HOWARD LAKE, MN It turns out that you can go home again. Jenny Munson Wikoff has returned to Howard Lake, where she grew up, and opened a large store, The Vintage Exchange, in the town’s former drug store building.
“It just seemed right,” she said. “This seems like home.”
Slightly less than a decade ago, Jenny and her husband, Neil moved from a tiny home to a huge one.
Furnishing the many open rooms with things they liked was a challenge. But not for long.
Jenny began scouring garage sales and thrift stores, picking out old and worn out items they needed. She often felt her finds could be restyled, re-used, or re-purposed by simply adding a little paint.
Jenny found she loved making older things look nice again. She painted her furniture finds in the garage or her driveway, and people began to take notice.
A business blossoms
Friends spotted Jenny’s talent for painting tired-looking furniture into something that both looked beautiful and was functional.
Soon, Jenny was selling her painted creations on Craig’s List.
“I love when a piece is in the worst shape, and I can turn it around with paint,” she said. “You don’t have to have lots of money to have cool stuff.”
Setting up shop #1
Eventually, the Wikoffs decided to open a vintage store in Cokato. Both Neil and Jenny have more than 20 years of experience working in retail business. “We got used to merchandising,” Jenny said.
After 2.5 successful and growing years in Cokato, Jenny heard that the old drugstore building in Howard Lake was potentially available. She said she has had her eye on that particular building for years.
“Anybody who grew up here remembers this place,” she said. Jenny recalls the former Howard Lake Drug Company’s building’s creaky floors from when she was just a little girl.
In high school, Jenny remembers decorating the shop windows for homecoming with her good friend, Jennifer Ringold.
Lock, stock, and barrel
Once the Wikoffs rented the historic Howard Lake building, they needed a plan for how to move all the merchandise from the Cokato store to Howard Lake.
“It was fast and furious,” Jenny laughed. “We moved the last things from Cokato Feb. 20, and opened for business in Howard Lake Feb. 26.”
The move caused more than one sleepless night. “I did all of the planning when I should have been sleeping,” Jenny said. “I should have been sleeping, because then we worked all day.”
Neil jokes he was up for the move, since it changed his six- mile commute to 11 blocks.
Everywhere the eye can see
These days, when people enter the front door of The Vintage Exchange, they often pause momentarily to take it all in. The entire store is merchandised with antique and vintage items, as well as a few homemade pieces. “We have something for everyone,” Neil said.
The Wikoffs even made sure to include a “man-cave” area, although a spot like that is atypical for a vintage store.
The man cave merchandise rotates just as quickly as other vintage items. Neil indicated male customers tend to gravitate toward old advertising, “beer stuff,” and duck decoys.
Jenny said most people collect things they fondly remember from their childhoods. “Everybody connects with something,” she said.
Many of the shop’s items come from garage sales, thrift stores, and auctions. The Wikoffs provide much of the inventory, but they also sell on consignment, and offer vendor booths for rent.
Jenny said she loves it when people come into the store to share what they collect and are passionate about. She has been privileged to see diverse collections. For example, some people collect collie dog items, chicken items, other people prefer roosters, and one gentleman showed off a few selections from his 1,000-count rubber ducky collection.
Stop in, and make yourself comfortable
Jenny, who readily admits to being Howard Lake history-obsessed, has kept the store’s original soda fountain and will eventually get it back in working order. Right now, visitors can grab a cup of coffee, and a cookie, and pick one of several comfortable areas throughout the store to sit and visit, or browse through a large collection of old local history books and yellowed newspapers.
“You won’t find any current events here,” Jenny laughed. “And it won’t be new news.”
Jenny is the opposite of a high-pressure sales person.
“People don’t have to buy things,” she insisted, “We want people to come in, chat, have coffee, and talk local history.”
She also indicated she would love to see and hear more about what other people collect. “We want everyone to feel welcome here,” she said.
Easy to find, hard to leave
The Vintage Exchange is located in the “old drugstore building” at 732 6th St. in Howard Lake. Current store hours are Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A link to The Vintage Exchange is available on the Herald Journal website.