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Carol Olson looks back at 17 years of leading Oronoco's Gold Rush

Olson talked about the changes that have come to Gold Rush and the antique show business over the past couple of decades.

Carol Olson.jpg
Carol Olson hoists a statue of a prospector during Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days in this photo from Aug. 21, 2021, in Oronoco. Olson is stepping down this year as event coordinator for the antique sale and city celebration. Contributed photo / Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days
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ORONOCO — After 17 years at the helm of Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days, Carol Olson is ready to retire.

Well, technically she retired in 2006, leaving her job in publications at Mayo Clinic, but by then she'd already served as event coordinator for Gold Rush one year, and she had plenty left to accomplish. She spend years – decades, really – volunteering for one of the signature events in the region.

For Olson, it all started when she and her husband moved to Oronoco in 1986. One day, the entire downtown area was a mass of booths, food vendors and people meandering from one place to another. At first, Olson was bewildered. Then she was intrigued.

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"After that first year not knowing what was happening, I got involved," Olson said. "I basically helped in the information booth, but once I started going to the meetings, I started taking over all the advertising."

Her job working in print media at Mayo Clinic made her a fit for the advertising job, or so everyone thought. Olson said while the world of trade publications wasn't her area of expertise, she could manage a budget and that was a good start.

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It was a few years later when Olson took over as volunteer coordinator that she made her first big change. She contacted Olmsted County to see if they could get some of the kids who needed to put in some community service hours to come help out with preparations for the annual August antique show.

"I really enjoyed that," Olson said. "I made some great relationships with those young people. They'd say 'I can't believe you guys are so nice to us.' And they felt good contributing to something worthwhile."

The kids – Olmsted County would deliver a bus-load for about $350 – would cut back tree branches, wash out barrels for trash, and generally work under the maintenance supervisor ahead of the show getting the town ready for the influx of vendors looking to sell antiques and unique Americana items.

That wasn't the only change Olson made to Gold Rush.

One change, which she calls "a little controversial" was to get the city to pass a public gathering ordinance that states the vendors must all start at the same time.

That wasn't always the case. Vendors at Gold Rush rent land for their booths either from the city or from private landowners. For years, those who rented from private landowners could get a jump on the competition by setting up early and selling their goods on Wednesday.

"I saw it as fair to all the vendors," Olson said.

That helps keep vendors coming back to the show.

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Olson said that between the recession in 2008-2009, the increase in online marketing by the vendors, and the fact that so many antique vendors are getting older and getting out of the business, Gold Rush needs to make sure the show is fair to all, or some of those remaining vendors will stop coming back.

That's where another change comes in. Olson said the Gold Rush committee needed to decide whether to be strictly an antique show or start transitioning into more of a community event. While Gold Rush still draws vendors from across the county and buyers from across the region and beyond, the people with money to spend – adults in their 40s and 50s – aren't as attached to things the way the older generation might have been.

"I hear my grandchildren say they don't want to spend money on things," Olson said. "They want to spend money on the experience."

To that end, Gold Rush has added events such as 5K runs for adults and kids, a car show and more opportunities to relax and enjoy the day.

"The Lions Club set up a margarita and bloody Mary bar," she said. "It's not all antiques anymore. You can come buy a beer, have fun, maybe buy a few items. I think we're hitting a larger market because of that."

These positive changes may have changed how Gold Rush operates, Olson said, but they've also helped keep the show vibrant, drawing huge crowds to her little town. As she hands off the reins to the show – Joanne McDermott, who has helped out with Gold Rush for years will take over as event coordinator – she's glad to see a new generation of people getting involved in the community through Gold Rush.

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"My favorite thing is this great sense of community that everyone in Oronoco, 98% of the people, pull together because they know what happens with that money," Olson said. The proceeds from Gold Rush pay for community projects from playgrounds to the senior center and historical center and more. "We have engaged young people to work in the information booth, and in so doing they have sense of what it means to volunteer within the community."

Carol Olson.JPG
Carol Olson stands on her deck in Rochester on Oct 22, 2021. Olson, who has served as event coordinator for Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days since 2005 is stepping down this year from her position. Brian Todd / Post Bulletin

Carol Olson.JPG
Carol Olson stands on her deck in Rochester on Oct 22, 2021. Olson, who has served as event coordinator for Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days since 2005 is stepping down this year from her position. Brian Todd / Post Bulletin

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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