Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dime store memories in Plainview June 23, 2022

Plainview’s version of the old-fashioned dime store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.

To the left, knick knacks. Center and to the right, supplies for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.

A sign directs customers to the shop at 333 West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.

Lots of fabric, lots of knick knacks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.

Lots of rainbow yarn choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.

Flowers, shoes, knick knacks, craft supplies…so much merchandise packed into this small store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…

Unlike the dime stores of old, credit cards are welcome at this variety store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.

The toy section. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.

Lots of great book choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…

More yarn choices for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.

To learn more about Plainview, read my previous posts by clicking here. And watch for several more stories on this community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The magic of LARK Toys, a southeastern Minnesota toy store October 6, 2015

A handcrafted sign inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

A handcrafted sign next to a window inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

LARK TOYS IS MAGICAL.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are handcarved.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are hand-carved.

A cozy and creative corner int he bookstore.

A cozy and creative corner in the bookstore.

In the game room, you can try out games.

In the game room, you can try out games.

No other adjective quite as succinctly describes this sprawling toy store along Minnesota State Highway 61 on the outskirts of Kellogg. It’s a business that showcases old toys and new, handcrafted and mass-produced. Toss in a candy shop and a bookstore, hands-on opportunities for kids to try out toys and the focal point—a hand-carved carousel—and you have magic.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Our family visited LARK years ago, when the kids were still at home. But this time it was just my husband and me meandering through the maze of rooms amid lots of grandparents with grandchildren in tow. I made a mental note to some day, when I become a grandmother, revisit this place.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

It's not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

It’s not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant as she watched the ride go round and round.

But this was now and I delighted in watching youngsters scramble onto their chosen animals—like a giraffe, dragon or pelican—as the colorful carousel curator readied the ride for a spin.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

From there I ducked into the candy shop, perusing the vast collection of jelly beans in flavors like juicy pear, strawberry jam and tangerine.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store. I love that detail about LARK Toys.

Then, along the hallway to the toy store, I paid homage to Felix the Cat, a favorite cartoon character from yesteryear displayed in the store’s Memory Lane section of vintage toys.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

Passing a public police box (a TARDIS for those of you who know and understand the BBC sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), I entered the Main Toy Store. And, oh, how I wished I was the grandkid with Grandpa and Grandma carrying a credit card.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

Without doubt, I would have begged for a wooden pull toy handcrafted at LARK Toys. As Randy and I admired pull toys like a fire truck, elephant, snail and even a mud-splashed pig, we remembered the wooden frog our eldest daughter hopped everywhere until the toy eventually wore out. It was not crafted at LARK. But it was similar to LARK toys. There’s something grassroots appealing about the simplicity of a wooden pull toy.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

And there’s something about LARK Toys, too, that’s truly Minnesota magical.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Toy samples are set up for kids to play with within the toy store.

Toy samples are set up for kids to test.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Fun walking sticks.

Fun walking sticks.

Art on display.

Art on display.

Fun on a windowsill.

Religion on a windowsill.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

There's fun outdoors, too, with mini golf and llamas to observe.

There’s more outdoors with mini golf and miniature llamas.

FYI: In December 2014, USA Today named LARK Toys among the top 10 best toy stores in the U.S. A year prior, viewers at WCCO TV voted LARK Toys the best toy store in Minnesota.

The toy store is located at 63604 170th Avenue outside Kellogg in southeastern Minnesota. Take County Road 18 to Lark Lane. You can see the dark brown sprawling building from U.S. Highway 61. (I think the structure should be painted in multiple eye-catching vibrant colors more suiting to a toy store.)

Hours vary according to seasons but are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily from now through December. After that, limited winter hours kick in for two months. Click here for full store hours.

As part of the Wabasha-Kellogg area SeptOberfest celebrations continuing to the end of October, LARK Toys is hosting stories and songs for preschoolers and families in the bookstore from 10:15 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Friday, October 9. A musical march to the carousel follows with free rides.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling