Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The magic of LARK Toys, a southeastern Minnesota toy store October 6, 2015

A handcrafted sign inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

A handcrafted sign next to a window inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

LARK TOYS IS MAGICAL.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are handcarved.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are hand-carved.

A cozy and creative corner int he bookstore.

A cozy and creative corner in the bookstore.

In the game room, you can try out games.

In the game room, you can try out games.

No other adjective quite as succinctly describes this sprawling toy store along Minnesota State Highway 61 on the outskirts of Kellogg. It’s a business that showcases old toys and new, handcrafted and mass-produced. Toss in a candy shop and a bookstore, hands-on opportunities for kids to try out toys and the focal point—a hand-carved carousel—and you have magic.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Our family visited LARK years ago, when the kids were still at home. But this time it was just my husband and me meandering through the maze of rooms amid lots of grandparents with grandchildren in tow. I made a mental note to some day, when I become a grandmother, revisit this place.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

It's not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

It’s not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant as she watched the ride go round and round.

But this was now and I delighted in watching youngsters scramble onto their chosen animals—like a giraffe, dragon or pelican—as the colorful carousel curator readied the ride for a spin.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

From there I ducked into the candy shop, perusing the vast collection of jelly beans in flavors like juicy pear, strawberry jam and tangerine.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store. I love that detail about LARK Toys.

Then, along the hallway to the toy store, I paid homage to Felix the Cat, a favorite cartoon character from yesteryear displayed in the store’s Memory Lane section of vintage toys.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

Passing a public police box (a TARDIS for those of you who know and understand the BBC sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), I entered the Main Toy Store. And, oh, how I wished I was the grandkid with Grandpa and Grandma carrying a credit card.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

Without doubt, I would have begged for a wooden pull toy handcrafted at LARK Toys. As Randy and I admired pull toys like a fire truck, elephant, snail and even a mud-splashed pig, we remembered the wooden frog our eldest daughter hopped everywhere until the toy eventually wore out. It was not crafted at LARK. But it was similar to LARK toys. There’s something grassroots appealing about the simplicity of a wooden pull toy.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

And there’s something about LARK Toys, too, that’s truly Minnesota magical.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Toy samples are set up for kids to play with within the toy store.

Toy samples are set up for kids to test.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Fun walking sticks.

Fun walking sticks.

Art on display.

Art on display.

Fun on a windowsill.

Religion on a windowsill.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

There's fun outdoors, too, with mini golf and llamas to observe.

There’s more outdoors with mini golf and miniature llamas.

FYI: In December 2014, USA Today named LARK Toys among the top 10 best toy stores in the U.S. A year prior, viewers at WCCO TV voted LARK Toys the best toy store in Minnesota.

The toy store is located at 63604 170th Avenue outside Kellogg in southeastern Minnesota. Take County Road 18 to Lark Lane. You can see the dark brown sprawling building from U.S. Highway 61. (I think the structure should be painted in multiple eye-catching vibrant colors more suiting to a toy store.)

Hours vary according to seasons but are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily from now through December. After that, limited winter hours kick in for two months. Click here for full store hours.

As part of the Wabasha-Kellogg area SeptOberfest celebrations continuing to the end of October, LARK Toys is hosting stories and songs for preschoolers and families in the bookstore from 10:15 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Friday, October 9. A musical march to the carousel follows with free rides.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A message about domestic violence in the unlikeliest of places September 17, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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THE POSTER CAUGHT MY ATTENTION. As much for its powerful message as its location.

I had just closed the door on a stall in the women’s bathroom at a toy store in rural southeastern Minnesota when I saw the sign:

 

Domestic violence, rural campaign view 1

 

My reaction was one of thankfulness. To Praxis International, a nonprofit corporation which created this rural public awareness campaign about domestic violence. And to Lark Toys for posting this message in a bathroom stall. Brilliant.

I want you to read and reread the words. Read them until you understand. Read them until they are imprinted upon your mind. Read them until you realize that, by failing to speak up or by looking the other way or by not trusting your gut, you are likely enabling an abuser.

Care.

Refuse to remain silent.

Understand, though, that you cannot “rescue” someone who is being verbally, mentally, emotionally and/or physically abused, controlled and manipulated. But you can educate yourself and perhaps subsequently help. You can connect with those who can offer professional advice.

 

Domestic violence, rural campaign view 2

 

On the poster posted in the Lark Toys bathroom in Kellogg, readers are directed to Rochester-based Women’s Shelter, Inc. That organization provides outreach, advocacy and housing to battered women and their children. The shelter has satellite offices in four rural counties outside of Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.

In the “Who We Serve” portion of the shelter’s website is this statement:

We have served families from around the world, due to our close proximity to the Mayo Clinic. Domestic Violence can happen to anyone regardless of their educational background, financial status, race, or country of origin.

That was demonstrated in Minnesota just last week when a company CEO murdered his wife and three teenage children in their $2 million home in an upscale west metro neighborhood.

This violence must stop. With the Short family’s murder, the number of those killed as a result of domestic homicide in Minnesota this year stood at twenty. That’s 20 too many. 

Domestic violence can happen anywhere. In a farmhouse. In a mansion. In an apartment. In your home. Next door. Down the street. To anyone. Anywhere.

Care.

Refuse to remain silent.

Help your neighbor. Or a loved one, friend or stranger. Help yourself.

FYI: Click here to learn more about domestic violence.

If you are in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or a local shelter/crisis line in your community.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Click here to read a story posted yesterday on Minnesota Public Radio about domestic violence.

You can order educational materials, including the rural-themed poster I saw on the toy store bathroom door, by clicking here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: The Sweetcorn Salesman July 31, 2015

Portrait #33: Bill Edelbach

Bill of Edelbach Produce

Bill of Edelbach Produce

It’s sweetcorn season here in Minnesota, which reminds me of veggie vendor Bill Edelbach.

I met Bill two summers ago selling peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and sweetcorn from the back of his pick-up truck parked on a street corner in downtown Kenyon.

The Kellogg area farmer has been tending and vending vegetables for more than 50 years. That hard work shows in his salesmanship skills, in his lean frame and in his face. Oh, that face. Sun, sky and wind have furrowed lines deep into his weathered skin. His face tells the story of a man who works hard and loves the land.

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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet Bill, the sweetcorn salesman August 21, 2013

Bill Edelback sells sweetcorn, a green pepper, three cucumbers and a zucchini to my husband, Randy.

Bill Edelbach sells fresh vegetables to my husband, Randy.

I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND why Bill Edelbach sold an entire pick-up full of sweetcorn and other farm fresh vegetables while parked along a busy street corner in Kenyon this past Sunday.

Cucumbers and peppers, three for $1.

Cucumbers and peppers, three for $1.

He’s quite the salesman, pointing me to the peppers and cucumbers and zucchini when my husband and I had stopped only for sweetcorn.

Even a few heads of cabbage for sale.

Even a few heads of cabbage for sale. Tomatoes are slow in ripening this year, Bill says.

For more than 50 years, Bill has vended veggies grown on his Kellogg area farm. You can see those years chiseled in lines across his forehead, around his eyes, through his cheekbones.

Years of work etched in Bill's face.

Years of work etched in Bill’s face.

Bill has the kind of weathered face that I love to photograph, a face that distinguishes him as a long-time farmer. One who loves the land and the food he grows. He’s a hard worker; you can see that in his thin frame, in his hands.

Gotta appreciate the handcrafted signage as much as Bill.

Gotta appreciate the handcrafted signage.

There’s another thing you should know about Bill.  Something like 30 years ago, he says, Tombstone Pizza folks were traveling around to small towns for a marketing campaign. They came upon Bill and his veggie vehicle parked in Cannon Falls, bought the whole truckload of sweetcorn, and moved him and his truck this way and that while photographing the scene.

Bagging our sweetcorn late Sunday afternoon.

Bagging our sweetcorn late Sunday afternoon.

That’s Bill’s claim to fame. Plus 50 years of selling his field fresh vegetables in small-town Minnesota.

For less than $5, we purchased half a dozen ears of sweetcorn, three cucumbers, a green pepper and a zucchini.

For less than $5, we purchased half a dozen ears of sweetcorn, three cucumbers, a green pepper and a zucchini.

In less than two hours, we were feasting on Bill's sweetcorn; garden fresh potatoes purchased last week from another roadside vendor; and smoked pork chops bought fresh at a local grocery store meat counter.

Two hours later we were feasting on Bill’s sweetcorn; garden fresh potatoes purchased last week from another roadside vendor; and smoked pork chops bought fresh at a local grocery store meat counter.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling