Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The remaking of a theatre, from movies to beer, Part I March 9, 2021

A flight served in a “movie reel” at Sleepy Eye Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

UP UNTIL CRAFT BREWERIES OPENED, I wasn’t much of a beer drinker. I’m still not. But I now enjoy the occasional IPA or other locally-brewed beer at a brewery. Yet, it’s about more than appreciating a good beer. For me, it’s also about the setting. The place in which these beers are brewed and served.

Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And in southern Minnesota, I’ve discovered some aesthetically pleasing breweries in historic buildings. Montgomery Brewing has come full circle back to its roots, based in a 130-year-old building built to brew beer. At Chapel Brewing in Dundas, the taproom occupies a compact 1880 former chapel along the Cannon River. In neighboring Northfield, Imminent Brewing is stationed in the old National Guard Armory garage. And further to the southeast along the Mississippi River, Reads Landing Brewing occupies an 1870 dry goods store.

Outside Sleepy Eye Brewing and Coffee Company, which once housed the PIX Theatre. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
Paying homage to the history of this building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
How fitting is this, a flight served in a movie reel? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

And then there’s Sleepy Eye Brewing. Set along U.S. Highway 14 which runs right through the heart of the business district in this southwestern Minnesota community, the brewery draws beer lovers, and coffee lovers, into the former PIX Theatre. It’s a beautiful place that pays homage to its entertainment past, right down to the movie reels that hold flights of beer. I can’t write enough about how much I love the feel and look of this brewery with Sleepy Eye Coffee Company tucked into a small part of the open and airy space.

Looking up to the balcony of Sleepy Eye Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
Overlooking Sleepy Eye Brewing and Coffee Company, (back left) from the balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.
The beer selections… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

A balcony overlooks the long, narrow room defined by wood and brick and tile and stainless steel and even chandeliers.

The beautifully-restored marquee at Sleepy Eye Brewing and Coffee Company. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

Outside, the restored marquee adds artistic and historic interest. Eye-catching. Unique. Memorable.

These items also point to the building’s past use as a movie theatre. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

I haven’t returned to Sleepy Eye Brewing since my first visit a year ago. The pandemic has kept me away from breweries. But once I feel safe and comfortable—perhaps by summer or fall—I’ll revisit some of these home-grown breweries as much for the beer as for the settings. And history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of signs in Sleepy Eye, Part III March 12, 2018

A pedestrian crossing sign contrasts with the historic PIX Theatre sign in need of repair in downtown Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.

 

AS A CREATIVE TYPE, I am drawn to signage. I appreciate the graphics, the fonts, the uniqueness of signs that mark businesses.

 

 

Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota features one of my favorite signs—that of the King Koin Launderette. I love the colors, the name, the bubbles.

 

 

 

Then there’s the bright yellow signage on Meyer’s Bar & Lounge. The martini glass makes this sign as does the word lounge. That tag hearkens to a bygone era of mixed drinks served in a place fancier than a bar. I’ve never been inside Meyer’s so I can’t confirm whether a lounge really exists there.

 

 

 

Nor have I been inside the Servicemen’s Club. But I sure do like, from an artistic perspective, the back-to-back Grain Belt signs. I don’t understand, though, how a beer can be friendly. People can be friendly. Not beer. Minneapolis Brewing Company debuted the slogan, “The Friendly Beer With the Friendly Flavor,” in 1933. Despite that confusing message, I still appreciate this visually-appealing sign advertising a beer now made by August Schell Brewing Company. That’s just down US Highway 14 from Sleepy Eye in the city of New Ulm.

 

 

 

If all goes as planned, more local beer should be available within a year or two in a former downtown movie theater, according to Sleepy Eye Economic Development Authority Coordinator Kurk Kramer. Local physicians plan to open a nano brewery and coffee shop therein. That pleases me, especially since the couple intends to restore the historic PIX Theatre marquee.

 

 

 

 

Sleepy Eye businesses also honor the town’s namesake, Chief Sleepy Eyes, with his portrait featured on numerous signs. You’ll see his likenesses marking Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, The Sleepy Eye Dispatch Herald (where I worked briefly decades ago), posted on a corner downtown business and elsewhere. It’s a nod to local history, just one more point of interest.

I challenge you, the next time you are in a small town like Sleepy Eye, to pause and study the signage. Consider the graphics, the fonts, the uniqueness of these signs that often make them works of art as much as place markers.

 

Check back tomorrow for “This & that from my tour of downtown Sleepy Eye, Part IV.” That post will conclude my series on Sleepy Eye.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet vintage signage in Sleepy Eye & a theatre in need of rescue June 9, 2014

Classic vintage signage on the King Koin Launderette.

Classic vintage signage on the King Koin Launderette in Sleepy Eye.

EVERY TIME I PASS through Sleepy Eye along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota, I admire the same business signage, especially on the King Koin Launderette downtown.

With no time ever to stop for a proper photo shoot, I settle for a drive-by shot.

That laundromat sign is just so classic. You gotta love it.

Another eye-catching sign on the west side of Sleepy Eye.

Another eye-catching sign on the west side of Sleepy Eye.

Ditto for the simple geometric sign that’s likely marked Mathiowetz Body Shop for years. The garage style building and clutter of vehicles tell me this is a body shop, even if I miss the sign.

Can the PIX Theatre be reclaimed?

Can the PIX Theatre be reclaimed?

And, finally, there’s the PIX Theatre. Each time I observe the clearly abandoned building with those three aging letters and the hole in the marquee, I want to scream, “Please, somebody, anybody, buy this place and restore it.”

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling