Carole Prudoehl (foreground) and Shayna Dais (background) welcomed customers to The Rusty Bucket on Small Business Saturday last weekend.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Intrepid shoppers braved constant drizzle and near-freezing temperatures to support local businesses during Small Business Saturday last weekend. Winona Clothing Company employee Koni Kalmes was one of many downtown Winona retailers trying to warm up her clientele with hot cocoa and cookies.
“It’s a great way to show people what the small shops in Winona have to offer,” Kalmes said of the “shop local” answer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Traffic was slow on Saturday because of the weather, but last Friday was hopping, Kalmes reported. It only takes one customer to place a big order, though, Reyne Belter pointed out, adding that the clothing company just had some luck in that regard.
Down Third Street, it was Carole Prudoehl and Shayna Dais’ first time opening The Rusty Bucket — which they run with two other partners — on Small Business Saturday. “We had some people asking us, ‘Are you going to be open for Small Business Saturday?’ We thought, ‘You know, we should try it,’” Dais said. Their store is only open on occasion, giving the proprietors time to hunt for new inventory and work their full-time day jobs. The women began selling vintage items, refurbished goods, and repurposed decor by hosting garage sales before ultimately springing for a storefront. It happens to be the same store where, as a child, Dais helped her grandparents with their Capitol Bait Shop.
“This is how I learned to be a shop proprietor: ringing up customers, thanking them for coming in, helping Grandpa pack worms,” Dais said. The lessons in retail they taught her were simple, she said: “Just to always be friendly. Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
“I’m having a really good Saturday,” Nola Morawiecki of Nola’s Flowers told the Post. She had just sold an adorable family of lawn gnomes to a good home, and she was refreshing arrangements. Small Business Saturday is not a big money-maker for Morawiecki’s shop. “Black Friday is meant for the big box stores,” she said. The floral shop does not typically have hordes of shoppers pouring through the door, but a core group of loyal customers can go a long way. “I have really good customers, and the customers I have, I cherish,” she stated.
Similarly, Prudoehl and Dais said they get to know their customers by first names. “They become friends,” Prudoehl stated. Running the shop, Dais said, “It’s kind of like a social event, honestly.” She added, “We just feel so blessed we have shoppers coming back each and every month — whether they buy something or not.”
From books hand-folded by the owner’s grandmother so that the pages spell out “Winona” to Sugar Loaf’s silhouette printed on a baby onesie, Winona-inspired goods abound at Winona Clothing Company. Celebrating local identity is a trend other Winona businesses and other cities are picking up on, too. “We’re kind of a proud town,” Winona Clothing Company owner Eric Belter said. “When people buy our shirts, they’re advertising Winona,” he added.
A full-time outdoor apparel designer, Belter launched the clothing company as a side gig and he expected to do most of his business online. “The store was originally not supposed to happen to be honest with you. But I was like, ‘I have all this product in; I want to do a little pop-up shop,’” he explained. “All of sudden it went really well.”
For many downtown retailers, their shops are a labor of love. Back in Nola’s Flowers, Morawiecki plucked wilting leaves and exchanged a joke with her husband about her retiring. “I have a love of flowers, and it’s still my passion,” she said. “And I’m not ready to stop my passion.”