Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why I thrift & some thrifting finds November 2, 2022

Vintage glasses found in a Northfield thrift store, Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

VIA UPBRINGING AND FINANCIAL NECESSITY, I am a thrifter. I believe in recycling, reusing, repurposing, upcycling, whatever term you peg to using that which has already been used.

Thrifting is a great way to find affordable art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As a child, I occasionally wore clothes stitched from feed sacks. Or maybe they were flour sacks. Doesn’t matter. The point is that farm women like my mom were innovative in crafting clothing for their children. Clothes were passed down from oldest to youngest (ask my sister how much she “hated” my hand-me-downs), from cousins to cousins. Store-bought clothes were always selected from the sales rack.

Furniture crams a space at Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Throughout my entire life I’ve held that perspective of passing along, of not needing new. My first furniture—a worn green arm chair and sofa from the 1950s—in my first apartment came from my parents’ living room. My waterfall desk and kitchen table and chairs came from my maternal Grandpa, chest of drawers from my childhood bedroom. My coffee table was a wooden crate that once held newsprint or some print-related part from Crow River Press, the Hutchinson press that printed The Gaylord Hub, my first place of employment out of college.

These colorful plates caught my eye. Dinnerware is always in stock at thrift shops and garage sales. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Into marriage and child-rearing, I purchased used. Baby equipment and kids’ clothes came from garage sales. Likewise I’ve amassed a vast collection of original art from thrift shops, rummage sales and recycled art sales. Furniture passed down from family or acquired at garage sales or auctions defines most of the furniture in my house. Even today. My dishes are the indestructible Spring Blossom Green Corelle dinnerware, once my mom’s company dishes, now my everyday dinnerware.

An overview of used merchandise in the households section of Used-A-Bit Shoppe, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’m pleased that items made decades ago continue to function in my home. I feel no need to update. Old is often constructed better than new. Old often holds memories, too. That matters.

A sandwich board outside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, River Park Mall, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even though I’m at that age when I no longer want more stuff, that doesn’t keep me from occasional thrift shopping. That differs from thrift purchasing. If I notice a garage sale while out and about, I’ll stop. The same goes for thrift stores like Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. Recently I popped into the shoppe in the River Park Mall. Housed in two separate spaces, one area features furniture and the other a mix of glassware, dinnerware, home décor, collectibles, puzzles, books, linens, toys and much much more. Proceeds from the volunteer-run nonprofit benefit FiftyNorth, a gathering place for older adults (and a whole lot more).

Smiley faces were popular when I was a teen in the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Each time I meander through a thrift store, I find goods that draw me close. Something will trigger a memory, evoke a feeling, catch my eye. On this visit, a smiley face bowl took me back to the 1970s when sunny yellow smiling faces were everywhere. I even had a smiley face bulletin board in my lime green bedroom.

One of several quilt blocks, some finished, others not. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I delight, too, in art and vintage glassware. When a Used-A-Bit volunteer showed me a stash of finished and unfinished quilt blocks, I paused to appreciate the handiwork and consider the woman who stitched them. I wondered why anyone would give up this connection to a loved one. We all have our reasons for letting go.

A colorful beverage cart from Costa Rica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The furniture side of the shoppe, where I last purchased a framed vintage print of University Hall at Purdue for my son, a graduate student there, presented the most unusual finds of the day. A colorful ox cart/beverage cart from Costa Rica is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I could envision this reused in some utilitarian, fun way. On a patio. At a restaurant. In another shop.

This image shows the size of the 1968 world wall map. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But the show-stopper of my Northfield thrift shopping was a pull-down 1968 world map. That massive map took me straight back to Vesta Elementary School, to the maps teachers unfurled to open our minds to places beyond the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. Priced at only $75, I considered the vintage map a work of art, a piece of history, a memory-keeper.

Interesting artsy vessels at Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Colorful kids’ chairs just waiting for the right buyer at Used-A-Bit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An artsy vase… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s so much to be found when thrifting. Art. History. Enough to furnish a home. Entertainment. Memories. And in the all of it, this recycling of goods benefits our planet by keeping stuff out of landfills.

The 1968 world wall map up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

TELL ME: Are you a thrifter? If yes, where do you thrift and what are some of your most treasured finds?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My thrifty ways: flea market finds May 31, 2013

I GREW UP SHOPPING for clothes from the sales racks at JC Penney. Rarely, if ever, was I allowed to buy anything from the full price rack. So why bother to look.

Because I was the oldest girl in the family, I got the new clothes, which were then passed down to my ungrateful sister. I use that adjective because Lanae didn’t especially appreciate my fashion taste. She was right. My indecisiveness often led to bad choices.

By my middle school years, I learned to sew. And from then on, I stitched most of my apparel. I didn’t mind. I loved selecting patterns and fabrics and creating one-of-a-kind clothing.

Still, mostly, it was all about saving money. And money was tight in our poor farm family of six kids.

I found this vintage Minnesota beverage tray for $2 at the recent Rice County Gas and Steam Engines Flea Market. All other items featured in this post were found at the same venue.

I found this vintage Minnesota beverage tray at the recent Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Flea Market. All other items featured in this post were found at the same venue.

With that background, you can understand my delight in seeking out and scoring bargains. Thrift stores, yard and garage sales, and flea markets are my favorite shopping venues. Not only can I find merchandise at affordable prices, but I typically discover something few others own.

At the same vendor where I purchased the tray, I bought this floral etched and painted box. If I remember correctly, this is termed "hobo art."

At the same vendor where I purchased the tray, I found this floral etched and painted box. If I remember correctly, this is  “hobo art.” I got the box and the tray for $12. These may be given as gifts; I haven’t decided.

I’ve passed this love of bargain shopping onto my three offspring. My 19-year-old college intern son, attempting to furnish his first apartment on a budget, recently negotiated the purchase of a leather couch for $25 at a Goodwill store in Rochester.

From another vendor I bought this Fire King bowl and handstitched tablecloth trimmed with rick-rack. Total cost: $5.

From another vendor I bought this Fire King bowl and handstitched tablecloth trimmed with rick-rack. Total cost: $5.

Last week his sister, a Spanish medical interpreter in northeastern Wisconsin, shopped a half-price sale at an Appleton thrift store and purchased an easy chair for $24. A mint condition coffee table found next to a dumpster at her apartment complex cost her nothing.

The oldest daughter, who lives in Minneapolis, also sometimes shops at second-hand stores and even bought her bridal gown for her upcoming wedding at a vintage bridal shop.

Yes, I’m proud of my kids and their thrifty buying habits. Not only do they save money, but they recycle what others have cast off or can no longer use.

This kitschy art is so ugly it's cute, if that makes sense. For 75 cents, it was mine. My husband just shook his head, but then hung it on our backyard fence anyway, per my request.

This kitschy art is so ugly it’s cute, if that makes sense. For 75 cents, it was mine. My husband just shook his head, but then hung it on our backyard fence anyway, per my request.

My own house is furnished with lots of second-hand furniture, lamps, art, kitchenware, etc. I don’t need new. Old works for me, my tastes and my budget. How about you?

I had the perfect spot in mind when I bought that frog art.

I had the perfect spot in mind when I bought that frog art.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The price is right May 20, 2013

I LOVE A GOOD DEAL. Who doesn’t? Even more, I’m especially pleased when I can recycle an item which benefits charity.

Driven by the need to find the 19-year-old son an inexpensive piece of furniture for the living room in his first-ever apartment, we hit the thrift stores in Rochester Saturday afternoon, move-in day.

On the final stop, Caleb found a leather sofa tucked under a merchandise display shelf at the Goodwill store, 239 28th Street Southeast.

Total purchase price for these three items was just over $30, including tax.

Total purchase price for these three items was just over $30, including tax. Additionally, I bought the coasters (about 10 of them) on the table for 25 cents at a garage sale.

His dad and I discouraged shelling out $110 for a sofa he needs for only the three-month duration of his summer internship at IBM. So I suggested he approach a floor clerk and barter. Better a poor college student seek a discount than parents. We temporarily disappeared so he could negotiate.

He and the clerk talked for awhile and then she cut the price to $75. I don’t know what transpired, but in between the time Caleb grabbed the tag and walked up front to pay, she slashed the price even more—to $25.

Hallelujah. A comfortable couch to fit a college student’s budget.

Goodwill had originally priced the sofa at $150.

Scrubbed later with a leather cleaning product, purchased for under $4 on our way back to the apartment, the sofa really shines. Plans to return the couch to Goodwill in August have been scrapped; the son wants to keep this piece of furniture now that it looks so good. That will be open to negotiation.

Prior to the Rochester move, we also secured several other apartment items at thrift stores, including a free end table from All Seasons Thrift Store, 310 Central Avenue, Faribault. The freebie was a $10 reward for spending $50 in the store. I’ll reveal those $50 purchases in a future post.

All Seasons proceeds benefit food shelves in the nearby Kenyon and Wanamingo areas.

Finally, the $3 lamp which now rests on the freebie end table next to the $25 leather couch comes from a New Ulm thrift store, The Treasure Haus, 1209 South Broadway.  As a bonus, the lamp included a three-way light bulb. Sales from the Treasure shop go toward Christian schools, programs and missions.

There you go, readers. It is possible to partially furnish a living room for around $30.

Now, let’s hear about your thrift store bargains.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sweet finds in Montgomery, Part II: Thrifting April 11, 2013

LONG BEFORE REPURPOSING, upcycling and recycling became fashionable, I realized the value in shopping second-hand.

Sweet Repeats, a thrift shop in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

Sweet Repeats, a thrift shop in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

Thus you can imagine my excitement when I discovered not one, but two, thrift stores in downtown Montgomery during a recent visit.

In this second installment focusing on the businesses my husband and I perused in this small south-central Minnesota community on a recent Saturday, I highlight those two thrift stores.

A sampling of the merchandise inside Sweet Repeats.

A sampling of the merchandise inside Sweet Repeats.

First stop was Sweet Repeats, which offers a wide variety of merchandise ranging from furniture to glassware, old tools, books, clothing and everything in between. Sifting through all the merchandise takes considerable time; I’m certain I missed some gems. But, because the building wasn’t heated—or at least it felt that way to me—I shopped at a faster speed.

I kept circling back to this chair, one of four paired with a rectangular glass-top table. I love the bones, the artsy design of this chair as well as the fabric. But I walked away from it, but not before testing the chair, which was too hard for my comfort.

I kept circling back to this chair, one of four paired with a rectangular glass-top table. I love the bones, the artsy design of this chair as well as the fabric. I walked away from it, but not before testing the chair, which was too hard for my comfort.

How well I remember S & H and Gold Bond stamps.

How well I remember S & H and Gold Bond stamps.

I stopped long enough, though, to reminisce when I saw an S & H Green Stamps book, recalling my mom saving, licking and pasting those stamps into books to redeem for merchandise. Funny I can’t remember a single item she got with stamps, only the stamps and the booklets.

Just like the camera my mom used when I was growing up.

Just like the camera my mom used when I was growing up.

I also admired a Brownie Hawkeye Camera while Randy eyed a set of poker chips like his grandparents pulled out on Saturdays.

Sweet pieces of Frankoma pottery.

Sweet pieces of Frankoma pottery.

For the collector, Sweet Repeats offers some sweet pieces of Frankoma pottery. I don’t know going prices on such collectibles. But the owners of this thrift store seem quite aware of value, meaning if you expect to score a steal simply because this is small-town Minnesota, you likely would be wrong.

Love the name, Bird's Nest, of this thrift store.

Love the name of this thrift store: Bird’s Nest.

Just up the street at The Bird’s Nest Thrift Store, a cozy non-profit shop that supports local projects, the merchandise offerings are mostly clothing and basic household necessities. I scored a summery straw purse for $2, perhaps a gift to an aunt or maybe I’ll just keep it for myself.

A nice selection of purses at the Bird's Nest.

A nice selection of purses at the Bird’s Nest.

The "make-an-offer" wedding dress.

The “make-an-offer” wedding dress.

Randy and I also examined a wedding dress as our eldest is shopping for a gown. The volunteer male tending the store was totally clueless as to any details about the unmarked, unsized dress stained with wine on one sleeve. But he offered to call Myrna while I photographed the gown.

You simply have to appreciate such a nicety which reflects the overall friendliness that prevails in Montgomery. These people are just plain nice, friendly folks. Exactly what I’d expect in a small town.

CHECK BACK for the next installment featuring downtown Montgomery businesses my husband and I visited. To read previous posts, click here and then click here.

And if you missed my first piece on an old-fashioned barbershop in Montgomery, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The cost of prom and ways to save money April 28, 2012

A 1984 bridesmaid's dress I donated last year to the Faribault High School National Honor Society Prom Dress Drive.

EVEN I WAS SHOCKED when I read the number: $1,078.

That, dear readers, is the average amount American teens are spending on their high school proms this spring, according to results of a Visa Inc. Prom Spending Survey.


I knew the cost of prom was over-the-top, but not to that level of out-of-control spending.

If it’s any solace, here in the Midwest, prom-going teens spend $696, the least of anywhere in the nation. Those in the Northeast shell out $1,944. Southern teens spend an average of $1,047 and those on the West Coast, $744.

Surprised? Shocked? I am.

But wait, there’s more. According to the survey (click here to read a complete report), prom spending is up nearly 34 percent from the 2011 average of $807.

Surprised? Shocked? I am.

That all said, there are ways to cut prom costs, still look great and enjoy this special high school event. Readers of this blog offered plenty of creative money-saving ideas earlier this week after I posted about prom. Since I expect not all readers peruse the comments, here are the suggestions they offered:

No one was more adamant about cutting prom costs than Joan, who advocates thrift store shopping to save significant dollars. Her son picked up a second-hand suit at a local thrift store and his date is wearing a $20 dress from the Salvation Army. Joan spent $10 for the silk flowers she purchased at a craft store and then crafted. Another $45 goes for two prom tickets. She’s spent $10 for after-prom food and will spend an additional amount for her son’s dinner out. Add those numbers, and the cost for Joan’s son to attend prom will likely be around $100.

Affordable? Yes.

A friend of mine, a young mother who lives in Washington D.C., sent a link to a Utah-based business that rents prom dresses for $39 – $99, plus a cleaning fee. Modest Prom lists its mission: Help you find a modest prom dress. Click here to learn about this rental option.

Another reader, a South Dakota mom who last year spent $280 on her daughter’s prom dress, recouped 75 percent of the cost by selling the dress after prom. This year that same mom shelled out $400 for her daughter’s gown.

A similar strategy is recommended by another reader. Her friend bought a dress after prom for a fraction of the price. “Styles don’t change dramatically in a year,” she says.

In Australia, another mom says her daughter is covering some of the costs for attending her school formal.

And then there’s the Twin Cities metro area mother who offers this alternative. Her son, on prom night, invited friends over for pizza, prom night movies and video games. “He got a great turnout, and the kids had a blast,” she says.

My 18-year-old isn’t attending Faribault High School’s prom tonight. His older sisters never attended prom either. I, however, went to my high school proms in 1973 and 1974. Things were different back then. I sewed my dresses. Girls and guys could go solo. We didn’t get our hair or nails done or pay photographers or dine out or ride in limos or… Prom was much simpler back then and certainly way cheaper.

Times have changed and as much as I’d like to sometimes turn the clock back to those simpler days, I can’t.

But I do have two ideas to cut prom costs. How about cooking a fancy meal in your home for your prom-going son/daughter and his/her date? My mom did that for my youngest brother back in the day. Today my brother’s married to his prom date.

The other idea isn’t really mine, but is one the Faribault High School National Honor Society came up with last year. The NHS held a Prom Dress Drive, collecting and recycling prom dresses. You can read about that by clicking here. I know this has been done elsewhere and I consider it a fabulous alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on a new dress.

So there you go. Prom can cost less than the nation-wide average of $1,078 if you’re willing to think creatively, shop thrift stores and simply say “no” to your son/daughter.

IF YOU HAVE ADDITIONAL cost-saving suggestions or prom alternatives, please submit your ideas via a comment on this post. We can all learn from each other. Thank you to all who earlier submitted their great ideas.

FYI: Visa survey results were based on 1,000 telephone interviews conducted nation-wide between March 30 – April 1, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thrifting at the mall March 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:28 AM
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Terry's Curiosities and Collectables offers mostly collectible glassware, not at thrift store prices, but lower than at an antique store. So for purposes of this post, I'm terming Terry's a thrift store.

LONG BEFORE thrifting became fashionable, I thrifted. I shopped primarily at garage and rummage sales because second-hand stores simply weren’t all that common nearly 27 years ago.

Yes, I’ve been thrifting that long, since before my first-born was born. Baby clothes and kids’ clothes, books and toys comprised those early bargain purchases.

As the years passed, my shopping habits shifted away from the needs of my growing-into-teenagers kids toward myself—to the vintage tablecloths, drinking glasses and prints/paintings/miscellaneous artwork I collect.

And as the years have passed and thrift stores have opened in my community of Faribault, I find myself turning more to those stores than to rummage sales to shop on the cheap.

I also focus more on nostalgia, discovering that which connects me to days gone-by. The older I grow, the more I appreciate my past.

Let me show you some of the merchandise I perused on a recent stop at Terry’s Curiosities and Collectables (sic) and the Salvation Army Store in the Faribo West Mall.

As long as you’re tagging along with me on this shopping trip, let’s play a little game. I’ll show you the goods and you guess which I purchased.

Here we go:

I remember when my mom popped these Sylvania flashbulbs into her camera.

I remember the time my son saw a rotary dial phone in a thrift store and had no clue how to use it. Heck, I remember life without a phone growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

This vintage piece is as much clock as art. I call her "The Girl with Attitude."

A working General Electric alarm clock made from wood.

A hand-stitched rural scene.

I found games packing shelves at the Salvation Army, including this vintage version of Password.

Alright then, have you made your guesses? Which of the above two did I buy?

And which of the above two did I wish I’d purchased?

PURCHASED: The General Electric alarm clock for $4 and the needlework art for $2.

SHOULD HAVE PURCHASED: The Password game at the Salvation Army and “The Girl with Attitude” clock (which I think was out of my thrifty price range) at Terry’s Curiosities and Collectables.

Would you have bought any of these items?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An historic fashion find in Faribault February 3, 2012

IT WAS AN IMPRESSIVE FIND. There, hanging on a circular clothes rack jammed with winter coats, I discovered the soft suede coat collared in fur.

I beckoned my daughter to come, try it on. Wrap yourself in this finely-crafted coat with covered buttons and deep pockets and hand-stitched lining at the collar. Try on this fawn-colored coat that reminds me of Mary Tyler Moore when I picture you wearing it.

But she hesitated, not certain about wearing a coat trimmed with fur, a fur we couldn’t identify because we’re not accustomed to such luxury.

Eventually I coaxed her into slipping on the tailored garment from Ochs of Faribault, a fine, but now defunct, department store that served communities in southern Minnesota for nearly 100 years with branches in Owatonna, Waseca, Rochester and Austin and, later, a store in New Ulm.

That deep history alone made the coat worth purchasing. Ochs, established in Faribault in 1888 as a seller of dry goods and notions, became “the” place to shop in the heyday of department stores.

I’ve lived in Faribault long enough to remember Ochs. I couldn’t afford to shop at this elite business, although my husband rented our wedding tuxedos there in 1982. Not long after that, Ochs closed, about the time high-end department stores began disappearing from Main Street.

Buying the coat would equal acquiring a piece of history. I impressed that upon my 25-year-old daughter as she pondered purchasing the coat. Soon she pulled $12 and some loose change—I threw in the remaining coins—to total $12.50.

She’d just purchased a finely-made coat from one of Faribault’s finest department stores for half price at the Faribault Senior Center’s Clothes Closet.

I thrilled in the thrift store find and followed with a back yard photo shoot to document our discovery.

And then I suggested to my daughter that she pose for a second photo shoot next to the Mary Tyler Moore statue on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. She, like the actress in the 1970s The Mary Tyler Moore Show sitcom, lives in Minneapolis and is a strong, independent, single working woman.

Such a photo would be a fitting tribute, I think, to the strength and power of women. When Verna Love Ochs became the president of Ochs in 1969 upon the death of her husband, she was one of only five women in the country serving as a department store president. That’s according to a Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission Downtown Walking Tour video clip produced by Daniel J. Hoisington of Edinborough Productions.

Note the Faribault Ochs store in this mid-1920s photo from the private collection of Daniel J. Hoisington.

Verna Ochs, who died in 1989, was also a member of the Rice County Historical Society and a charter member of the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission. She’d likely appreciate the restoration of the Ochs Department Store building several years ago by the State Bank of Faribault.

Will my daughter value her new suede coat? I expect, given its history, she will.

CLICK HERE to watch a video clip about Ochs.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage photo courtesy of Daniel J. Hoisington


My latest art-at-a-bargain find from the Salvation Army August 7, 2011

My Jose Maria de Servin painting.


Do you shop for mass-produced art at a big box retailer?

Or are you the gallery type, purchasing one-of-a-kind fine art?

Maybe you shop flea markets, rummage sales or thrift stores for hand-crafted or vintage art.

Perhaps you’re artistic enough to create your own art to hang in your home or workplace.

If you know me as well as I expect you may from following Minnesota Prairie Roots, you would rightly guess that I prefer to find one-of-a-kind art at a bargain by shopping second-hand. Notice that I didn’t say bargain art. I said art at a bargain. There’s a difference.

My collection includes original paintings by hobbyist painters, prints by unknown artists, embroidered pieces by someone’s grandma… I’ve purchased most at unbelievably low prices—try 50 cents or $3.

Through the years I’ve even acquired an original Jose Maria de Servin painting and a vintage print of South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn’s  “The Prairie is My Garden” at steal prices. Both times I had no idea what I was purchasing. I simply liked the art.

That’s the thing with me and art. I buy a piece of art not as an investment, but because I like it.

That said, I recently picked up a three-dimensional rendition of  “The Last Supper” at the Salvation Army Store in Faribault. I debated whether I should pay $14 for the made-in-Spain art. In fact, I set the 24 x 17-inch piece down twice before watching another woman pick up and admire it. At that precise moment I decided I really wanted the unique art. I had to restrain my urge to run over and snatch it up after she set it back on the shelf. I waited until she was well out of grabbing range.

The Last Supper three-dimensional art I bought at The Salvation Army Store.

Later, the woman stood behind me in the check-out line and told me how she wished she had “The Last Supper” I clenched in my hands. “Then I saw you pick it up,” she said.

I responded with a seemingly casual remark: “Yeah, if you see something you think you might buy, you shouldn’t set it down…”

HOW ABOUT YOU? Where do you shop for art and what deals have you found?

Close up with Christ and the disciples at The Last Supper.

I hung the three-dimensional The Last Supper in my dining room.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling