By Sandy Erdman
If you’re getting the urge to go antiques shopping, you’re in luck. There’s no better time of year to find antiques than Autumn, and no better place to start your search than in the Midwest. Minnesota and Wisconsin have locally owned antique malls brimming with age-old treasures.
Upper Midwest Road Trip
Along with the fall foliage, many shops have added the look of the fall season with crafts and have replenished their stock of antiques and collectibles in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season. Follow my route through the rural countryside from Winona, Minnesota to Black River Falls, Wisconsin, where windy two-lane roads periodically give way to farms and a bounty of vibrant Autumn landscapes. The fun of this antique shopping trip is also getting to know the shop owners.
Winona, Minnesota has natural beauty with the majestic Mississippi River and towering bluffs. Creative arts flourish in Winona with museums, craft shows, and several festivals. Nestled under the Sugar Loaf mountain is my first stop, Treasures Under Sugar Loaf with owner Brenda Jannsen who reveals, “We specialize in having a treasure for everyone! We have quality antiques, unique collectibles, home décor, and creative crafts.
“Having a lifelong appreciation of antiques, my husband Doug and I didn’t enter the business until 2008. We began with renting half a showcase at, what was once called ‘Sugar Loaf Antiques’ and expanded over the next few years into two showcases and a large floor space. When the previous-named business went out of business in 2014, we took over the business and opened under the new name, Treasures Under Sugar Loaf.”
Welcoming Shoppers of All Ages
The Jannsens have made this a family business, with their children working with them. As Brenda says, “We go out of our way to make sure children enjoy Treasures Under Sugar Loaf. From engaging youngsters in conversations that make them smile to offering them special deals. We make sure to carry items that interest children such as mystery gifts, stuffed animals, toy cars, and sports collectibles.
“For teenagers, we offer fun collectibles from old TV shows and movies that have current versions,” she continues. “Think Star Wars and Trollz. As we are a college community, students love to browse for unique pieces for decorating dorm rooms and new apartments. Several dealers at Treasures display re-purposed items such as barn-board signs, shelves, tables, and chairs. We have also found that the younger generation have a healthy appreciation for taking something old that has lost its purpose and giving it a fresh look with a new purpose. We have also found primitive items – stoneware, wood, metal – always seem to be in demand while other items, like fine china, collector plates, baby buggies, and silver-plated pieces, seem to move slowly.”
What I liked about Treasures Under Sugar Loaf was the friendly atmosphere. As Brenda told me, “We do everything we can possibly think of to foster great relationships with our customers. Taking extra time to find a particular item wanted by a customer, carrying treasures to the front desk and then even out to customer vehicles, offering discounts and special deals, addressing customer concerns promptly and courteously, personally welcoming all customers with a friendly greeting and big smile, and living the motto: ‘The customer is always right.’ And our customers tell us that this is an eclectic place of old and new. ‘A place where I can spend hours and still not see everything. I always find a treasure.’”
Downtown Excursions Offer Plenty
An antiquing shopping trip to Historic Downtown Winona also must include a visit with the creative
ladies, Shayna Dais, Carole Prudoehl, Mary Jo Hanson and Lisa Torfin, at the Rusty Bucket (175 East Third Street). Since this shop is only open the first full weekend of every month and for special downtown events, we were fortunate to be in town at the right time for a visit.
The name doesn’t reveal what, exactly, the store is, but the storefront does. Shayna explains, “We specialize in re-purposed, vintage and seasonal items to decorate your home. Our claim to fame is our pricing ... we have been told this over and over from our customers.”
When the shop opened, the other ladies, with their love for crafts and re-purposed items, came along with Shayna.
The month of November is their most memorable time of the year. This year the shop’s holiday open house is Saturday, Nov. 18. To make each visit special, Shayna says, “We always welcome each customer into our shop, and we even serve German egg coffee and cookies and offer our shop schedule, due to our limited hours and days we are open.”
Downtown Winona offers other shopping experiences such as Pieces of the Past on 2nd and Lafayette Streets. Owner Cheri Peterson says, “We have many unique all wood furniture made from old pine reclaimed from America’s Midwestern barns and you will be delighted, as well, with our wide variety of handmade gift ideas and home/garden décor with some made by local artists.”
Historic Destinations Part of the Draw
At Heart’s Desire (located at 3rd and Center Street), within a historic 19th century building, you will find a large selection of gifts and home decorating accessories. Also, a variety of restaurants to satisfy your appetite can be found within this historic downtown.
Rolling on out of Winona, it’s best to enjoy a stop at Bloedow’s bakery on East Broadway. This old-fashioned, family owned landmark has been serving filled donuts along with other pastries and breads since 1924. Voted the number one best bakery in Minnesota, 2012 by WCCO-4 Minneapolis, it’s a must stop for visitors and residents alike.
Taking scenic Highway 61 to Interstate 90, the next turn-off is LaCrosse, Wisconsin to visit Treasures on Main Resale and Antiques (722 Main Street). Here I meet owner Joanne Kjome. During this visit we are only at her LaCrosse store (she has another store in Westby, Wisconsin).
Joanne says, “I have been in business since 2005. Both of my stores are located in historic buildings, spanning three floors selling consigned and vendor items. Shoppers will find room after room of antiques and collectibles all creatively displayed. We also rent spaces to artisans selling their creations of handmade items. Because our stores are privately owned we are able to offer our customers a more personalized service and knowledge of the merchandise, answering their questions and helping them with decorating ideas.”
Atmosphere Sets Tone
Like Winona, LaCrosse is also a college community. With the store located in the downtown area, Joanne says, “We have seen a definite increase in younger adults shopping resale and antiques. They appreciate the character and quality of buying used and reclaimed pieces.
“It’s always great to see college students bring their parents in to shop and show them around the other great shops in our neighborhood (Debo’s Resale opened at its new location in May). There is also the Craft and Vendor Marketplace and Sequel Resale Shop all within walking distance.”
In addition to the store manager, Joanne, I enjoyed the welcome by the resident store cat. I also loved grabbing a bag of popcorn and wandering from room to room, reminiscing about items recognize from grandma’s house and grandpa’s tool shed, including a library full of books, magazines, record albums and more. If you love sewing machines and quilts, the attic is a place you won’t want to miss.
Other antique malls – Antique Center of LaCrosse (another downtown destination) and Caledonia Street Antiques (1215 Caledonia Street) – can be found as you head back to Interstate 90.
Country Roads Lead to Midwest Treasures
Turning off I-90 at the Highway 53 (Holmen) exit, I head north on the Wisconsin Great River Road through Galesville to Beachs Corner, where I hop onto County Road C, which brings me right into Black River Falls. (This is my favorite route, as it travels through Amish countryside.)
In Black River Falls, I find The Merchant General Store (216 Main Street) in the community’s historic downtown and meet with store owner Darren Durman. This store is like a step back in time to an old country general store.
Darren says, “We have that old time candy in the glass jars, classic toys, games, area and regional made items, along with antiques and collectibles, as we provide an experience of an old time general store.” He explains, “I have always been a history buff and loved old things since I was a child. I started in mid-1990s with antique booths at local antique malls with my wife, Trish. I had always been fascinated with old general stores and thought I would like to create one someday.”
Something For Everyone
Darren continues, “In 2002 we decided to fulfill the dream to create an open an old-time general store using a historic 1912 store building, now the Merchant General Store.” He says he has found his focus “on more locally, regional and made-in-America items,” as well as re-purposed furniture and decor items.
“We have found that primitive items such as advertising, rusty metal and rustic wood items, items that fit the industrial look and architectural pieces are good sellers, but china and glassware are hard sellers.”
I am sure others have found superior customer service on their trip to this general store. “We make it feel like the store was once, long ago — to be more full-service instead of self-service. Being able to find what customers are looking for and giving them helpful suggestions.”
Stepping Back in Time
Darren explains, “I want to provide the exceptional old fashioned experience and to have this store be a place that people can reminisce and create amazing new (old) memories at any age. And I get that feedback from many customer comments: ‘Wow just like stepping back in time’; ‘Feels like I just went back to my childhood’; ‘Just like a kid in a candy store’ and many more.”
Oh it sure does, Darren, with the ice cream stools in front of that old-fashioned counter and even to that turn of the century cash register, you can see why this store was chosen as one of 10 most charming general stores in Wisconsin.
Editor's Note: If you've come across a community or region bustling with antiquing opportunities and vintage adventures, please email us at ATNews@fwmedia.com with a subject line of 'Tiquingon a Tankful.