Fifty years’ longevity is an achievement for any retail store. But when that store has been owned for half a century by three generations of women in one family, grandmother, mother and daughter, the milestone takes on special significance.
In 2017 Heritage Arts and Gifts in Walker celebrates its 50th anniversary as part of the Walker retail community.
“Not many shops can say they also have had three generations of customers,” says current owner Amy Knowles. “I have customers who’ve been shopping with my family since my grandma, Madeline Schneider, had the [store].”
At age 4 or 5, Amy remembers making things with her grandma in the shop, cleaning shelves and helping organizing merchandise. Around age 7, she was working with customers and occasionally running the cash register.
“I never left; it’s just in my blood, I guess.”
In 1967, Madeline Schneider bought Hartman’s Trading Post in downtown Walker and re-named it the Buckskin Trading Post. The store was a tourist mecca, full of souvenirs, jewelry, moccasins, candy and antiques.
She also purchased “Buckskin Joe,” also called The Old Man, an almost-life size figure that still sits on a bench outside the store. In the 1980s, she acquired a life-size statue of a Native American, decked out in authentic Sioux regalia that stood watch over the moccasin department.
The first site was at Fifth and Minnesota in Walker. The store extended from the current site down to the corner where Village Square coffee and ice cream are now located.
In 1984, Madeline decided to build onto Amy’s parent’s plumbing shop along Highway. 371 east of Walker. After moving the Trading Post there, she renamed it Heritage Arts and Crafts and moved away from tourist items into gifts and handicraft supplies.
Eventually the business spread out, occupying the entire building. Amy’s mom, Kay Johnson, joined her mother and eventually purchased the business in 1990. In the 1990s, Kay added custom framing, fine art and beading supplies to the store’s offerings.
Heritage remained at that location until 2006, when Amy bought the store and moved it back into Walker, offering jewelry, gifts, antiques, home decor, silk floral and baby merchandise.
Last September, Heritage Arts and Gifts was on the move again, relocating to 414 Minnesota Ave. W. in downtown Walker.
For a few years Amy and her husband Jon had talked about purchasing a different building. They are excited about the store’s latest relocation and the new retail space.
“This will be just the right fit! It has a bit more space, more storage, great display windows, and it is right on Minnesota Avenue. It’s always been tricky to get people to venture onto a side street [Fifth], and this move will give us more visibility.”
One change that shoppers may notice is the new logo and signage created by Next Innovations of Walker.
Another is that the store will simply be called “Heritage.”
Amy’s excited to have the chance to revamp Heritage’s look while keeping the nostalgic feel customers are accustomed to.
She has added fun new merchandise for fall and winter. “You’ll just have to stop in and see all the great changes!” — just in time for the holidays.
In 2001 Amy graduated from Bemidji State University with an art degree with a jewelry and metals emphasis. The same year she interned at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., studied under various artists and learned the management side of the Art Center’s art gallery and business.
Amy isn’t sure if it was uncommon “back in the day” for a woman to own a business. “I never remember my grandma or mom mentioning it; they just worked hard. I do remember staying with grandma until she would close the store, then [seeing her] do bookwork or work on crafts to sell, sometimes as late as 10 p.m., then go home.
“My mom, too, would sometimes get up in the middle of the night and go to work to finish a framing job that a customer was picking up the next morning.”
She finds herself doing the same.
“The season is so brief, that [you] spend many late nights getting merchandise unpacked, priced and displayed before the summer rush. It’s just what you do. You work hard.”
The major challenge for any small business owner is to adapt to the markets.
“The market and the customer are always changing,” she observes. “The world today moves so fast, and people usually want things instantly. It’s hard to keep a balance between having the right products, being competitive, but not losing that small town shopping experience that so many come for.”
What makes Heritage special? According to customers, it’s the mix of unusual merchandise, attractive displays and great customer service. Amy and her staff try to choose products of interest to a wide range of shoppers, whether they come in every week or just once a year; and to balance items people love, are comfortable with and depend on finding at the store, with enough changes so Heritage stays fresh and special.
Local shoppers tell Amy that sometimes they drop in just because they are having a bad day or need to get out of the office.
“They say my store relaxes them; or ‘I just knew if I came in, you would help me find that perfect something!’ Those are the best compliments. It’s one of my favorite experiences, to be able to help a customer, whether it’s finding a special something, or just being a calm place for them to get away.”
Amy believes that Heritage’s longevity and success are due, in large part, to the support of loyal local customers.
“I feel people don’t always realize how important supporting a small business is. We are so very fortunate to have as many local and regional customers as we do. They are a big part of why our family has been here so long.”
Since Jon and Amy have a young daughter, is it possible that Heritage’s female ownership would stretch to a fourth generation?
Maybe; but shopping has changed so much in the past 20 years.
“Who’s to say where we’ll be in the next 20 [years]? I just want her to be happy and do what she loves,” says Amy.
Half a century’s worth of life lessons, passed down from Madeline to Kay to Amy and, by example, to their customers, are ones everyone could benefit from:
Don’t wear out your welcome.
There are no free lunches in life.
If you’re going to do a job, do it well.
Leave things a little better than when you found them.
All told, that’s a pretty good “Heritage.”