Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A peek at Pepin, Wisconsin November 12, 2014

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Closed on an early October weekday afternoon...

Closed on an early October weekday afternoon…

A MONTH AGO, on a weekday afternoon, Pepin, Wisconsin, already appeared battened up for the long winter.

The scene outside of an eatery.

The scene outside of an eatery.

Lovely business signage.

Lovely business signage.

A banner advertised a forthcoming film festival.

A banner advertised a forthcoming film festival.

Lawn chairs stacked. Doors locked. Streets mostly vacant.

Pepin's grocery store.

Pepin’s grocery store.

A general sense of abandonment prevailed in the downtown area along Lake Pepin, although the blacksmith shop happened to be open (watch for a story on that) as was the next door grocery.

Street signage indicates lots of places to stop in Pepin.

Street signage indicates lots of places to stop in Pepin.

I expect had it been a summer weekend, more businesses would have been open and the town bustling.

Across the railroad tracks lies Lake Pepin.

Across the railroad tracks lies Lake Pepin.

But, like many lake communities, life slows when the temperature drops and autumn edges toward winter.

Unlike the museum, which closes in October, A Summer Place Bed and Breakfast

Signage advertises A Summer Place Inn.

In this, the birthplace of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, even her museum has closed for the season.

This is reality in the north land, in a river town that relies significantly on warm weather tourism.


AND NOW FOR TWO PLACES on the edge of Pepin that were open:

The Country Stop.

The Country Stop of Pepin Country Store.

Villa Bellezza winery.

Villa Bellezza winery.

Beautiful potted flowers outside the winery.

Beautiful potted flowers and plants outside the winery.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, the places I should have visited in Lake City July 19, 2012

A side street in the downtown business district of Lake City Minnesota.

SO…YOU DRIVE into a town you’ve never been to and you and your traveling companion wonder where to eat, what to do, which places to visit.

How do you decide?

Trust the locals? Trust your instincts? Just start walking and see where the sidewalk leads you?

I suppose those thoughts run through any visitor’s mind upon arrival in an unfamiliar community. To my list I add the decision of what to photograph, made easier by ownership of a DSLR camera. As long as I have space on my CF cards, and a patient husband, I keep shooting.

Then back home, upon review of those images, I can see the places I missed because of time constraints or another restaurant chosen or a business closed for the day and I have visible reasons to return.

Here is photographic evidence for returning to Lake City, a southeastern Minnesota Mississippi River town my spouse and I recently visited on a way too hot summer afternoon in early July.

I’m not a boater, nor a swimmer. But the water still draws me close to gaze upon, to appreciate, its mesmerizing beauty. Next trip back to Lake City, my husband and I need to find a park along Lake Pepin where we can simply sit and enjoy the water or perhaps stroll along a beach. That treeline across the lake/river is Wisconsin.

The Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co. antique shop features a little nook of a room off the spacious main shop area, exterior pictured here, in which I need to spend more time poking around. Poke, poke, poke.

The entry to Bronk’s Bar and Grill angled into a downtown Lake City street corner caught my attention. Was this once a movie theater? No matter, Bronk’s claims “the best hamburgers in Lake City” made from only local fresh meat. Anyone eaten here?

Unfortunately, Rabbit’s Bakery was closed on the Tuesday I was in Lake City or I surely would have stopped in here. Any business with “Rabbit” as part of its name naturally draws me to it given I graduated from Wabasso High School, home of the white rabbit. This photo was also encouraged by my husband who once (and still occasionally) called one of my sisters Rabbit. Love the graphic.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering a historic gem (pearl) in Lake City July 16, 2012

A view of downtown Lake City, Minnesota.

DRIVING INTO LAKE CITY on a recent sultry summer afternoon, I expected to learn about water skiing in this Lake Pepin side community which calls itself the birthplace of that water sport.

Lots and lots and lots of sailboats are moored in Lake City.

After all, the popularity of water sports is evident in the sailboats crammed and tethered in the harbor on a weekday, waiting to be unleashed on the weekend.

I wanted to check out the sculpture (an anchor?) along Lake Pepin, but no parking was allowed and the weather was too hot to walk any distance. That’s Wisconsin across the lake. Beautiful scenery here in this busy water sport area.

And around the bend, fancy yachts—at least that’s what I call boats so big that one arrived on a semi—float in the bay. And a bit farther, boaters enjoy a summer afternoon on the lake.

Nautical-themed merchandise perched on a window on the second floor of Treats and Treasures. The “treats” are homemade candy, found downstairs in the treats section.

Offshore, too, you’ll catch the nautical theme of this Mississippi River town in business names and merchandise.

A side view of the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co., now an antique store featuring merchandise from some 40 dealers.

But, if you happen to walk into the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company, which is today a place of “the old, odd and unusual,” you will learn the gem of history I found most interesting about Lake City. Dave Close, who along with his wife, Juleen, runs the aforementioned antique store, will educate you about Lake City’s role in making pearl buttons.

It’s fascinating to hear about clammers who once harvested freshwater clams from Lake Pepin, delivering them to the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company and The Wisconsin Pearl Button Company (according to Steve Swan at Swan Jewelers). Both Swan and Close can offer detailed oral histories about local button making.

The Closes have this display of clam shells and button blanks in their shop.

According to Close, about 50 percent of the buttons in the world once came from the Upper Mississippi River, north of Ohio. That included Lake City, where factory workers sawed button “blanks” from clam shells before shipping the 50-pound burlap bags of clam shell cut-outs downriver to button finishing houses in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Muscatine, Iowa.

Old photos and more pay homage to this building’s former use as the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co.

Next to the still operating original freight elevator, the Closes have posted vintage photos and other items, including these clamming bar hooks. Note also the beautiful original wainscoting from the building.

Dave Close, co-owner and in-house historian at the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Co.

Close has created a mini museum about this side of Lake City’s history behind the counter and in a corner of the 1866 former dry goods store which housed the button company from 1914 – 1920. It is the building’s history and Close’s clear appreciation for that history, which set his business apart from your typical antique shop. You need only notice the clam shells on the counter, the rainbow of buttons secured to his straw hat and the Pearl Button signage, inside and outside, to inquire about the Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company.

Two freshwater pearl rings crafted by jeweler Steve Swan of Swan Jewelers in Lake City.

Nearby, Swan also honors Lake City’s button past via a display in his jewelry store that includes jewelry he’s crafted from the pearls of freshwater clams. Up until about a dozen years ago, when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources halted clamming operations on the river, this jeweler was buying from clammers.

However, the once thriving pearl button making industry ended long before that, in the late 1930s, when plastic buttons replaced pearl buttons, according to Swan.

All of this I learned on a sultry summer afternoon in Lake City, the birthplace of water skiing.

WATCH FOR ANOTHER POST from this southeastern Minnesota community of some 5,000 residents and many, many, many boats.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


One final visit to Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden. November 8, 2011

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Shops, eateries and more line the streets of Stockholm, a quaint village along Lake Pepin. This photo was taken in early October. To the left you'll see blue bikes, available for visitors to use at no cost.

TO WHOM THIS MAY CONCERN in Stockholm (Wisconsin. Not Sweden):

If only I had known about the bribe.

I would have accepted your offer, the one I found listed under “Stockholm News & Media” on your website:

Are you a writer, blogger, reviewer, photographer with a web site? Let us bribe you (how about a fresh cup of expresso from Stockholm General, a piece of pie from the Stockholm Pie Company, lunch at Bogus Creek Café, a beer at Gelly’s, a ticket to an event at the Widespot?) in exchange for your coverage!

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And, yes.

While I’ve never drank an expresso, I’m certainly open to trying one. I like pie. A lot. I do lunch. Yes, I’ll toast your town with an icy mug of beer. And, yes, I always enjoy being entertained.

I was too full from lunch across the river in Wabasha to try the Stockholm Pie Company's pie, made completely from scratch. Not that I wasn't tempted to try a slice of caramel apple crunch or key lime or peanut butter fudge. I even stepped inside this tiny shop to smell the baking pies. Next time I'll save room for dessert.

However, dear people of Stockholm (Wisconsin. Not Sweden.) and dear readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots, my writing has not been influenced, not one teeny bit, by offers of free anything. My three previous, glowing posts from Stockholm were written from the heart. Simply put, I fell head-over-heels for this quaint Lake Pepin-side village of 89 without any undue influence.

Today I’ll take you on one last visit to this destination town just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota. Enjoy. And if you’ve been to Stockholm, Wisconsin, not Sweden, I’d like to hear what you most appreciate/relish/savor about this riverside get-away.

And if you own a business or live in Stockholm, submit a comment and tell readers why you love your village and why they should visit.

P.S. I’ll be back for the pie and the lunch and the…

One of the many shops lining the streets of Stockholm.

One of my favorite finds, a lizzard crafted from old silverware and more and lounging outside a shop. No, I didn't purchase this critter, but I certainly admired the creativity.

I notice details, especially signs, windows and doors, including this door on the Stockholm Museum.

The Stockholm Museum, home to the Stockholm Institute which preserves and celebrates the history of the Stockholm area, is housed in a former post office.

On the museum exterior, I discovered this handcrafted tribute to WW II vets.

The lovely Abode gallery, where my artist friend Arlene Rolf of Faribault has artwork displayed.

Another business door and signage that caught my eye. It's all about the details, my friends, all about the details.

A residence, I assume, since the steps were marked with a "private" sign. So inviting and lovely, just like all of Stockholm.

To read my previous posts from Stockholm, click on each story link below:

Russell, the Bookseller of Stockholm

A bit of Sweden in Wisconsin

A garage sale in Stockholm, Wisconsin

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A garage sale in Stockholm, Wisconsin November 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:54 AM
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YOU KNOW HOW every once in awhile you discover this treasure of a place and you can’t wait to tell family and friends, “You have to go there!”

Honestly, that’s my feeling toward Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

I’ve already published two posts on Stockholm—about J. Ingebretsen’s av Stockholm and Chandler’s Books, Curios.

Today you’re going to get another look at one of the shops tucked into this quaint Lake Pepin-side village of 89, just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota.

We’re stopping at A+ Antiques & Oddities, billed as “2 floors of quality antiques & art, vintage, handmade & new items as well.”

Sometimes the building that houses a shop draws me in as much as the merchandise. Such is A+ Antiques, based in an old garage. With the overhead door flung open on an autumn afternoon, I walked right into this former auto repair shop (I assume) and marveled that the smell of grease didn’t linger in this space of white-washed cement block walls and a bank of windows in the rear overlooking the train tracks out back.

The overhead garage door entry into A+ Antiques & Oddities along Wisconsin 35 in Stockholm.

But if there were traces of grease or oil spots on the cement floor, I didn’t notice. Maybe because I was too busy gawking at the goodies, wishing my sister Lanae was here to try on hats, straightening a mannequin’s wig and wiggling my way around all the tight spaces with a camera bag on my hip.

Lots of merchandise, including these lamps, fill the old garage.

These casseroles caught my eye and I considered, just for a moment, purchasing them.

I found the mannequin as intriguing as her hat.

My sister Lanae is insisting the women in the family all wear hats for Christmas Eve church services. Perhaps the men should, too. I see some fine choices here for my brothers. Remember when men wore hats to church?

I should tell you right now that even though I really, really enjoy browsing in antique shops, I seldom buy anything. I’m a bargain shopper and prefer to purchase my vintage and/or antique treasures at garage sales. Yes, if you’re attentive to word usage, you would stop me right here and say, “But, Audrey, this is a garage sale.”

You would be right. And you would be wrong. Because you know what I mean.

I found plenty I wanted to buy. Bowls. A lamp. Perhaps a hat for my sister—if I could have decided which one. (She knows how I struggle with fashion choices.)

But the print of singing turkeys was not on my “I want” list.

I especially like vintage prints and paintings, but not this one. Would you buy it?

When I saw this piece of art, I felt my face involuntarily screw up into an expression of disgust. It would make the perfect Thanksgiving hostess gift, as long as you aren’t coming to my house for Thanksgiving.

After perusing the first floor of merchandise, I walked outside, around the building and down the hill, following the path of bales, to the basement. I stepped inside. The Lone Ranger and Tonto greeted me. Childhood memories flashed before my eyes.

Awaiting me on the lower level...the Lone Ranger and Tonto. "Hi-ho, Silver!"

That happens to me often whenever I browse in an antique store. And I suppose that’s as it should be, because, truly, aren’t sales connected to memories?

No memories in this metal box for me. But perhaps for someone.

FYI: If you want to shop at A+ Antiques & Oddities, make haste to Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden. The store is open Thursdays – Sundays until November 15 only, after which it closes for the season.

The shopkeepers at A+ Antiques & Oddities.

All of Stockholm doesn’t close down, however. Many upcoming special events are planned, including Stockholm Women’s Weekend this Saturday, November 5, and Sunday, November 6. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A bit of Sweden in Wisconsin October 26, 2011

J. Ingebretsen's av Stockholm on a corner in Stockholm.

STEP INSIDE J. Ingebretsen’s av Stockholm along Wisconsin Highway 35 in Stockholm, Wisconsin, population 89, and a sense of serenity sweeps over you.

Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian influence. Or perhaps it’s the charm of this quaint Lake Pepin-side village casting a spell upon you that evokes a feeling of peace.

The sign suspended from the front of Ingebretsen's, if I got the translation correct, means "crafts." The dala horse is a popular Swedish symbol.

No matter the reason, the atmosphere inside Ingebretsen’s, a Scandinavian gift shop, conveys a sense of orderliness, simplicity and a feeling that all is right with the world, or at least in this part of western Wisconsin.

On a recent day trip from Minnesota across the Mississippi River, my husband and I discovered this wisp of a village, which, except for all those inviting shops lining the main drag and side streets, would likely stand as another shuttered small town.

But Stockholm hums with activity, its streets packed with vehicles, its sidewalks teeming with folks drawn here by the quaintness, the laid-back feel of this historic place, the smorgasbord of shops that range from precisely orderly Ingebretsen’s to cluttered, books-tilting Chandler’s Books, Curios.

Step inside Ingebretsen’s, an offshoot of the main store in Minneapolis, and you’ll forget the traffic only steps away along Highway 35. You’ll focus instead on the display of dala horses. You’ll draw your hand across woolen blankets that ward off the chill of autumn, soon-to-be winter. Your eyes will turn toward the earthen-hued pottery lining shelves.

Inside the front window of Ingebretsen's, lovely pottery.

A collection of dala horses inside Ingebretsen's, a traditional symbol of Sweden. As the story goes, woodcutters from the province of Dalarna whittled away the long winter months carving these toy horses for children.

Even the pleasant shopkeeper with her crisp apron and refined demeanor fit my image of a Scandinavian. I immediately fell in love with the rough stone that defines this historic building.

You’ll admire the rough stone walls of this 1878 building, first used as a general store, then as a hotel, hardware store, confectionary, barbershop, speakeasy and café. Before it was abandoned and then reborn several years later, in 2003, as this Scandinavian import shop in Stockholm.

Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

The upper level of the restored Ingebretsen's building.

It's all about the details in Stockholm, like this clutch of flowers hugging stone at Ingebretsen's.

PLEASE READ my previous post published October 24 on Chandler’s Books and watch for more stories from Stockholm.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling