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

 

Floral & finds in Plainview, a creative shop honoring the past June 24, 2022

Detailed signage banners Young Love Floral & Finds in downtown Plainview, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

IT’S THE TYPE OF BUSINESS any small town would welcome. Home-grown. Creative. Beautifully-designed. And busy, at least during my weekend stop.

My view upon entering the shop. Shantelle Speedling is behind the counter/work space at the rear of the display area. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

When I entered Young Love Floral & Finds in downtown Plainview on a Saturday afternoon in mid-May, I paused and took in the scene before continuing up several stairs into this inviting space.

The Mallard Seeds sign came with the building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In this historic building, which housed the Plainview Hotel, then the First National Bank beginning in 1902 followed by Mallard Seeds, Shantelle Speedling has created a shop that honors the history and stories of this place. She worked in this space for 14 years, testing seed corn germination for the seed company.

If you want a quick peek at local history, view the historic photos posted in the shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here, in a side room reserved for small celebrations and crafting parties/make-and-take events, local historic photos fill a well-used bulletin board pocked with holes. A bold, vintage Mallard Seeds sign accents the black-and-white and sepia photo collage.

The closed doors lead to the vault, now a storage space, with the heavy vault door open to the right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Just around the corner, the in-tact original bank vault now serves as a walk-in storage space and a point of interest in this shop of florals and finds.

Created from wood flowers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

As a trained floral designer, this busy mother of three uses wood (yes, wood) and silk flowers to create stunning centerpieces, bouquets, wreaths and more. I observed a collection of her designs ready for a wedding. She also does casket sprays and florals for any occasion.

A sampling of the artfully-displayed merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The “Finds” part of her business is equally as impressive. Home décor and other items, including cow prints which drew my farm girl eyes, are decidedly rural and artfully-displayed. Propped on aged furniture, hung on barn red doors, set atop stacked wooden boxes…

Looking from the back of the shop toward the front. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This place feels like it fits Plainview, a small farming community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County. Speedling took care to retain the historic rural character of the building, right down to keeping the original embossed ceiling, refreshing it with a new coat of paint.

Newspaper stories and more are displayed on a bulletin board in the side event room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

There’s something to be said for a shopkeeper who values the past—here an historic building—enough to make it work in the present. Speedling has accomplished that. And now she’s imprinting her stories, her history, growing her business in a building where guests once stayed, merchants once banked and seeds once germinated.

Centerpieces created by Shantelle Speedling cram the back countertop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FYI: Click here to read my previous posts on Plainview, including features on two other businesses, The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Variety & Toys. Please check back for two more stories in my series on this small Minnesota town. You may also be interested in reading these recent posts from neighboring Elgin.

© Copyright 2022 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

 

International Owl Center auctions more owl art to help Ukrainian kids June 22, 2022

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center helps visitors find the building in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

ITS MISSION SEEMS BASIC: Making the world a better place for owls through education. That’s an expected goal of the International Owl Center based in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston.

One of the center’s live owls, photographed during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

But this nonprofit has spread its wings to make life better for the children of Ukraine. How? By raising monies through online auctions of owl art with proceeds benefiting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help Ukrainian children.

Promo for the current art auction. (Source: International Owl Center)

The fourth Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids opens at 6 am Wednesday, June 22, and closes on Sunday, June 26. All 48 original art pieces were created through the years by Ukrainian children for the International Kids’ Owl Art Contest and are in the Owl Center collection. The current auction also features one piece of art by a teacher.

Three online auctions of owl art earlier this year, sales of gift card sets and donations have already raised $225,000 for UNICEF relief in Ukraine. Bids reached as high as $8,005 for a single piece of original artwork. A fifth auction is set for August 10-14. Total fundraising goal is $400,000.

Owl art, from all over the world, decorated the Owl Center walls during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

I’m beyond impressed by the ambition of the Owl Center and by the generosity of bidders. And I’m beyond impressed by the talent of these Ukrainian artists who range from preschool age to 18-years-old.

Because most individuals can’t afford to bid hundreds or thousands of dollars on artwork, even if donated to a worthy cause, the Owl Center offers options. The auction includes limited edition prints priced at $100. Those are limited to 25 prints each of four different owl artworks. Note that those prints sell out quickly. Additionally, the online auction site accepts direct donations to UNICEF.

The Center plans to also re-offer sets of 20 blank owl art greeting cards during the International Owl Awareness Day weekend August 5-8. Those must be purchased in-person at the center with any remaining card sets then sold in the Center’s online store.

The International Owl Center in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2015)

As the war in Ukraine continues, media coverage has lessened, replaced by other top news stories. But that doesn’t diminish the pain, the suffering, the fear, the terror, the hunger, the displacement, the destruction, the death…that remain very real for the people of Ukraine. I am thankful that the International Owl Center has partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation to aid Ukrainian kids. Via these fundraisers, this Minnesota community of 1,040 is offering help, and hope.

FYI: To reach the auction website, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Peonies, wine & more at Aspelund June 16, 2022

Posing among the peonies in traditional Hmong attire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

OH, HOW STUNNING the traditional Hmong dresses worn by two sisters posing among the peonies in a rural southeastern Minnesota garden.

Among the most vibrant peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their unexpected presence graced my annual tour of Aspelund Peony Gardens with culture and color on a recent Sunday afternoon. What a delight to encounter these friendly women who say they simply love peonies. Their attire included floral print fabric. They traveled from the Twin Cities metro to this country location northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon, site of Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. After they photographed each other, one sister asked me to photograph them with her camera. I obliged.

The tasting room is to the right, an addition to the Rohls’ home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A wine flight, on a peacock-shaped wood cut-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Assorted peacocks, the winery “mascot,” can be found in the tasting room. The story behind the birds: Bruce attempted to relocate living peacocks from his father’s farm two miles away, only to have the birds return to their original home. He learned later that peacocks eat flower blossoms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I try to come here every year in early June to see the rows and rows of peonies in bloom. And to sip wine. This visit, Randy and I met our friend Valerie and her friend Jean. The place was busy. Owners Dawn and Bruce Rohl sell wine and take orders for root peony tubers, available in the fall.

Rascal makes me smile. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Here Rascal the dog welcomes guests up the gravel driveway with raucous barking. I’d barely opened the van door when Rascal ran up and I reached down to pet him. Later I saw Princess the cat weaving through the peonies.

A view of the rural landscape from the vineyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A tin-sided outbuilding, likely a granary at one time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Grapevines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Those are the nuances which endear Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens to me. The simplicity of this place atop a hill overlooking the Zumbro River Valley, red barn and silo in the distance. This place of towering oaks and tire swing, of old tin-sided shed, apple trees, massive rhubarb plants, twisted grapevines…

A glimpse of the peony rows, all numbered for ordering tubers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

So many fragrant and beautiful peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Ants are drawn to peonies, including to this bud. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

On this June afternoon, the wind blew fierce, whipping lose ends of my hair, dipping peony stems, playing a refrain inside my head of “summer breeze makes me feel fine” (Seals & Croft 1972). I felt mighty fine in this peaceful place among blooming peonies. Some buds remained clamped tight, but likely have opened in the days since my visit.

A developing apple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I prefer meandering on this plot of land among the apple trees and grapevines and, especially, in the peony gardens. Here assorted shades of mostly pink and crimson flowers bloom. Colors vary from subdued to vibrant. Shapes, vary, too.

One of the more unusual peonies, layered in pink and yellow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

But it’s not all visual for me. I take time to bend close to the blossoms (check for bees), smelling their fragrant perfume which, if you’re a romanticist, may prompt you to reflect on long ago brides gathering peonies from their mothers’ or grandmothers’ gardens for bridal bouquets. They did so in my community of Faribault, storing peonies in the cool sandstone caves along the Straight River to preserve until their wedding days. Faribault was once The Peony Capital of the World. Some of the Aspelund peonies were sourced from those once grown in Faribault.

Guests enjoy wine on the back deck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Touring Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens has become an early summer tradition for me. I feel comfortable here, at peace, soothed by the wind and the wine and the welcoming conversations. The small scale of the business suits me as do the unpretentious owners and the rural setting. As I watched two young girls sway on the tire swing, pushed by their dad, their happy voices rising, I felt such joy in witnessing this scene.

Sisters in traditional Hmong attire, one taking photos of the other. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

And I felt happiness, too, in that chance encounter with the two sisters from the Cities, celebrating their Hmong heritage in a field of peonies.

Peacock art inside the tasting room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

FYI: Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens is open from 4 – 7 pm Thursday and Friday, noon – 7 pm Saturday and noon – 5 pm Sunday. Note that the tasting room is small, basically a walk-up and order space. Outdoor seating on the deck and other areas can be difficult to secure during busy times. However, you can order a glass of wine and walk around the gardens. If you want to see the peonies, go now; their bloom period is nearly done.

Click here to read previous posts from Aspelund Winery & Peony Gardens.

© 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

 

Quirky finds in Elgin June 9, 2022

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Downtown Elgin, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, details matter to me. I notice the unusual, the quirky, the odd in places. That includes in Elgin, a small farming town northeast of Rochester.

A block off the main street, I saw this steeple in a backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent walk-about through the downtown area, I came upon a church steeple. Not atop a church, but rather in a residential backyard. I have no idea what the story may be behind its placement there or what the homeowners have planned for the structure. But I found the entire scene interesting.

Bathtub turned planter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In that same backyard sits a vintage bathtub repurposed into a planter. The growth springing from the tub suggests these are raspberries. I didn’t feel comfortable moving in closer to confirm my guess.

An angler’s shed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Just across the way, a boat rests on tires outside a shed. More tires sidle the small building. Again, I didn’t move in to snoop. But I speculated that the owner is an avid angler and could spin a story or ten about the big one that got away.

Doors repurposed into a fence in downtown Elgin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

A row of vintage doors, repurposed as a fence next to an architecturally interesting brick corner building, also grabbed my attention. I love when people get creative. There’s a story here in this functional public art and in that historic building.

I’m reflected in the window of this downtown “flower garden.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As I meandered, I noticed a few other details. Like the colorful fake flowers blooming in a window. That scene simply made me smile.

Be on notice… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But when I spotted a BEWARE OF DOG sign on a garage door, I felt quite the opposite. At least no barking ensued, warning me to keep my distance.

This is the lovely corner building where I spotted the door fence to the far right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I wasn’t in Elgin all that long. Yet, I discovered details that imprint upon my memory. I’ll remember the church steeple in the backyard, the doors repurposed into a fence, the nuances that caught my eye. I take joy in finding these small town quirks/oddities/characteristics and I encourage you to look for the same when you’re out and about.

O’Neill’s Pizza Pub, which serves more than pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FYI: Click here to read my previous post focusing on Elgin’s downtown business district. If you have information on any of the discoveries mentioned in this post, please share that with me in a comment.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bricks, bins & bars in Elgin June 6, 2022

This unique, artsy “fence” is the first thing I noticed in downtown Elgin. Absolutely love the creative functionality of these repurposed doors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

SMALL TOWNS, LIKE PEOPLE, have personalities. I’ve discovered that in my years of exploring rural regions. I can learn a lot about a place by simply walking through the heart of a community, even if I never enter a single business.

The door fence is to the right of this stately corner brick building with the lovely architectural details. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent day trip into Wabasha County in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped briefly in Elgin. Three words define my initial impression of the business district in this community of 1,090 just 20 minutes northeast of Rochester: bricks, bins and bars.

Beautiful brick buildings define downtown Elgin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bricks reference the row of aged brick buildings I spotted along one side of the street. One dates to 1899. I see so much potential in these historic structures if the “updates” on ground level were removed to reveal the original. I recognize, though, that takes money. But, as one who appreciates aged buildings with good, solid bones, I would love to see these buildings restored to their historic selves. What an asset that would be to Elgin.

Behind those brick buildings, bins rise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bins reference the mammoth grain bins back-dropping that row of brick buildings. This is most-assuredly a farming community, home to All-American Co-op. I especially appreciate the faded signage identifying the local ag business.

Identifying signage provides a vintage artsy backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At one time, Elgin was also home to a creamery and milk service. The community honors its dairy heritage with Elgin Cheese Days, an annual small town festival slated this year for June 17-19. Events include a parade, carnival, tractor pull, burnouts, vendor and craft show, softball and volleyball tournaments, garage sales, music and the EMS Cheese Chase (walk/run). As these celebrations go, they are really reunions of those who once called this town home or still call this place home.

Bold signage for a place that welcomes everyone like family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
To the left, Out of Bounds Sports Bar, “where everyone knows your name.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
O’Neill‘s Pizza Pub serves more than pizza. There’s Irish whiskey, too, and a game room with classic games. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect lots of commiserating will occur at the local bars. That’s the third “b” I noticed during my walk along the main street. Bars abound here. The BlackTop Bar & Grill. The Out of Bounds Sports Bar. And O’Neill’s Pizza Pub.

The pub is open. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Although Randy and I didn’t patronize any of these places, I expect they are worth a stop for food and drink and conversation. As a group of cyclists told us, the bar they lunched at served up a mighty fine sandwich. We had packed a picnic lunch. Next time.

Banners feature students from the graduating class of 2022. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yes, we’ll return to Elgin to explore a bit more. Perhaps drive 1.5 miles south of town to pick up some cheese at Prairie Hollow Farm.

I wonder about the current use and history of this small building by the bins, by the alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I know we missed a lot during our quick stop…

TELL ME: If you’re familiar with Elgin, what should I see/do next time I’m in town? I’m looking for any insider tips, things I might bypass because I’m unaware. Why should someone visit Elgin?

Please check back for another post from this community. And then it’s on to neighboring Plainview.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling