northwoods Minnesota theme with buffalo plaid, Paul Bunyan, moose, pines, loons, canoes… Others highlight Minnesotans’ idiosyncrasies like calling pop “pop,” not soda. And calling hotdish “hotdish,” not casserole. And, as promised, beer gets some love in several stickers, including Minnesota and Wisconsin-shaped beer mugs. Yes, Wisconsin also gets lots of love from Minnesota Nice Enough. And, yes, you can purchase a Minnesota Nice Enough sticker, too.
But it was the oversized ALL WELCOME sticker in the front window of Zaiser’s that first grabbed my attention and led me to learn more about Minnesota Nice Enough (which also features products for adult, not kids’, eyes). That spotlight sticker proclaims that all are welcome. All cultures, beliefs, colors, sizes, ages and identities. And at a time when our nation is so divided, so filled with animosity toward one another, I appreciate this message. It gives me hope, uplifts and encourages me. Thank you, Minnesota Nice Enough.