Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One final reason to appreciate Plainview June 28, 2022

I love this stately corner brick building, home to Greenwood Agency. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THERE ARE MANY REASONS to appreciate Plainview. It’s small town Minnesota friendly. It offers a variety of home-grown shops. It centers agriculture in Wabasha County. It was the boyhood home of noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler. Its downtown features some beautiful old brick buildings. That’s the short list. I expect if you’ve visited, or live here, you could add to Plainview’s positive qualities.

A side view of the Greenwood Agency building shows its mammoth size, especially compared to next door Plainview City Hall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

During my brief mid-May stop in this southeastern Minnesota community of 3,340 just northeast of Rochester, I found so many things to love about Plainview. And I wrote about those in a series of blog posts over the past several weeks. Today I end that series with a photo focus on some of the historic buildings I saw downtown.

When I look at historic buildings, I always notice the windows, these on the Greenwood Agency. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

My appreciation of aged buildings runs deep. I live 60 miles from Plainview in Faribault, which boasts a downtown filled with architecturally-interesting, historic buildings.

Housed in a 1901 beautiful brick building, New Fresh Wok and The Shop on Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Mostly aged buildings define this stretch of West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Old and new mix at Cakes Etc, left, and Magnolia Cottage, right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In Plainview, I saw a collection of mostly well-kept brick buildings, too, and felt inwardly grateful to those who understand their value. I realize it takes money, time and effort to invest in maintaining these aged structures. But it’s so important to do, to maintain the character and history of a community.

The side of this building indicates a missing building in the heart of downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Could more be done? Certainly. That applies to both Plainview and Faribault. Again, I understand financial limitations, especially in these times of high inflation. At the core, I see that locals care about keeping these historic buildings. That is a reason to celebrate. They are helping retain community character in a way, which if destroyed, can not be rebuilt or replaced.

Cakes Etc jolts color into Plainview’s downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Thank you for joining me on my tour of Plainview. Even if you never visit this southeastern Minnesota community, I hope I’ve given you reasons to appreciate it and to appreciate all those small towns that, together with our cities and farms, create the fabric of America.

A Little Free Library outside city hall gives a glimpse into local readership. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FYI: To read my previous posts from Plainview, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Anything but plain in Plainview, from signs to shops & more June 27, 2022

A favorite sign at Cupcakes Etcetera. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THEY—SIGNS, NOTICES, WINDOW DISPLAYS—offer insights into the character of a place. I’ve discovered that during my meanderings into small towns, mostly in Minnesota.

A welcoming message on the Plainview Community Center window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent visit to Plainview in the southeastern corner of our state, I found plenty of evidence revealing the welcoming friendliness of a creative community with lots of home-grown businesses. There’s nothing plain about Plainview. I popped into several shops when I walked along West Broadway. Some, to my disappointment, were not open on the Saturday afternoon I was in town.

An unexpected find, New Fresh Wok. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Food offerings at the Chinese restaurant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Still, I got a good feel for this business community simply by observing. The chicken and shrimp menu options written on a whiteboard in the window of New Fresh Wok sounded mighty tasty to me. (I’d already eaten. Unfortunately.)

An eye-catching color scheme defines Cakes Etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Across the street, Cakes Etcetera was closed. But the colorful building with the equally appealing signage pulled me closer. I’m pretty sure I’d be a fan of the artfully-decorated cupcakes, the decadent brownies, the Salted Nut Roll bars and other sweet treats created here.

The bottom portion of the display window at Rare Necessities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I also appreciate occasional shops like Rare Necessities, which offers upcycled and re-imagined décor, one-of-a-kind necessities and accessories. It’s usually open from 10 am – 4 pm Friday and Saturday on the third weekend of the month, which didn’t happen to be during my stop in Plainview. Next time.

“Cakes” in a window at Cakes Etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But in the shops that were open and which I stepped into, I found a common denominator—friendliness. And I’m not talking a simple, how can I help you greeting. I’m talking a genuinely warm welcome with engaging conversation. The I’m glad you’re here attitude.

Posted in the window of the Plainview Community Center, an invitation to veterans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the community center, veterans receive an especially warm welcome with free coffee on Tuesdays, during “Breakfast with Friends.” That sounds so hospitable, so small townish lovely.

Note to drivers in the window of Your Family Healthcare. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I also noted a sign in the front window of Your Family Healthcare directing delivery drivers to leave packages next door at J.T. Variety & Toys if the chiropractic clinic is closed. Just another example of Minnesota Nice, small town business version. I’ve spotted this type of signage in other rural communities.

Soap with an intriguing name, available in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I’ve never seen a sign for Howling Goat soap illustrated with goat and wolf props.

That random ash tray. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Nor have I seen an ASH TRAY on the side of a building, my most unusual find of the afternoon in downtown Plainview.

More cake shop signage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This is what I love about small towns. I never know what I will discover. Every community is different. Every community holds character. And that, for me, is the draw, along with friendly folks, home-grown shops and eateries, creativity…

TELL ME: Have you been to Plainview? Or have you discovered a community that holds similar appeal? I’d like to hear.

Click here to read my previous posts from Plainview. And check back for one final story in this series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside The Shop on Broadway, on West Broadway in Plainview June 14, 2022

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Photographed in the heart of downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THE SHOP ON BROADWAY in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Plainview checks all the boxes for me in a business that vends antiques, collectibles and assorted treasures. It’s clean, organized and filled with an abundance of natural light from large storefront windows in an historic space. Plus, the merchandise is artfully-displayed rather than crammed onto shelves and elsewhere.

An artsy piece of glassware caught my eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I appreciate when proprietors like Sonia Furini and Lisa Petersson take care to present an inviting, uncluttered shopping environment. I could see the thought they put into art grouped on walls, glassware set atop furniture, buttons arranged in a collage…

Love this button collection at The Shop on Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That button collection caused me to pause, read and laugh. My favorite among the many carries a decidedly Minnesota message: Minnesota—Land of blonde hair and blue ears. That certainly seems accurate given the many residents of Scandinavian heritage living in a state known for its cold winters.

My attention instantly focused on the art on the wall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As I wandered through the shop, I eyed a floral painting and silently talked myself out of buying another piece of art. I own a sizable collection because, well, I like original art. A lot.

When I saw the crocheted hearts, I thought instantly of my paternal grandmother. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In many ways, antique shops sell memories. And The Shop on Broadway is no exception. I spotted ribbon bedecked crocheted hearts positioned on a vintage mirrored chest of drawers. Somewhere in a closet, I have a gold heart crocheted by my Grandma Ida. And in my home I also have three vintage chests of drawers, one from my husband’s family, the other two from mine. Yes, I like aged furniture, too, especially the beautiful antique wooden table Randy and I purchased at a neighbor’s farm auction (back in my hometown of Vesta) 40 years ago.

Historic buildings house these businesses along West Broadway in downtown Plainview. The Shop on Broadway makes a bold statement with a red entry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

There are stories, always stories, attached to these things of old or not quite so old.

Light drenches these stools displayed by the front window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Suspended unicycles at The Shop on Broadway led to sharing that my son rides a unicycle. Or did, when he was younger. He still has one at his current residence in Indiana, but uses his electric bike now to get around and pedal to the Purdue University campus.

A snapshot of merchandise for sale at The Shop on Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That’s the other thing about The Shop on Broadway. This is the sort of place where you feel instantly welcomed, where stories and information are exchanged. A customer, a Plainview native back in town, popped in to express his gratitude to co-proprietor Sonia for opening this relatively new shop. And while he didn’t buy anything, he filled her in on some glassware and promised to spread the word about the business.

Collectibles, antiques, vintage…The Shop on Broadway offers an assortment of interesting merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I left, too, without any purchases. Not because I didn’t see items I like, but rather because I am avoiding acquiring more stuff. And like the guy who exited The Shop on Broadway shortly before me, I promise to spread the word about this wonderful little shop in Plainview which I tag as friendly. And charming.

Right outside The Shop on Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

PLEASE CLICK HERE to read my introductory post on Plainview. And please watch for more stories from this southeastern Minnesota small town of 3,340 northeast of Rochester. Note that The Shop is open, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As in any small town, it’s best to check store hours in advance of a visit because “open” hours are often limited.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Revisiting Plainview, a must-visit community in southeastern Minnesota June 13, 2022

A mural themed to people, land, community and the arts graces a corner building in downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

I FELT COMFORTABLY, nostalgically, at home in Plainview, a farming community of some 3,340 in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County.

This Norman Rockwell type scene depicts small town Minnesota, here on a Saturday afternoon in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here kids bike along the main drag through town, passing by homegrown shops and other businesses. Here friendly shopkeepers engage in easy conversation that made me feel incredibly welcomed. And connected.

Just a block off Broadway, the local co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

This is a rural community through and through. Home to the Plainview Milk Products Cooperative. Surrounded by farm fields. And, at its essence, home to residents rooted in rural life. Noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler, who penned novels about small town life, grew up here (and in Staples). His parents owned the local Red Owl grocery store.

Right forefront, The Shop on Broadway vends antiques and collectibles. It’s an uncluttered shop with artfully displayed one-of-a-kind merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At The Shop on Broadway, relative newcomer to the area and co-proprietor Sonia spoke about a recently-purchased rural property.

Like a step back in time…J.T. Varieties & Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the variety store, the clerk and I exchanged histories of growing up on dairy farms.

Young Love is a combo floral and gift shop, plus small event center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Inside Young Love Floral & Finds, I found plenty of cow art to love.

A close-up of the lengthy mural on a building across the street from the former theater/arts center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview, in many ways, surprised me. I’d been here previously, nearly 10 years ago when a wrong turn led Randy and me to this small town some 20 miles northeast of Rochester. During that brief stop, we popped into the Jon Hassler Theater/Rural America Arts Center. The theater closed soon after and the arts center followed. But both impressed me. This return trip to Plainview revealed a new side, a thriving business district of welcoming, one-of-a-kind shops.

Although I didn’t pop into the quilt shop, Piece by Piece Creative Collaboration, I should have. Next time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Not all were open on the Saturday of my mid-May visit. But I perused enough to get a feel for what this community offers. As cliché as it sounds, Plainview seems an undiscovered gem with its independently-owned shops staffed by friendly folks with time to chat. I felt unrushed in uncrowded stores. Browse at my own pace. Take in the setting and merchandise and down-home feel of being in the moment in rural Minnesota.

J.T. Variety & Toys sells fabric and so much more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That comes from someone who is not a shopper, who easily tires of mass-produced whatever in Big Box stores. But I didn’t feel that here in Plainview. Inside The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Varieties & Toys, I found nostalgia. Antiques and collectibles in The Shop. And at the Variety store, I stepped back in time, into a mercantile akin to the Ben Franklin or Woolworth’s of my youth. I eased down narrow aisles jammed with merchandise—ran my hand across beautiful cotton fabric layered on shelves, eyed endless knick knacks, appreciated the Little Golden Book storybooks for sale.

Created by Shantelle Speedling at Young Love Floral & Finds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At Young Love Floral & Finds, historic photos, a vintage Mallard Seeds sign (the seed company was once housed here as was a bank) and the First National Bank vault (now a storage space) revealed more about this community. I love this little shop owned by floral designer/creative Shantelle Speedling. The biggest surprise here: wood flowers. Speedling uses them in her floral designs and they are unbelievably beautiful.

The display window at Magnolia Cottage showcases women’s clothing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Another surprise came in finding The Magnolia Cottage Boutique. If this had not been my last shop stop, I may have tried on some of the clothing therein because I loved the styles. But I was tired and it takes a lot for me to try on clothes. The shop also sells home décor, gifts, flowers and more.

From what I read online, this cupcake shop is open only occasionally, It gets rave reviews for its artsy and delicious cupcakes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Next door, Cakes Etcetera was closed, so no cupcakes for me on this Saturday afternoon.

Love this vintage sign marking the bowling alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A few doors down, I spotted a vintage sign for Gopher Lanes Bar & Grill. The bowling alley is closed—for the summer. But that didn’t keep me from admiring the sign which is, oh, so Minnesotan. Before Plainview schools merged with Elgin and Millville, their mascot was the Gophers. And just some 10 miles to the southwest of Plainview, the town of Viola celebrates the lowly pocket gopher with an annual community celebration, the Viola Gopher Count. The 148th annual festival is scheduled this week on June 15 and 16. That’s another story and Viola, another place to visit. Just like Plainview.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from Plainview. I’ll take you inside shops, show you signs, art and more discovered on a Saturday afternoon along Broadway. I’m sure I missed a lot of what Plainview offers. So if you are from this town, or have visited, I welcome your insights on places to check out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield during the holiday season December 21, 2018

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Outside an antique shop in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD RATES AS ONE of my favorite Minnesota cities. It’s a charming/quaint/picturesque river town with a timeless small town feel.

 

Photographed through the front window of Quality Bakery, a snippet of the bakery’s holiday window display.

 

Signage directs families to Santa’s house in Bridge Square.

 

The Christmas tree in Bridge Square brightens the wintry landscape with bold red decorations.

 

For someone like me who prefers rural to urban, a 22-minute drive there with no traffic hassles, visual delights in a historic downtown, an artsy vibe (including sidewalk poetry) and more, make this college city of some 20,000 particularly appealing. Especially at Christmas.

 

Bridge Square in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

An ornament on that community Christmas tree.

 

Santa’s house, where Santa has always been absent whenever I’ve stopped at Bridge Square.

 

Fancied up holiday window displays, a Santa House and Christmas tree in Bridge Square (the downtown community gathering spot), an annual Christmas Walk, the renowned St. Olaf College Christmas Concert and more transform Northfield into a magical place during the holiday season.

 

 

I recently spent some time Christmas shopping in the downtown made famous by The James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the First National Bank on September 7, 1876. Today that bank building houses the Northfield Historical Society. The museum sits right across the street from Bridge Square.

 

A wagon load of Wisemen awaits shoppers outside an antique shop.

 

It’s not that I like shopping—I don’t. But I’d rather shop in one-of-a-kind local shops than in Anywhere Mall, USA. Northfield offers an abundance of home-grown retail stores.

 

 

There’s a lot of creativity in Northfield. And an appreciation of that creativity. I once participated in a beer poetry reading at a local brewery. How cool is that?

 

Beau inside Marketplace @ 416.

 

Christmas or not, the Americana small town-ness of Northfield endears this river town to me.

 

 

TELL ME: Have you been to Northfield and, if so, what about it appeals to you? Or what town do you find especially charming wherever you live?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating the art & architecture of a business block in historic downtown Faribault August 31, 2018

A side view of an artsy window display at Fleur de Lis Gallery.

 

STOREFRONT WINDOWS ARE LIKE A CANVAS, a creative space that can cause passersby to pause, then perhaps step inside a business. Or at a minimum, to value the visual efforts of a shopkeeper.

 

A full front view of that Fleur de Lis window art.

 

Historic buildings reflect in the front window of Ruf Acres Market, one of Faribault’s newest businesses. Ruf Acres won the 2017 Downtown Faribault Business Challenge to launch new businesses.

 

A colorful flier promotes Pawn MN.

 

During a brief walk in the 200 block of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault on a recent Sunday afternoon, I discovered visual delights in window displays, splashes of color, wordage, architecture and more.

 

Nona has created this eye-catching Wash Day window displace at Keepers Antiques.

 

I appreciate the efforts of local shopkeepers to create window art that enhances our downtown.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market, egg cartons promote eggs from Graise Farm in rural Faribault.

 

Mallory of Grit & Grace uses a Rolling Stones quote to draw people into her new Faribault shop of merchandise and much more.

 

At The Upper East Side, Suzanne offers guests the option of painting totes and more. Love this artsy Faribault tote made at the sip and paint shop.

 

I appreciate those who value and promote local.

 

Ruf Acres signage highlights historic Faribault.

 

Markers like this tag historic buildings throughout downtown Faribault.

 

Historic architecture reflected in the window of a van.

 

I appreciate, too, those who long ago decided our historic buildings were worth saving. “You have a beautiful downtown,” a woman from Jackson noted to me as she and her friend explored Central Avenue while I shot photos. I welcomed them, invited them to return when shops are open.

 

 

I appreciate also the energy and enthusiasm of shopkeepers like Jessica at Fleur de Lis Gallery and Suzanne at The Upper East Side. Both possess a passion for art that adds to the growing art presence in my community.

 

 

A close-up of that Wash Day window display at Keepers Antiques with historic buildings reflected in the glass.

 

Fette Electronics is a long-time business in downtown Faribault.

 

From the Paradise Center for the Arts to local shops to new public art installations to historic murals, this southeastern Minnesota city is stretching its creativity and emerging as a place for the arts. For that I am grateful.

 

A section of the 200 block of Central Avenue in the business district of historic downtown Faribault.

 

It is through the lens of art—whether visual, literary or performing—that we see beauty in a place. And today that place is Faribault.

 

FYI: Check back for a close-up look at The Upper East Side, a paint and sip business and more.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of small town Lonsdale August 10, 2015

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Hardware stores, like this one in downtown Lonsdale, are important businesses in many small towns.

Hardware stores, like this one in downtown Lonsdale, are important businesses in many small towns.

EVERYBODY KNOWS EVERYBODY,” so claims a Lonsdale resident in a promotional video on the city’s website. That’s believable in this community of 3,800 located just off Interstate 35 in northwestern Rice County.

Jim's Antiques and Collectibles is among several similar shops in the downtown.

Jim’s Antiques and Collectibles is among several similar shops along Main Street.

On a recent Thursday evening, my husband, son and I drove into Lonsdale, circled through the Main Street and back and then parked in front of an antique store. This small town boasts 100 businesses. Not that you’re going to see a major downtown with lots of shops. There are some. But that number also includes the business park.

Sidewalk signage directs shoppers to several downtown businesses.

Sidewalk signage directs shoppers to several downtown businesses.

The city website also cites 11 city parks and two nature preserves in Lonsdale. I expect those get heavy usage not only from long-time locals but also from those who moved here for affordable housing and a short commute to the nearby Twin Cities metro.

A sign in a storefront window identifies a business.

A sign in a storefront window identifies a business.

Yes, Lonsdale is also known as a bedroom community, a major shift from the town’s root population of Czech immigrants living on the west side of town and Irish on the east. That was back in 1903 when the town was founded.

A front window in Jim's Antiques.

A front window in Jim’s Antiques.

Those ethnic roots remain strong today. You needn’t look far to find descendants of those early families like Skluzacek, Kuchinka, Sevcik…

More handcrafted signage.

More handcrafted signage.

And you needn’t look far to determine that Lonsdale remains, at heart, still a small town.

FYI: Join me tomorrow as I take you inside Audre’s Attic in downtown Lonsdale. The following day, I will show you Jim’s Antiques and Collectibles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: Discovering the Americana charm of Clear Lake, Iowa June 2, 2015

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Clear Lake, almost Norman Rockwell like in Iowa charm.

Clear Lake, almost Norman Rockwell like in Iowa charm.

AMERICAN FLAGS, SEEMINGLY methodically planted curbside, present a patriotic flair.

Vintage lawn chairs for sale seem ideal for a local lake home or cabin.

Vintage lawn chairs for sale seem ideal for a local lake home or cabin.

Vintage weathered lawn chairs beckon.

Pink potted geraniums cluster around a lamp post.

Starboard Market, a highly-recommended local sandwich shop and deli. We, unfortunately, did not eat here because of the wait.

Starboard Market, a highly-recommended local sandwich shop and deli. We, unfortunately, did not eat here because of the wait.

An empty stroller sits outside a busy downtown deli.

Downtown Clear Lake features interesting historical architecture.

Downtown Clear Lake features interesting historical architecture.

This is Clear Lake, a northern Iowa community of nearly 8,000 along Interstate 35 that retains its small town Americana character in an historic downtown lined with quaint shops, eateries and more.

The lake draws visitors here. A park, boat launch, beach and dock are located at the end of Main Avenue.

The lake draws visitors here. A park and public boat launch, beach and dock are located at the end of Main Avenue.

Park on one end of Main Avenue and stroll your way to the lake, one of Iowa’s largest. Dip your toes into Clear Lake, which isn’t all that clear.

All of the cookies sold at Cookies, etc. are made from scratch using secret family recipes, divulged to only a few select employees. Monster cookies are the top seller.

All of the cookies sold at Cookies, etc.. are made from scratch using secret family recipes, divulged to only a few select employees. Monster cookies, left, are the top seller. The cookies my husband and I purchased were warm from the oven. Cookies, etc. ships. The shop also serves muffins, cinnamon rolls, specialty coffees, other beverages and smoothies.

And, even if it’s only 10 a.m., follow the advice and fresh-baked cookie aroma of Cookies, etc.: “Life is short. Eat cookies.”

Flowers and plants bordered two three sides of the corner Larson's Mercantile, a popular stop for shoppers.

Flowers and plants border three sides of the corner Larson’s Mercantile, a popular stop for shoppers.

Pop into the many shops, including the popular Larson’s Mercantile, like a step back in time into a five-and-dime.

Friendly owner Tom Wilson welcomes me to Collectors Wonderland, where I took pictures and purchased a vintage lamp.

Friendly owner Tom Wilson welcomed me to Collectors Wonderland, where I took pictures and purchased a vintage lamp.

Delight in shopkeeper friendliness, a seemingly signature trait of Clear Lake folks.

Lake Time Brewery is a must-stop for good beer and great conversation with the locals.

Lake Time Brewery is a must-stop for good beer and great conversation with the locals.

Hang out on the patio of Lake Time Brewery where the welcome is as comfortably enthusiastic as Cheers.

The Surf Ballroom draws musicians and music lovers from all over. It is the final venue played by Buddy Holly,

The Surf Ballroom and Museum draws musicians and music lovers from all over. It is the final venue played by Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens before they died in a plane crash in February 1959 outside of Clear Lake.

This is Clear Lake, a destination get-away for my husband and me on our recent 33rd wedding anniversary. Situated only 85 miles to the south of our Faribault, Minnesota home, it was the perfect quick retreat into a rural lakeside community that caters to visitors like us and those who are more interested in recreational water sports or the historic Surf Ballroom.

Clear Lake retains its strong rural roots.

Clear Lake retains its strong rural roots.

Along its northern exit, Clear Lake appears like any other Interstate community with chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations. But take the highway toward downtown and the distinct characteristics of this town emerge. You’ll see its rural side in grain bins and fields.

You'll see lots of boats, like this one parked in a residential driveway.

You’ll see lots of boats, like this one parked in a residential driveway.

Boats point to the lake’s importance here.

The plan was to visit the iconic Barrel Drive-in on Saturday morning. However, it wasn't open yet and rain was falling. So the only image I have is this one, which does not show the drive-in.

The plan was to visit the iconic The Barrel Drive-in on Saturday morning. However, it wasn’t open yet and rain was falling. So the only image I have is this one, which does not show the drive-in, only its landmark chicken. The drive-in is known for its broasted chikcen and homemade root beer.

And long-standing eateries like The Barrel Drive-In showcase the uniquely local flavor of this place.

This art for sale at J Avenue pretty much summarizes Clear Lake.

This art for sale at J Avenue pretty much summarizes a visit to Clear Lake.

Clear Lake is worth a day trip or an overnighter with plenty to see and do. We certainly did not see and do it all. But we got a great sampling of all this Iowa community offers.

FYI: Please check back for more posts in this seven-part series from Clear Lake, Iowa. I’ll take you to the lake, the Surf Ballroom, a quaint chapel, the arts center and more.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling