Shop Til You Drop In Small Town America

Something About Nothing, By Julie Seedorf

This year I am going to pretend I am Oprah and name some of my favorite places and spaces for Christmas shopping and eating out. I like low stress when it comes to shopping, and visiting small independent local businesses not only take the angst out of shopping but I grab some fabulous finds.

For me, mellow started on Thanksgiving. I had a new book come out the week of Thanksgiving so I decided to be lazy and let Lacey’s Catering 22090035_1819744724983181_2499230896523968824_nin my hometown cook Thanksgiving dinner for me. We had turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, cranberries and two different flavors of pie. I wasn’t disappointed, in fact, it was better than my cooking (you’ve heard about my cooking) and my family stuffed every morsel in their mouths.

23754766_1371564572965476_4145206500419971528_nThe next place I would highly recommend is Bruss-Heitner Funeral Home. Yes, you heard me right. I am shopping at the funeral home and not for the perfect urn or casket but Christmas gifts. The Bruss-Heitner Boutique is now open for business after they transformed former offices into a gift bonanza and filled it with unique items from local artists and crafters. The wooden star you will see on my living room wall I purchased there was made from wood taken from my parent’s house before it was torn down and made into a piece of beauty by a gifted crafter.

We are lucky my hometown also has the Humble Heart, 23472374_1701478276551519_3230222304644100673_nanother venue for gifts. A glass angel I gifted to a friend was designed out of old glass dishes. It was hard to choose an angel because each one was different.

Other small communities have peaceful shopping for the holidays. The Quilters Cottage 10710730_955780407769267_3365013144510390678_nin Kiester not only has some easy patterns and fabric for someone like me who wants to make some gifts but is not an experienced sewer. Make sure you take time to smell the candles, try the lotion or take the time to see what else the cute store offers.

Not too far from Wells, located on the old Highway 16, is Antiques of the Midwest, 20264901_1537186343004760_656795874063435660_nhaving recently relocated from Albert Lea. I couldn’t pass up the cute cat vase that I didn’t need and if I can talk myself into parting with it, it will make a great gift for a friend. And they have a giant blue Mr. Blue from the M&M candy collection that would be perfect for your friend that collects unusual things.

My Christmas shopping wouldn’t be complete without buying a few books for my family and to find book gifts I will drive to File Nov 27, 10 39 20 AM.jpegSweet Reads in Austin. I love meandering through the store and watching the electric train traveling around a track near the ceiling in one of the rooms. This year I will be picking up another inspiration bracelet and a pair of mittens, which are made by another local artist whose items are carried by Sweet Reads.

There is nothing like stopping by the Interchange 11070394_968250563199729_5383895795576492739_oin Albert Lea to have a hot coffee drink, pick up a bag of coffee and browse the gift section and artwork on the wall. Be careful if you buy the toffee for a gift because you will want to eat it and it might not make it into the gift box.

When I am traveling around to the smaller communities there are a few places I love to stop at to have lunch or dinner. Buckley’s Bar and Grill in the tiny town of Walters, Club 569 in Easton, the Willows in New Richland or if you are in Bricelyn and visiting the Brush Creek Boutique, make sure you stop at Bud’s cafe.12484784_811421885670285_3670615173410327605_o.jpg They were voted as having the best pancakes in Minnesota.

Wineries are also a place to shop — and not just for wine. And Three Oaks Vineyard and Winery in Albert Lea is the place to find a gift of wine for someone special. Area wineries also offer various venues for shirts and other clever gifts.

15940568_671581753023139_7016903072361831703_nDon’t discount area museums. My small town museum, the Wells Depot Museum, has gifts for the history lover. Visit your community museum and learn about the history of the area and then give someone you love the gift of memories from the past.

If you are ready to shop until you drop, do it in small-town America. Look for those unique out-of-the-way places. They are out there to be discovered. If you have a favorite place, list it in the comments after I post this article on my blog http://sprinklednotes.com. Give yourself the gift of peace and tranquility shopping at the small, independent unique places and spaces. The adventure you find in rural southern Minnesota while shopping for the ones you love will be one you will never forget and keep you coming back time and again. And you can’t beat the customer service of a mom and pop shop.

After you have chilled out and experienced the tranquility of small-town unique, give your list another tweak. Stop and drop off a donation for a local charity to help those whose stress is not a rarity, the hungry and poor and those who will have no gifts at their door. You will have found another reason for the season.

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Now I want to put a disclaimer in this post. If you see my books in some of the pictures, yes, some places carry my books but that is not the reason these are my favorite spaces. These are my favorite spaces because of the merchandise, the ease of shopping, the ambiance of the businesses and the friendly proprietors. Shop til you drop. And if you have some favorite businesses be sure to comment and if you want to share a picture or something you bought with your comment. There might be a free kindle book in it for you. Merry Christmas.

Unlimited Coffee Doesn’t Pay The Bills

11048645_996381253719106_4106219762973711992_oSomething About Nothing by Julie Seedorf published the week of February 6, 2017 in The Albert Lea Tribune and the Courier Sentinel

Memories light the corner of my mind. Misty water-colored memories of the way we were. Those lyrics from the song “The Way We Were,” sung by Barbara Streisand,  brings to mind all those favorite places of mine that have closed over the years but hold precious memories. I remember eating at the Canton Cafe in Albert Lea and loving their pork tenderloin dinner along with a bowl of oxtail soup. What about collecting Santa Bears from Macy’s or Hanthorn’s Store, which we called the dime store, here in my hometown? I have precious memories of my dad’s successful hometown shoe store and the whirl-a-whips at Hanson Drug Store. Time moves on and businesses change. Some go away just because of time and change, and some go away because we are more mobile, more prone to buy on the internet than to be loyal to brick and mortar stores and our hometown businesses.

My community no longer has a clothing store or a shoe store. We are down to one drugstore. Our department store closed and a chain store replaced it on the outskirts of town. Kiester lost its grocery store and the city decided to revive it, but still it struggles. Our loyalty has changed, and we, the hometown consumer, are somewhat responsible for that change.

When a business in a small community closes, we hear various opinions as to why the business could not succeed.

“They were too expensive.”

“They didn’t have enough variety.”

“The service was terrible.”

“The staff isn’t friendly.”

“It doesn’t surprise me. They weren’t open on Saturdays or in the evenings.”

“The business was better when it was owned by the former owner. There’s too many changes. It needs to go back the way it used to be.”

I must admit I have probably said some of those things a time or two about some business or other in my community or other communities I have lived in. If I did, I apologize because I wasn’t being fair. I didn’t look at it from the side of the business owner.

I grew up the child of a small business owner at a time when people stayed in their communities to shop. People appreciated the businesses in their own hometown, and those businesses flourished.

I like to have coffee with friends in restaurants and coffee houses, but I haven’t thought about the cost to a small business owner for me to sit all morning and coffee in their establishment. I may have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast or a donut. The cost for that is probably around $2.50 in a community cafe. If I have 10 friends join me and we stay all morning and are waited upon by the waiter or waitress and have endless coffee flowing, the cost to all of us would be $12.50.

Think about the cost to the establishment. They are paying the service person, a cook and all the utilities, plus the cost of coffee. I don’t think what we paid would begin to cover the costs the business shells out to be there. We could add eggs and toast or a sandwich to the mix, but still we were sitting there swigging down coffee or pop all morning, and yes, it is easy to drink coffee for hours.

Many restaurants have specials. How many $4 burger baskets must you sell to pay the utilities and help and still break even? The same can be said for department stores, grocery stores and other businesses. We all want those bargains, and if stores don’t offer them we chose to find a place they do. As a consumer, I look at what it is going to cost me and don’t look at it with the business owners point of view. What does it cost them to keep the business open?

We have a new business in our community. It costs $5 to have all-you-can-drink coffee and unlimited sweet treats. The coffee is roasted at the business and the unlimited beverages includes lattes’ pour overs, hot chocolate, tea and other specialty drinks, but yet I have heard the rumor that people think it is too expensive to have an endless supply of those items. I guess it isn’t a $1.50 cup of endless coffee. Think about it from the owner’s standpoint. How many customers do you have to have to pay for the cost of the roasted coffee and unlimited baked goods? Will $5 do that?

I am good at complaining and my friends will tell you that. I don’t always shop in my community, but I don’t shop much. I stay hunkered down in my house, and if I do buy groceries out of town it is items I cannot get in town. The same can be said for our hardware store. We use it frequently, but for those items I can’t find there I do need to go out of town. So I do admit defecting from community businesses from time to time.

We had a wonderful department store for years, but a chain store was built in our community and people seemed to prefer that to a store that was established, and had the same variety and items if they would have taken the time to check it out. The store closed.

I am going to make more of an effort to support my local businesses and to be aware of the costs owners shoulder to keep their businesses running. I am going to try and complain less and not listen to unsubstantiated rumors. Rumors can close a business whether they are true or not.

We want businesses to be here when we want what we want, or when we feel the need to indulge ourselves in town. We complain when the businesses are gone because we miss them, even though we visited them on a sporadic basis. We can’t have it both ways. Which way will win out?