Small Town Main Streets Are Coming Back!

Wells Main StreetSomething About Nothing by Julie Seedorf, published in the Albert Lea Tribune August 4, 2014

The words “Small town main streets coming back” are making headlines on television, radio and newspapers across the United States.

I heard the news on the radio one day. Apparently we are getting tired of the urban sprawl and shopping malls and returning to our roots. Old main streets in small and large communities across America are being revitalized by mom and pop shops, arts and culture and unique niche shops that have locals and tourists coming back to the main street of America to shop.

I noticed the comeback recently as I have visited small and large communities in the area. I had the pleasure of visiting Lake Mills, Northfield, Shakopee, Bricelyn and Kiester. Even tiny Walters is a destination to eat with diners coming for the great food at R&R Roadhouse Bar & Grill.

Driving through other small communities I have noticed the change in their main streets. No longer are the dilapidated historical buildings an eyesore. Many now stand proud having been restored to their earlier glory, or to a state of beauty that fits in with the historic nature of the buildings.

Well-taken-care-of buildings on main street America reflect the pride of the community, the heritage and the people that now have a vested interest in the community, and that is, its residents.

As I drive through the main street of Albert Lea I stand in awe at some of the old architecture and beauty of the buildings and dream of the past. I notice the change in the buildings as they are being brought back to their former beauty and treasured and cherished as a part of history.

We live in a throwaway society. Those who lived through the Great Depression were savers. They threw nothing away because there was no money to replace things, and that attitude lived long past the time that the Depression was over. People my mother’s age had stuff, but much of the stuff were not things of value.

Families today have stuff. They have their electronics, their toys, their clothes and the list can go on. They don’t keep it unless there is a little hoarding itch in their bodies. Things are dumped in trash, sold on a garage sale, and interests move on to the next best thing.

Homes are built alike and buildings and stores look alike in the strip malls of America. I recently visited a restaurant in a strip mall and was pleasantly surprised to find it was a fine dining restaurant, but it didn’t have the ambiance that a restaurant in an old restored building such as Jonnie Beans, Club 57 and the Starfire Restaurant located in the refurbished Miller-Armstrong building in Waseca has.

The strip mall restaurant won’t be remembered after it is gone. The strip mall will be another building on the landscape, probably torn down for something new to replace it. We are no longer valuing our new architecture. We are building throw away buildings.

I have to tell you that there is a different feeling walking down a main street in a small town that has valued their buildings and promoted their buildings as much as they have their businesses. Perhaps it is because I remember small town America that I feel this way, yet, I have to believe even those younger like the feeling of the atmosphere of the old buildings.

Exploring the main streets with my granddaughters is something we like to do. They admire the brick buildings and ooh and ah at the stores we visit that have been restored back to the original decor with the tin ceilings and the brick walls. These children learn to value the history of America every time we frequent a place that has taken a look at its roots, and tried to get back a little of the history.

What sparked this column about the main streets of America? As I listened to the broadcast on the radio of the re-emergence of Main Street, I happened to be driving down the main street of New Richland after a visit to Northfield.

I lived in New Richland for 10 years and I was checking out the community and reliving old memories. New Richland, small as it is, takes pride in its main street. The trees that line the streets lend a welcoming shadow to the buildings that were painted and updated and restored. It screams the small-town cozy feeling of the warmth of the past, welcoming and comforting to those who might walk the street.  I noticed the revitalized New Richland Library in a building that I previously remember being in pretty bad shape, but the beauty was restored. As I was listening to the radio I was admiring small town Main Street. Good job, New Richland.

We can’t save all of the architecture on Main Street, but those that are saved are bringing back Main Street USA. That’s what the program said. People are coming back to the main streets with the restored buildings and businesses that have relocated in these buildings.

There’s one other thing I noticed while visiting Main Street in many small communities, and the revitalized mom and pop businesses in larger cities, that is, the greeting you receive. You won’t find the friendliness, the helpfulness and the customer service that you get from mom and pop in the big-box stores. There are no generic greetings from Mom and Pop or their employees whether you are a regular customer or a stranger. Mom and Pop on main street make you feel like you have come home.

Visiting with Diana Sullivan at Lady Di’s Antiques and the owners of the new Vintage, Shabby, Restored, Recycle store in downtown Shakopee, I felt as if I were talking with old friends and in a much smaller community such as my hometown instead of a metropolitan area. Eating the rolls from the bakery in downtown Shakopee that had been there for 35 some years, reminded me of the bakeries such as the former Fran’s Bakery and the Wells Bakeshop in my hometown of Wells. Visiting the small shops in Northfield gave me the same satisfying experience. It was worth wandering off of the chain store train to come back to the value of the past when customers were your friends and family, and were important.

Who wouldn’t want to visit a community that shows pride in the history of their buildings, shows pride in their businesses that fill those buildings, and lends history and friendliness to your visit? Welcome back, small-town main street. You were missed.


Making Memories!

IMG_1195Column: Something About Nothing, by Julie Seedorf published in the Albert Lea Tribune January 6, 2014

When I was a little kid, a long, long time ago, my parents would put me in the car, or should I say force me to go on road trips? When I was in my elementary years, I didn’t mind it as much, but as I got to be a teenager I found those road trips boring. My friends were more fun or at least I thought so then.

We visit the Twin Cities quite a bit to see our kids and grandkids. My granddaughter Maggie always has some place exciting that she thinks we need to visit. Most of the places we visit are very citified. We find some unique shops that fit within the culture of a large city.

During Christmas break my granddaughter Maggie and grandson Jake stayed with us for a few days. While my grandson spent quality time with Grandpa, I decided that Maggie and I would take an old-fashioned road trip. She is 10 and still likes road trips. I decided to take her to visit some charming places that definitely have a more rural feel or are special in the midst of us country folk.

Since my granddaughter loves pancakes and hot chocolate we first headed to Bud’s Café in Bricelyn for their famous pancakes. Bud’s is part restaurant and part grocery. WCCO viewers voted Bud’s as having the best pancakes in Minnesota. The restaurant part is distinctive because it has the old — and I would imagine, although I didn’t ask — original booths and bar. The bar is beautiful and so are the booths. We felt like we stepped back in time to a more peaceful age.

I watched as Maggie’s eyes got large when she saw the large pancake that covered the entire plate. She scarfed it down along with hot chocolate. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the friendliness of the waitress and the owner. With our tummies full it was time to head east to Kiester.

We stopped at Tanks N Tummies. It is a former gas station turned into a coffee and sandwich shop. Just a note, they make their own bread.

Maggie was charmed with the interior, which had Beatles posters, the old Coca-Cola machine and a wall where the owner, Tom, let her sign her name on the wall. Not only that but she experienced some great hot chocolate and I, of course, had some wonderful coffee. When we first stopped outside and I told her we were going in, my granddaughter was skeptical. It didn’t look like any place she ever stopped at in the Cities.

She was enchanted by this out-of-the-way, unique store. She was even treated to a viewing of the Beatles concert at Shea Stadium when this grandmother had to explain to her who the Beatles were and that I actually saw them live at Met Stadium back in the 1960s. Tom immediately found some footage on YouTube so she would know who Grandma was talking about and mooning over. Maggie was able to put music to the faces on the posters on the wall.

Since our journey was plotted out to take us to Albert Lea I decided to show her one more quaint place that I like to stop once in a while. We stopped at Goeman’s Store to visit with the owner and take my granddaughter to a place that has been around for many, many years. It is a tiny spot of welcome and conversation in the country. Most of the time, you can’t find that in the city. Old buildings and businesses make way for new and more modern. In the country we embrace the old because it is so much a part of our history.

Albert Lea is a little bigger city or a lot bigger than Bricelyn and Kiester. What were we looking for? Of course, I was looking for coffee and she was looking for more hot chocolate. Although there are many coffeehouses in the big city, many of them belong to the big-name chains and I wanted Maggie to get the feel of a real coffeehouse.

Our vehicle stopped at Prairie Wind in downtown Albert Lea. I enjoyed my pour over coffee and my granddaughter remarked that her cocoa was almost too pretty to drink. Somehow that thought left her mind when she took the first drink. It didn’t take her long to finish it. We sat for quite a while enjoying the atmosphere. For a memory we took Maggie’s picture by the brick walls and the screen with inspirational sayings on it. On our way out she remarked that we had to do this road trip again.

Of course, our journey was not over. We picked up Maggie’s brother Jake when we got back to our Wells community and headed downtown to the Clothes Closet Thrift Shop. We had to end our road trip with some shopping and one of the things all my grandchildren know about me is that I like thrift shops. This particular shop is a nonprofit and gives all the profit to local charities.

We shopped until we almost dropped. It had been a long, but fun day. We came out of the shop with three bags plum full of some great finds and all we spent was $23. My grandson, the Viking and Gopher fan even at 6, scored the best clothes with a Gophers sweatshirt that looked like it hadn’t been worn and a Vikings long-sleeve T-shirt again, almost like new. We had knickknacks, gifts, games and, of course, I had a few new sweaters.

If you find yourself looking for something to do this year, take a road trip. Look for those unknown places that are secret gems in the rural area. You might make memories, you might make some new friends and you might learn something new about the area where you live. It’s that something about the road less traveled that might bring you to a little slice of heaven you never knew existed.


Grabatude Attitude

Column: Something About Nothing, by Julie Seedorf

Who do you hang with? No, I don’t mean hang such as hanging upside down, hanging from a bungee cord or hanging a right or a left when driving a car. Who do you spend your time with and how do they influence how you interact with others in your life?

Recently, I was put in a situation that I was unsure of. I was invited to the Women of Faith concert in St. Paul. I wasn’t unsure of going to the concert, but I was going to be going with a good friend and we would be staying with her relatives. I did not know these people.

I did have some anxiety about staying in a home of someone I did not know, and I am not a shy person, not usually anyway. This was a little of a stretch for me.

Meeting strangers isn’t a hard thing for me to do, but usually when I meet them it is for a short amount of time. That isn’t what this would be. It would be a weekend with my friend and people I did not know. Would they like me? Would I like them? Would we have the same likes and dislikes? Would it matter?

On a recent blogtalkradio interview with Amy Beth Arkawy on the Amy Bethv Arkawy show, Amy made the remark that I was a positive and inspirational person. I reminded her that I am not like that all the time, ask my husband and kids, and a few years ago I would say I was a toxic person. It was not a hard thing to be, depending on the group I was with, to find something wrong with everything.

I am very good at crabbing, and when you are with others who are very good at crabbing you have a great crabfest. Soon though, that attitude becomes part of you, and it is easier to see the glass half empty rather than half full. Pretty soon I was the head crab and would start the crab sessions. I didn’t like the way I was, and I don’t want to be that person again.

When Amy Beth and I talked about inspiration (she is also a creativity coach), I reflected later on what helps me to keep a positive attitude. It is work.

I was very lucky in my crabbiness. My inspirational and optimistic friends did not desert me. Finally after hanging with them I was able to adopt their attitude most of the time. It is hard work to get to the place where it is easier to be optimistic than to be pessimistic and yet some days the crab is back.

I found that if I surround myself with positive people, positive messages and read positive materials that I can be more optimistic in the face of the ups and downs of my life. We can choose who we spend our time with.

Back to the scary, I am having a slumber party with women I don’t know. The minute the first woman got in the car with us I knew I was going to feel at home with her. She wore sparkly cool earrings. She laughed a lot. When the next woman joined our car on the way I immediately felt at home too. She had a case of water. I knew I would not be thirsty. I do that, I drag my water along. We finally arrived at the cute house where we would rest our heads and I would meet another stranger. We were greeted with a huge meal, dessert and the best part was that she was living in my dream cottage home. It felt like home amidst these strangers.

We left for the Xcel Energy Center, and it was named right for the weekend. It was a center full of energized woman, with positive messages and smiling faces. In the midst of strangers we all seemed to be surrounded by friends.

One of the speakers asked if we were crabby Christians. Was there a time when I felt that the silverware in the kitchen needing to be lined up perfectly was more important than the way I treated the people that were lined up in the pews? Do I make the unimportant material trappings in my home and in my church more important than treating people with kindness and respect or am I that crabby Christian along with being a toxic person in a group?

I took a chance to hang with some positive strangers. Those strangers are no longer strangers but friends that I hope to spend time with in the future. If I had let my fear and kept my crabby attitude, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet new people that would have a positive influence on my life

Take a chance. Hang with someone new that makes you feel good about yourself. It might change your world and your attitude.

A quote by Elizabeth Edwards sums it up nicely:

“A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it’s going to do is, every day, between now and the day you die, whether that’s a short time from now or a long time from now, that every day, you’re going to actually live.”