DECIDEDLY NONTROPICAL MINNESOTA seems an unlikely place to find wild or captive flamingos. And it is…with the exception of the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley and Como Park Zoo in St. Paul and their resident flamingos. While those two zoos are not all that far from Faribault, we have our own flock right here. Not real, of course, but fake flamingos, which are good enough for me in the midst of a particularly long and snowy Minnesota winter.
In the storefront window of Fashions on Central, a fashionably-dressed headless mannequin grips the leashes of five plastic flamingos wading in a sea of gauzy fabric. With two fish among them and a starfish to the far left, I recognize this as a tropical scene. Yet my imaginative snowbanked mind drifts to snowdrifts enveloping those warm weather birds.
Enough of that thinking.
I appreciate the creative efforts at Fashions on Central, a women’s clothing store owned and operated by Buckham West. Proceeds from the sales of gently-used clothing, shoes and accessories go directly back to the local senior center. I love this environmentally-friendly mission of recycling donated, used clothing. I’ve shopped here and, in fact, found a like-new gray wool pea coat for a bargain $7. It’s kept me warm for multiple Minnesota winters already.
While I’m not in the market for beach clothes like those worn by the store-front mannequin, I know others may be as they plan spring break vacations. No matter, this tropical scene gives me a visual respite. If I focus hard enough and long enough, I can imagine myself ocean-side, hot sun warming my skin, leis layered around my sweaty neck, fish swimming, flamingos flaunting.
And then, if I walk several blocks south from Fashions on Central to Division Street and aim straight ahead rather than turn right to Buckham West, I can escape, too. Inside Buckham Memorial Library, books set in tropical locations await me. Yes, there’s always a way to flee winter in Minnesota, even when you can’t leave.
ONCE UPON A TIME, Faribault was home to bookstores, the first inside the mall, the second downtown on Central Avenue. Both closed years ago. But soon we’ll have a bookshop back in town, located in the former Dandelet Jewelry store, right next to the corner building that once housed Central Avenue Books.
This new as yet unnamed bookstore, though, will be decidedly different. The bookshop, a project of Rice County Area United Way, aims to do more than simply provide the community with a place to purchase gently-used books. It will also become a welcoming community gathering space, according to United Way Executive Director Elizabeth Child. She envisions a colorful children’s area in the back of the store where kids can mingle and read. She envisions adults dropping in, coffee in hand, to browse bookshelves and engage in conversation. She envisions local art displayed and perhaps events featuring artists and writers.
A sense of community involvement defines the vision for this used bookshop. Child and her board of directors are open to ideas and possibilities and are actively seeking community input. They want this gathering place to reflect Faribault’s multi-cultural population; to add value to the downtown; to promote literacy via access to books; to inspire people to read; and to increase the United Way’s visibility in Faribault. The United Way currently has an office in Northfield following the merging of the Faribault and Northfield United Ways into a county-wide entity in 2019.
A bookstore fits within that mission with a focus on literacy, bringing people together and providing affordable books. The United Way is already collecting books, with an emphasis on “gently-used” in all genres. No textbooks, encyclopedias, business or outdated books needed.
Planning and work continue on the bookstore with an anticipated spring opening at 227 Central Avenue North, hours to be determined. The 1882 building, which is in Faribault’s Historic Commercial District and on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of 13 purchased by a local investment group in an effort to revitalize downtown. Originally, the structure housed Dandelet Dry Goods. It became a jewelry store and watch repair business in 1925 with the Dandelet family modernizing the original Italianate facade in the Art Deco style during the 1930s. Child noted the vacant building retains Art Deco elements inside, including a chandelier. Built-in shelves, which once displayed jewelry, remain. Those will be repurposed for books as the United Way readies the space with mostly cosmetic changes like painting, adding display tables and more. A first floor bathroom will be installed. Any exterior changes/improvements will be made by the building’s owners.
Volunteers will run the bookshop with United Way board member Dave Campbell overseeing the operation. There’s already a sense of excitement within the community about the bookstore, Child said. She expects that interest to grow once the shop opens.
Child’s efforts to open a United Way bookstore began seven months ago in a most unexpected way—in a conversation during a three-hour ride from North Carolina to the Atlanta airport. Her friend Florence, whom she first connected with via an online pandemic-inspired poetry group, mentioned how much she enjoyed volunteering in her small town nonprofit bookstore. That proved an enlightening moment for Child, who took the nonprofit bookstore idea and ran with it…to her board. And now, in a few months, Faribault will have a new, welcoming place to gather, a place to buy gently-used books, to engage in conversation, to connect as community.
FYI: If you have gently-used books to donate, contact Dave Campbell at 507-210-4066 or email him at Davec1953 at gmail.com
LONG BEFORE SHOPPING MALLS, downtown Faribault had everything…Fleckenstein’s Dry Goods, as an example, sold many household necessities like sewing machines, hats, cloth, and ready-to-wear clothing.
That information printed on an historic-themed bench in downtown Faribault references an iconic building that has stood since 1884 at 220 Central Avenue North. Today that impressive brick structure with signature green trim is on the market for $679,000. It’s among many aged buildings that have been renovated and restored through the years, defining downtown Faribault as architecturally and historically appealing.
Many times, I’ve photographed the long ago mercantile owned by Frederick Fleckenstein. In 2017, my image of a Faribault Main Street Car Cruise Night scene with the Fleckenstein building as a backdrop graced the cover of the local tourism magazine. My eye is continually drawn to this majestic structure.
I appreciate the business owners and developers who value Faribault’s historic commercial buildings enough to maintain, improve, renovate and restore them. Funds are currently available through the Faribault Main Street Economic Revitalization Program to assist business owners and developers in repairing, renovating, developing and redeveloping properties in downtown Faribault, according to information on the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism website. Faribault Chamber Trust received a $750,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to fund the program.
This is great news for my community. While many buildings, like the Fleckenstein building, have been restored through the decades, many have not. One need only walk along Central Avenue and adjoining side streets to see failing facades, boarded up windows and other issues. And that’s just the exterior. I expect more problems inside. I recognize it takes money, lots of money, to keep up aging structures.
The Fleckenstein building, though, is ready-to-go with a beautiful interior of original tin, exposed brick and beamed ceiling, according to the listing agent at Edina Realty. A diversity of small businesses currently occupy the 12,155 square feet.
Businesses come and go in Faribault, as in any community. But the buildings that once housed mercantiles and other businesses of yesteryear along Central Avenue mostly remain, repurposed, meeting the needs of today while retaining the architectural charm of the past.
UP ON A ROOFTOP in Faribault, Santa guides not his reindeer, but a team of ants. Unusual? Yes, unless your pest control company is headquartered inside the rambler at 904 N. Lyndale Avenue.
Sean Francis heads up Francis Animal & Pest Control where Santa stands next to the TV antenna, near the chimney, looking down on five red ants, four on the roof, one scaling a ladder. Three carry Christmas trees, the others a wreath and garland.
This pest control business owner of 29 years installed the ants earlier this year, hauling the four hefty 60-70 pound aluminum ants onto the roof and keeping one on the ground. A cricket perches atop the garage roof. Francis is used to rooftop work as he’s on roofs daily dealing with squirrels, bats, birds and other pest issues throughout Minnesota.
The ants, he said, add a fun element and draw attention to his business. His four kids, ages 7 to 14, love the ants. And so does the general public, he said. They especially liked the skeletons he added at Halloween.
The Christmas ants and Santa have been in place for about a month. Whether Francis continues to change things out depends on time and ideas.
The Faribault businessman first came up with the rooftop ants idea when he saw large-scale ants at a vintage shop in Albert Lea. But when he returned to buy them, they were gone. The hunt began. After 6.5 years of searching, Francis finally found the Mexico-made ants in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where they are assembled.
Now they’re comfortably colonizing in southern Minnesota, drawing attention to the pest control company along a busy four-lane in Faribault. They’ve become a humorous roadside oddity and, in this season of Christmas, a one-of-a-kind holiday attraction.
TELL ME: Do you have any suggestions for these ants after Christmas? What should Sean Francis do with them next?
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.