Long before the word “heritage” became hip and “North” became a brand attribute, retailers like Faribault Woolen Mill, Red Wing Shoes, Nordic Ware and other brands have quietly been putting Minnesota on the retail map for more than a century. While The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other publications have attempted to capture the quintessence of Minnesota’s distinctive retail culture, it can only be truly understood with a pilgrimage to a flagship company store or honest-to-goodness factory outlet. Here are some of our favorite Minnesota-made retail destinations that will send your clients home with distinctive gifts and keepsakes.
Clients who are intrigued by strategic turnaround stories will enjoy a visit to the Faribault Woolen Mill (faribaultmill.com), one of the last remaining vertical woolen mills in the U.S. As you drive south on I-35, you can explain how the 150-year old mill was rescued from bankruptcy in 2011. When you arrive, pay homage to the trusty Cannon River, which still powers the mill, and visit the company store, where you’ll find distinctive handwoven blankets, throws, linens and other products.
If your out-of-town clients have never ventured beyond the Twin Cities, head downriver to Red Wing, a picturesque drive an hour from downtown St. Paul. At the Red Wing Shoes flagship store (redwingshoes.com) on Main Street, tour the company museum. Learn how this innovative 110-year-old company now produces 5,000 pairs of handmade boots in Red Wing every day for distribution in 100 countries around the world. Before you leave, score a pair of urbane Beckman Chukka boots in polished teak or black.
Connoisseurs of handcrafted goods will enjoy the J.W. Hulme flagship store (jwhulmeco.com) in St. Paul. Founded in 1905, the company was acquired in 2008, shifted its focus from private label manufacturing and reinvented itself as a purveyor of luxurious branded products. While the merchandise mix has evolved to include rolling suitcases, iPhone and iPad cases, wine totes, and other modern must-haves, Hulme’s talented artisans still use time-honored techniques in the company’s St. Paul workshop.
With Thanksgiving, St. Lucia’s Day and other seasonal celebrations just around the corner, a visit to the Nordic Ware factory store (nordicware.com) in St. Louis Park is a timely addition to any business trip. Founded in 1946 by an enterprising housewife and her husband, the kitchenware, cookware, and bakeware company, still family owned, became world-famous in 1966 when its signature Bundt pan helped a Texas baker take second place in the Pillsbury Bake-Off with her Tunnel of Fudge cake. Since then, Nordic Ware has sold more than 70 million of the distinctively shaped pans.