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?
AS PART OF ITS RECENT WINTERFEST,Faribault Main Street sponsored a Holiday Window Decorating Contest. I love this idea, which inspires downtown merchants to share the spirit of the season in an artistically festive way.
Window displays can create a joyful mood that encourages people to step inside a shop, to peruse merchandise and perhaps buy local. We all want to feel welcome when we approach a shop. Creatively-decorated storefronts present an inviting front door welcome that says, “Come on in.”
For those who are trying to make a go of it as independent businesses owners, efforts like this can make a difference. A window decorating contest tells me shop owners care and want me as a customer.
In these challenging economic times, supporting local businesses like those in the heart of downtown Faribault is more important than ever. I want to see these entrepreneurs doing well. I want to see vacant buildings filling with new businesses. I want to see a healthy and vibrant business community.
On Saturday, I popped into The Junk Monkey, which recently relocated to a larger space at the corner of Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60 and First Avenue in downtown Faribault. This shop brims with antiques, collectibles, thrift finds and some new merchandise. There’s a lot to take in. I left with a Minnesota-made, Minnesota-themed puzzle. What I love about this store, besides the sheer volume of unique merchandise, is shopkeeper Theresa. She engages with customers in a friendly, yet unobtrusive, way and genuinely loves what she does.
That can be said for many a merchant in our historic downtown area. A few weeks ago when my second daughter and her husband were visiting from Madison, Wisconsin, we stopped by Cry Baby Craig’s. There Craig’s marketing lead took the time to chat with us about the hot sauces crafted right here in my community. The sauces are wildly popular in the Twin Cities metro. The Wisconsin pair left with three bottles of sauce. I already had mine.
Half a block away in the 300 block of Central Avenue, artists vend their creations at the Paradise Center for the Arts Holly Days Sale and, across the street, at Fleur de Lis Gallery. Jewelry artist and gallery owner Jess Prill always greets me with a smile and conversation. A few summers ago I ran into Jess, her husband and little girl at the park just up the hill from my house. Her daughter and my granddaughter hit it off, playing together until thunder sent us all scurrying toward home. I love seeing these business owners out and about in my community, part of the fabric of Faribault. Jess also owns the women-run Good Day Coffee right across the hall from Fleur de Lis. I love the energy and enthusiasm this young business owner brings to our historic downtown.
Also women-led are Finally A Gift Store (18 NE Second Street) and Janna’s Market Grill, further down Central. Janna Viscomi has been an important part of the downtown business community for many years. She also serves on the city council.
Across the street from Jana’s restaurant sits third-generation family run Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. This fall Randy purchased work boots there. We can always count on excellent customer service with high-quality footwear and a great fit. Plus engaging conversation reflecting the care and compassion of a much-beloved family.
If I sound like I’m pitching downtown Faribault, I am. This time of year especially, when many storefront windows are decorated for Christmas, it’s particularly visually appealing. But even more, I feel comfortably at home here among friendly shopkeepers. And that matters to me.
FYI: This post highlights only some of the businesses in downtown Faribault. There are many more to explore. I’d also encourage you to check out the Eclectic Alliance inside the Faribo West Mall. It features primarily locally-made, collectibles/antiques and more.
WHENEVER I FEEL DISCOURAGED by disparaging attitudes in my community, I need only shift my focus to change my mindset. So many people in Faribault are doing really good things to help each other in a time when individuals and families are struggling. Never is that more evident than during the holiday season.
One example of community generosity is currently displayed at Central Park, where 47 decorated Christmas trees line the sidewalk along Second Avenue. These are more than simply trees adding a festive flair to Faribault. These are trees purchased and decorated by non-profits, businesses, service organizations and more through the city Parks and Recreation Department’s Adopt a Tree Program.
The city works with local non-profit St. Vincent de Paul, just across the street from the park, to give the trees to families in need. This Thursday, December 8, the trees come down for distribution to those selected to receive this bit of holiday cheer.
As I view it, these donated trees stretch beyond decorating homes that would otherwise be without Christmas trees. These trees are about giving hope. These trees are about showing care, compassion and love. Both donors and recipients likely experience those feelings. A sense of community connection flourishes.
In these assuredly tough economic and divisive times, we need, more than ever, to be there for one another. To see the humanity in each other, to respect one another, to support and care for one another. To connect as a community.
Only several years into Adopt a Tree, the program is growing with 15 more trees than in 2021. Such generosity of spirit touches me, shows me that the Faribault community cares. For that I feel grateful.
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK, and feel, a lot like Christmas in Minnesota. This week brought snow and cold to our state, a reality check for those of us hoping our stretch of gloriously warm autumn days would continue. Yet, as a life-long Minnesotan, I understood winter weather would arrive no matter my wishful thinking.
As I was out and about in Faribault in the biting wind and cold temps pre-snowfall, I hurried in and out of buildings. Temperature spirals to the 20s and lower always require acclimation, no matter how long I’ve lived in the North Star State (my entire life).
Throughout my community, the spirit of Christmas is emerging in holiday decorations and holiday boutiques/craft sales/marketplaces, whatever term is tagged to an event featuring handcrafted items, food and more.
I attended my first of the season, a Christmas Market, at Christ Lutheran Church high atop a hill on Faribault’s east side last Saturday. Originally, the market was planned for outdoors. But then wind moved the sale indoors so vendors’ tents wouldn’t blow over. I felt a tad disappointed as I anticipated attending an outdoor market. But I fully understand given the wind and cold.
Inside the church, vendors crammed into limited space under tent canopies and at open tables. There was lefse and jewelry and vintage finds and, oh, a whole lot of merch for sale. I focused my attention, though, on the scene outside the front doors of the church. Here a vintage red pick-up truck set the scene for the holiday market.
Decked with bows, a wreath, a Christmas tree tossed in the bed, a porch pot aside, strung with unlit lights, the truck presented a postcard scene perfect for photo ops. And those were available for a fee.
Near the truck, smoke billowed at times and flames danced from a barrel, adding ambiance and the feeling of warmth in the mid-November cold.
To the side, porch pots, Christmas trees and wreaths leaned and hunkered, available for purchase by anyone wanting to get a jump on holiday decorating.
November sometimes feels too early for all of this—the Christmas decorations, the holiday sales. But, in reality, it’s not. Minnesotans understand that putting exterior lights and decorations up when the weather is warm is just plain smart. No frozen fingers. No dealing with snow. Too late now. Both are upon us. And so is this season of holidays markets.
I suppose it’s smart also to get a jump on gift buying to ease the stress, to spread out the spending. There seem to be more local boutiques/craft sales/markets with an emphasis on local. I like that shift toward supporting creatives within our communities whether at church-based sales like those at Christ Lutheran, at art centers, at local shops… There’s a connection to those who use their hands—to stitch, to knit, to saw, to string beads, to roll potato-based dough into lefse rounds…
FYI: Here are a few upcoming holiday boutiques/craft sales/markets in my area:
Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Boutique/Craft Sale from 9 am – 3 pm Saturday, November 19, in the auditorium.
I photographed the company’s holiday decorations recently while traveling along US Highway 14. The business sits right next to the busy highway. I had to focus and shoot quickly from the passenger seat as the decorations flashed past our van.
What a gift from this family-owned full-line steel distributor and processor to the thousands of motorists who pass by daily.
During a year that’s challenged and stretched us in so many ways due to COVID-19, I’m grateful for scenes like these that share the Christmas spirit in such a visual, public way.
TELL ME: Have you spotted holiday decorations that bring you an added measure of joy this Christmas? I’d like to hear.
THIS WEEKEND IN FARIBAULT, we would have celebrated Winterfest, complete with a lighted holiday parade, fireworks and more. But, due to COVID-19, organizers canceled the celebration. And rightly so.
But then the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department got creative, coming up with a Drive-by Tree Display as part of the community’s annual Hometown Holidays celebration, which typically centers at the library with activities and the arrival of Santa on a fire truck. None of that happened.
This year we have Christmas trees—a line of 19 decorated evergreens stretched along one block on the east side of Central Park next to Second Avenue and across from the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.
Randy and I checked out the display around sunset Saturday evening. It’s beautiful. In daylight. And even more lovely when the sun colors orange into the sky and darkness edges in and the holiday lights switch on.
Meant to be a drive-by look-and-see, Randy and I opted to walk by. The timing of our visit meant few people in the park. We had our masks in hand if needed.
Walking by and stopping at the trees provided a close up look of ornaments, of tree toppers, of all the details that made each tree a holiday delight.
Each of the 19 trees was decorated by a business or non-profit or organization. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort put into decorating the trees, which will be given to St. Vincent DePaul and donated to needy families.
But most of all, I appreciate this gift to my community. Now, more than ever, we need to feel uplifted, joyful, happy. And I felt all of those when I photographed these decorated trees.
If I would change one thing, it would be to leave these trees displayed for more than a few days. They went up on Thursday. Sunday, December 6, marks your last time to view the Drive-by Tree Display.
What a gift. Thank you, Faribault Parks and Recreation and all who participated in what I hope will become an annual community tradition.
Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a lot like Christmas in historic downtown Faribault, despite the lack of snow.
A Peanuts theme plays on the windows of the former Kay’s Floral building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.
Evergreen boughs adorn wrought iron fences. Snowflake lights and holiday banners hang from vintage style street lamps. White lights drape trees, creating a festive mood. And, throughout the downtown, merchants showcase Christmas displays in storefront windows. There’s something magical about a business district transformed for the holidays.
Lights wrap trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault’s version of “Cheers.” Here you’ll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.
A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors, which celebrates 70 years in business in 2016. Harry Vohs started the business in his living room. The second-generation flooring store is owned by his son, Karl, and Karl’s wife, Ann.
The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage theme division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were open in Faribault when sisters and Maven owners, Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork, were growing up here. Many of those businesses are no longer open. The Crafty Maven also will close in January.
Wednesday evening, in balmy weather that is more September-like than December, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture some of the magic that is Faribault. Mine is a city of some 23,000 that takes pride in its downtown, a place of aged, well-kept buildings. There’s a sense of history here, a sense of community connection. Small town appeal.
Santa inside Vohs Floors.
From sleigh rides to visits with Santa to a holiday window decorating contest and more, there’s much to see and do. Faribault Main Street and downtown merchants are working hard to welcome locals and visitors alike with “Hometown Holidays” events.
Paradise Community Theatre presents “Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” this weekend at the Paradise Center for the Arts.
This Saturday, for example, you can participate in the following activities:
Holiday Snack Contest: Buy a $5 wristband and sample holiday snacks and appetizers at downtown businesses.
Keepers Antiques shows some holiday glitz in its window display.
Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.
Festively dressed dolls snug a sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.
If you’ve never been to Faribault, come, spend an afternoon and/or evening here in a city that’s all decked out for the holidays. Meander through our one-of-a-kind shops. Enjoy the hospitality of friendly merchants. Celebrate the magic of the season in southeastern Minnesota.
This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour’s Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest. Thousands of cotton balls were used to create the snow in the scene.
Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts theme division of the window decorating competition.
Here’s the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.
Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA won for best vintage theme.
Nearby is this holiday window at Paul Swenson Portraits.
A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors.
An overview of the vintage themed window display at The Crafty Maven.
I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED if leaving outdoor Christmas decorations outside until spring is a cold weather state phenomenon.
A snippet of the Christmas decorations on the Butler property.
On a brief drive through Medford, Minnesota, Sunday afternoon on my way to a Chili Cook-off at Trinity Lutheran Church, I spotted a corner yard decorated as if Christmas, rather than Valentine’s Day, was only six days away.
The homemade decorations are my favorite.
Candy canes, penguins, mice, reindeer, elves, tipsy angels, carolers and more staked out spots in the snow.
I absolutely love my Charlie Brown tree, an untrimmed Christmas tree purchased for $15 at a tree lot in Faribault. It reminds me of the Christmas trees of my youth, which makes it perfect. Branches are sparse and adornment minimal.
I CONSIDER MYSELF A MINIMALIST. I don’t like clutter, an overabundance of stuff filling my house. Too much of anything makes me uneasy, unsettled.
So when I set about decorating my house for the Christmas holiday, I am selective. More remains in boxes than is pulled out for display.
I did not grow up with Christmas stockings. But my husband did. Randy’s aunt made this stocking for him in the 1960s. It’s missing a few decorations. But that adds to its character.
The items I choose to set the holiday mood must meet my criteria of holding personal/family significance. The older, the better. Handmade ranks high. So does simplicity of lines.
Found in my mom’s basement, this lovely pinecone Christmas tree was crafted by my godmother, Aunt Rachel, in the 1960s. This will now go up in my home each Christmas.
This year, after cleaning my mom’s house and acquiring some old “new” items, my appreciation of the past has deepened. And that is reflected in the items currently displayed.
Here’s a quick peek at my holiday décor and why these items are showcased in my home:
This paper Baby Jesus and an angel go on my Christmas tree each other. They are from the 1960s, from my Sunday School Christmas lesson.
Behind the Christmas tree hangs this paint-by-number winter scene painted by my Great Grandma Anna. This was the perfect addition to my paint-by-number collection and was acquired when my siblings and I were dividing my mom’s belongings. My sister got the painting matching this one.
This manager scene dates back to the late 1960s or early 1970s and was handcrafted by my maternal grandfather. The figurines are made from Plaster of Paris.
While going through a box of cards my mom had saved, I found several Christmas cards that I made as a child. This year I displayed those cards, along with a 1971 vintage card from Schwan’s Ice Cream (right) on an old dresser in my living room. The chest of drawers was used by my dad as a child.
Around the corner on a vintage dresser from my husband’s family, I display candles and an angel on a vintage mirrored tray set atop a vintage holiday linen.
Come December, I swap out my regular vintage drinking glasses for the Twelve Days of Christmas glasses. These were gifted to me in 1978 by the furniture store across the street from the newspaper office where I worked as a reporter and photographer in Gaylord. Since then, I’ve acquired the same set of holiday glasses for each of my three children at garage sales and an antique shop.
Three net angels dangle from the hallway light fixture. They are just like the angels my mom dangled from the living room doorway when I was growing up.
My oldest brother and I purchased this set of miniature plastic angels from a small town hardware store for our mom as a Christmas gift in the 1960s. Several years ago my mom gave them back to me and I display them each Christmas. This angel band is among my most treasured of holiday decorations.
My father-in-law painted this holiday scene, which is why I treasure it. Plus, I really like the painting that hangs behind my couch.
Back in the day, when my dad’s siblings and their families still gathered for the holidays, I received two candle Santas and a snowman from my Aunt Ardyce during a gift exchange. A match has never touched the wicks and never will. I cherish these as much for their vintageness as the memories of so many Christmases past with aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma and my own siblings and parents.
She’s stunning with sparkles and ribbons and Christmas reds and greens befitting any holiday party.
Keepers Antique Store decorated the wrought iron fencing on a downtown street corner as part of a "Winter Wonderland" themed decorating contest.
Honestly, I love the look and feel of my downtown. Even without the glitz and glamour of the holiday season, Faribault shines. The old brick buildings, the comforting small-town vibe, the ease of parking, the slow pace and the friendliness of shopkeepers appeal to me.
Next to the Signature Bar & Grill, a lovely holiday-bedecked street corner.
An elf outside The Crafty Maven, "featuring a unique mix of new and vintage items."
Quotes from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" portrayed in store-front windows.
I am always surprised when locals fail to appreciate downtown. How can you not value this treasure of a business district with arched windows, decorative trim and more on vintage buildings that impart an historic and homey feel to our town? Perhaps because I didn’t grow up here, I can truly see the beauty that native residents often overlook.
Another seasonally-decorated street corner charms visitors to Central Avenue.
I am always surprised, too, that Faribault hasn’t been discovered—like Red Wing or Stillwater or Wabasha or neighboring Northfield—as a destination city. The potential exists to draw tourists here into our specialty shops and arts scene. It’s not for a lack of effort, but…we’re not there yet.
I aimed my camera skyward as the setting sun caught the tops of historic buildings along Central Avenue.
First, we need to sell our own residents on the value of Central Avenue, our Main Street. Do we truly realize how fortunate we are to have a solid, core downtown like ours with a deep history and an inviting character?
Mega malls and strip malls and Big Box retailers—and I shop at those places, too—have nothing on Main Street.
Yes, I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, meaning my perspective evolves from memories of shopping in a downtown, not a mall.
When I stroll along Central Avenue in Faribault, nostalgia accompanies me. And she’s a mighty fine friend to walk with, especially during the holiday season.
Outside Keepers Antique Store, a rustic vignette charms.
Across the street at That Scrapbooking Place, a punch of color on the front window backed by a holiday display and reflections of historic buildings.
Sweet, dreamy gingerbread houses fill the display window at Sweet Spot, a Central Avenue candy and ice cream shop. I love how the reflection of an old building across the street melds with the gingerbread house.
IF YOU’VE NEVER been to Faribault, consider a trip here. We’re located along Interstate 35, just an hour south of Minneapolis. You’ll find antique, craft, candy, cheese and many other specialty shops and businesses, hometown eateries, as well as an arts center, along Central Avenue. If you have a specific question about Faribault, ask and I’ll answer.
LOCALS, if you haven’t been downtown in awhile, I’d encourage you to park your vehicle, walk and appreciate your town. She’s all glammed up right now and a wonder to behold.
READERS, PLEASE CHECK back on Thursday for more Central Avenue holiday-themed images.