By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN Just south on Quimby Avenue in Cokato, in an old, wooden, red barn, is a small occasional shop, stocked with crafts, antiques, signs, vintage items, and most importantly to the owners family.
Barbara Bolander and her two girls, Mataya and Avery, opened Simply Quimby last July, which is something Bolander had dreamed about doing since closing her shop in Clearwater, “Lovebugs N Blossoms,” in 2009. Bolander moved her family to the DC area about five years ago, fully intending to turn their new property’s barn into her store location.
“When we bought this place, we actually bought it for the barn” said Bolander, “not necessarily for the house.”
After spending the first couple of years restoring the house to its original state, and experiencing the arrival of her youngest daughter, Avery, Bolander realized, “I’m never going to get this done if I don’t just do it.” So, with Avery strapped in her carrier, Bolander began turning her dream into a reality.
By July 2016, Simply Quimby was ready for shoppers, and the Bolanders have had fun running the business ever since.
In addition to building their inventory through auctions and swap meets, the Bolanders also use their own talents to make sellable products. Mataya is the painter and woodworker in the family, and likes to step in wherever she is needed.
Avery is considered the artist of the team, decorating each of the envelopes used to ship out online sales via Ebay, Etsy, and Amazon.
Bolander’s mother, Carolyn, also helps stock the store with wooden boxes and signs she makes in her Oklahoma home.
Bolander’s specialty in the shop are her silk flower creations and arrangements, as well as her jewelry, all of which she taught herself to create through YouTube, magazines, and simple observation.
“My mom has always been really crafty, and I’ve always been really crafty,” she stated, adding that she used to work at Michaels and 1-800-Flowers, a tele-florist company.
Bolander has done silk flower arrangements for weddings, birthdays, graduations, and other occasions, and loves to work with customer-customized ideas.
“That’s my favorite thing to do,” she stated. “I would rather do custom flowers all day long.”
Bolander explained that while it’s common for shoppers to simply purchase a pre-made flower arrangement, she likes to create something more meaningful and fitting for the place it’s going. Therefore, she likes to ask the customer what types of flowers they like and what room it will be going in. Even the look of a centerpiece can vary based on the size, shape, and location of the table it’s meant for.
“It works much better that way,” she said.
She has also used her jewelry-making skills for local benefits, such as a recent benefit for Behr Vogelpohl, who has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.
“With the jewelry, that’s kinda the direction I‘d rather go, so it serves a purpose,” said Bolander.
Besides selling the products they make, the Bolanders are also big on helping others express themselves creatively, whether it’s through making their own jewelry, painting ceramics, or other crafts. By next summer, Simply Quimby is expected to offer its own craft classes, which Bolander has taught through Community Education in the past.
Customers don’t have to wait for classes to start, however.
“If you want to learn something that I’m skilled at, I have no problem with you bringing what you have and we’ll work on it together,” stated Bolander.
Keeping family in the workplace
While there is much joy to be had in selling the products they make and getting to know the customers who stop in to shop, Bolander said the best part is being able to spend more time with her girls.
“To me, the core of Simply Quimby is being with the girls, and teaching them ‘Look, this was my dream, this was my goal, and this is what we’re doing to reach that goal,’” said Bolander. “I want to prove to them you can do anything you set your mind to.”