Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: The butterfly-loving bookseller March 13, 2015

Portraits #11 & 12: Russell Mattson, purveyor of books

My first portrait of Russ, taken in October 2011.

My first portrait of Russell, taken in October 2011.

His eyes hold a certain depth of sadness that I can’t define. Or perhaps his eyes simply hold stories of hard times or too many good times, or wisdom that comes with aging.

Russell Mattson, St. Paul, Minnesota, native and owner of Chandler’s books in the Mississippi River town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, seems a free spirit, a character, a former hippie type.

I first met him in October 2011 at his cluttered bookstore along Stockholm’s main drag. I learned that he’s an amateur photographer, a candle maker, a car nut, a lover of Monarch butterflies and, clearly, a bibliophile.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Russell three years later in October 2014.

Last fall I revisited Stockholm and Russell. I found him behind the counter of his book shop, the same blue print do-rag bowling his head, the same FUN METER button pinned to his apron.

Russell was still offering customers free milkweed seeds to maintain the Monarch population. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed, making the plant essential to the butterfly’s survival.

Personalities like this shopkeeper intrigue me for their individualism, their eccentricities, their uniqueness—all of which are synonyms really. The Russells of this world offer interesting portraits, interesting conversation, interesting studies in small town life.

I find a certain hope in meeting individuals like Russell who care about something as simple as Monarch butterflies.


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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:18 AM
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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


Russell, the bookseller of Stockholm October 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:59 AM
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Bookseller Russell Mattson in his shop.

The old-fashioned screen door entry to Chandler's Books, Curios.

LET ME INTRODUCE YOU to Russell Mattson, purveyor of new and used books, amateur photographer, sometime candle maker, car nut and lover of Monarch butterflies.

I met him on a recent Monday afternoon in Stockholm. Wisconsin. Not Sweden.

We struck up a conversation in his Chandler’s Books, Curios, in this Mississippi River village of 89 founded in 1851 and dubbed the oldest Swedish settlement in western Wisconsin.

You’ll find a Swedish import shop here, run by the Norwegian Ingebretsens, and an array of other quaint shops and eateries and more in this charming small town along Wisconsin State Highway 35 south of Prescott, or southeast of Red Wing, if you’re from Minnesota, like me.

Russ originally hails from St. Paul; he’s lived in Stockholm for 38 years. For 31 years, he made candles at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival before retiring in 2003. His store, once called Candles and Lanterns, previously catered candles until that market deflated.

He still makes candles now and then. He also collects swamp milkweed seed to give away in his shop, encouraging others to grow milkweed as food for Monarch butterflies.

But mostly, Russ focuses on keeping the bookshelves stocked in this cramped, don’t-meet-another-customer-between-the-shelves bookstore.

You'll find lots of book, old vinyls and other curiosities, but not much wiggle room, in Russ' shop.

If you're seeking vintage used books, you'll find them here.

The bookshelves stretch nearly to the original tin ceiling in Russ' store.

Ask Russ what sells best and he’ll pause before pointing to the rack of car books and then pulling out photos of vintage cars he once drove, wishes he still owned.

That leads him to step outside to a display table and show off the photos he’s taken, some dating back decades. Of particular interest is a blurry black-and-white image of a locomotive that looks more painting than photo.

Russ took the picture of the Canadian National in northern Minnesota in 1955 when he was only 14. He’s pretty proud of the photo. Not because it’s the best image he’s ever taken. But because of how he took the shot. He snapped the photo with his Baby Brownie by placing binoculars in front of the camera lens.

All this I learned from Russell Mattson, purveyor of books, when I asked to take his photo on a Monday afternoon in October in Stockholm.

A front window of the bookstore features an eclectic mix of merchandise.

If you need swamp milkweed seed, you'll find it in a jar on the store counter. Help yourself. It's free.

Or perhaps you need a "new" phone. Russ has one for sale "from the slow old days."

A collection of buttons inside an open drawer in the bookstore.

CHECK BACK for more photos from Stockholm, not Russ, and other Mississippi River towns in future posts.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling