Before we head out of town to Mankato on our day trip, we hit Rochester’s Trader Joe’s for road trip snacks. The check-out clerk asks about our day’s plan and upon learning we’re headed to Kato Town, urges us to visit The Coffee Hag for, of all things, cookies. Duly noted.
Our family anthem CD – the ‘Pitch Perfect’ soundtrack – locked and loaded to play, we’re off on Highway 14 West for our first destination: Vagabond Village, a vintage boutique where we have an appointment to shop at noon on this fine, sunny Memorial Day weekend Sunday. Owner Natalie Pierson greets us as we enter and my kids (14 and 13 years old), hit the aisles, while Pierson and I discuss her eclectic shop featuring everything from 1920s to 1980s merch.
"I’ve bought what speaks to me for my whole life," Pierson says, recounting travels to Honduras, Spain, Costa Rica, Oregon, Minneapolis, and other places where she’s picked up everything from folk art and music to artwork and typewriters. Jewelry, belt buckles, and clothes all have their place within Pierson’s 2,400-square-foot store in Mankato’s Old Town district. "I’m slowly fulfilling my dream. I have a lot of ideas, and now I have the space to execute them," says Pierson.
All of Pierson’s merchandise is $20 or under, though vendors can set their prices higher. "It doesn’t have to be expensive to be vintage," she says. "I try to make it affordable and fun." As I pay for our purchases, the kids take turns tuning Pierson’s violin she’s got in stock for a future project matching college students who want to teach music with kids who are looking to learn.
Our next stop is more of an adventure than a single stopping point: finding Mankato and neighboring North Mankato’s newly-installed City Art Walking Sculpture Tour. It’s all the rage among locals, and we spy people on bikes pulling off the sidewalk to view the sculptures dotting both burbs. We spot three sculptures at Main and Second streets, and the kids are off to photograph their faves while I assess eating options.
I come up with three tempting possibilities: reliable diner food at The Wagon Wheel Cafe, the city’s famous pizza at Paglia’s,or bar food at Midtown Tavern. The kids opt for the Tavern, and we’re off to what’s being transformed into a hip eatery/brewery by new, young owners. The kids cue up some pool sticks after we order (a mushroom burger, breaded chicken sammy with cheese and bacon, and a skillet breakfast). The playlist here is awesome and before long we’re all – OK, maybe just me – jamming to "Five Hundred Miles" and scarfing down our food in an old-school, saggy-seated, window-side booth.
Fortified, we’re back to shopping, this time at a bowling alley-turned-auction house called Vintage Mall. Both kids find miniature safes, and my oldest nets a jewelry box and mug for her mug collection and talks me into a clay pot – something we don’t need, but for $2.50, how can we pass it up?
Lastly, it’s, yes, The Coffee Hag, Mankato’s independently-owned coffee shop featuring lattes, mochas, and everything else you expect from a coffee shop, plus those tantalizing cookies. As we converse, a local newspaper editor joins us with a cup of medium roast, comments that Mankato is "swimming in vintage" after hearing of our shopping exploits.
We head home to Rochester, full and happy with a trunk full of wares, pleased with our inaugural private shopping appointment at what is arguably Mankato’s coolest, hippest store. Because come on, where else can you find a typewriter bar?