By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN On the last weekend of the month, eager shoppers line up outside the door of Little Red Hen in Dassel so they can be the first ones to scope out the unique merchandise waiting for them inside.
Occasional stores like Little Red Hen have become the trend in Dassel, along with Anne’s, Jilly Bean, and MC FROG, offering their own unique flare.
Collectively, these stores attract people far and wide, making the small town a destination for shoppers and all are within walking distance of each other.
The occasional store experience began in 2007, when Brenda and Kent Rydberg opened Little Red Hen on Atlantic Avenue in Dassel.
Each month, Little Red Hen offers customers a new shopping experience with a different theme. For example, the June sale was a celebration of our nation’s independence with a section devoted to patriotic decor.
Fresh cut flowers, refurbished furniture, and a variety of shabby chic housewares are among the many unique finds at Little Red Hen.
Just down the block is MC FROG, which Marcella Craswell recently opened, adding to the occasional store experience in Dassel.
Craswell specializes in modified concrete for landscaping, as well as custom-made countertops.
In the store, one will find landscape structures such as decorative stepping stones, pots and planters, benches, bird baths, and furniture for sale. They can also see countertop samples.
Located on Third Street is the occasional store, Anne’s, which opened a year ago in July and specializes in garden ironware and refurbished furniture.
Owner Ann Schwartz continues to see growth despite the economy, particularly in the sale of her ironware. With her garden ironware costing far less than what customers pay for the same product at Twin Cities nurseries, Anne’s is drawing quite a few customers from the east, she said.
“People are starting to discover that they are getting such a good deal [out here],” Schwartz said, and “we’re drawing more and more people from the cities.”
In this economy especially, many people are cautious about what they spend, Schwartz said.
Since she is able to eliminate the middleman, Schwartz, and the other occasional stores are able to give customers quality products at a reasonable price.
With eight different dealers, each brings their own “flavor” to the store, she said. Adding even more flavor to Anne’s is the “shop within a shop,” the Old Red Barn, which specializes in vintage and antiques. Owner Linda Atkinson rents space from Schwartz, but once had her own shop out of her barn near Kingston.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” Schwartz said, adding the fun in occasional store shopping is the “thrill of the hunt.”
Also thrown into the Dassel occasional store mix is Mary McCauley with her retro-inspired clothing store for girls, Jilly Bean, located on Atlantic Avenue.
McCauley opened in February 2010, selling her one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories, mainly for girls.
Having an occasional store has allowed McCauley to develop her own business and brand. Also, since everything is handmade, being open three days a month allows her to keep up her inventory. She will open at anytime, however, if a customer requests.
With Jilly Bean, “You’re getting a very boutique experience,” McCauley said. “It gives people a shopping experience that you’re not going to get at a department store,” noting that she also gift-wraps.
Since she opened, McCauley has found that her reach is becoming much broader, attracting customers from Spicer, Glencoe, and the Twin Cities area.
She believes it’s partially due to the fact that there is such a variety of stores to visit, making the drive to Dassel even more worthwhile.
All the stores together create a really interesting experience for shoppers, she said.
“Pretty soon, we will need a little map to hand out,” McCauley said.
This is part of a group of stories being developed for a ‘Best of Highway 12’ booklet to be published in coming months and distributed to readers along Highway 12.