Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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