For a few weeks now, Jeff has been trying to get me to go on a day trip. As someone who is a natural homebody, the pandemic, lockdowns, and busyness have all made it easier to become even more of a homebody. And I recognize that isn’t necessarily a good thing. So, when some of our friends shared about the oldest town in Minnesota, Stillwater, Jeff decided we needed to do a day trip there before winter set in. He has Mondays off, so he picked yesterday to whisk me away. I packed a small bag with some sketching supplies in case we just sat by the St. Croix river for a while, but our plan was to hit some of the local shops, grab lunch, and walk along the river.
It was the perfect day weather-wise. Clear and sunny, warm, but with a crisp fall chill in the air. We were even treated to some color in the foliage, although it certainly wasn’t at its peak.
The town of Stillwater itself offered more than we expected. Some small towns that we’ve visited in MN can have 2-3 shops of interest to us, but Stillwater has a lot of great shops including antique stores and a fabulous used bookshop. It also has lots of restaurants to choose from, although many were closed on a Monday leaving the ones that were open with limited seating and longer waits.
When we first arrived, we walked around the Stillwater a bit to scope things out, crossed one of the bridges, walked along the river, and then went into Midtown Antique Mall. This is a large antique mall, but it is one of those that you really need time to dig. Some of the booths were neatly arranged, but most of them were packed with goodies in a haphazard way. Antique booths like that are great when you have the whole day to do a deep dive, but we were just browsing today.
I ended up buying one thing (a brass ruler/ink blotter combination) and then we headed to the used bookshop I found online – Black Letter Books. Oh my, this bookshop was an absolute treat and will be one of the main reasons I visit Stillwater regularly. I learned that the owner is an art lover, which explained the robust collection of art books. Most used book stores I have visited offer a pretty limited selection of art, design, and decorating books, so I was thrilled when the inventory of this shop was so in line with my interests.
I had to settle on the floor to look thoroughly through the art section, making sure I didn’t miss any books I might want. Any other bookstore floor-sitters out there? I’m in my 40s and I still haven’t grown out of that!
I didn’t even look through the entire bookstore since I spent so much time in the art section, but I can say that a book-lover could spend hours in there! It’s small but has such a great selection of books to peruse. We didn’t go to Stillwater for me to sit on the floor of a bookstore all day, though.
I made my selections and Jeff carried the books back to the car for me…
He said he needs to bring a backpack or a rolling suitcase next time we go to that store, which I already warned him would be at least once a year.
After looking at a few different restaurant options around Stillwater, we decided to grab lunch at Mon Petit Cheri, a little French cafe.
It had great ambiance and amazing food.
My rosemary biscuits & gravy ended up being lunch and dinner. Jeff got a turkey BLT that he said was among the best sandwiches he’s ever had.
After lunch, we walked around the town a bit more and went into American Gothic Antiques on Stillwater’s Main St.
Believe it or not, I didn’t buy any textiles, although I loved this neutral antique quilt…
…and I didn’t buy any ironstone, even though this was clearly “my section.” I just have so much ironstone that I’m to the stage in my collection that I can only justify buying something if it’s very special or it’s unlike anything I already have. I did take plenty of time to admire all of these beautiful pitchers, though. Most of them were priced around $100, which isn’t unreasonable, but it’s a lot more than I usually pay.
I did, however, find something that made me shake with excitement. In the corner of an unassuming booth was a couple of low bookshelves. I noticed a few of them were art books, so I leaned in for a closer look and realized they were all vintage art books. All of them…hundreds of them! I moved things out of the way and settled on the floor again to look through every book. This picture only shows about a third of the collection…
As I started looking through the books, I saw that the prices ranged from $4-10 with the majority of the books being $4-6. Well, I’m going to be parked here for a while! Jeff peeked in on me and I waved him over to whisper, “These are all vintage art books!” Of course, I couldn’t say that too loud, because it might cause a stampede. As soon as everyone in the store (and Stillwater) knew they were here, it would become a brawl for the best books! The truth is that most of these books have probably been sitting here unnoticed for a long time. Stuff was piled in front of them and they clearly weren’t featured as the top-selling items in this booth. But my irrational paranoia set in nonetheless.
Jeff said he was going to go get a cup of coffee since he knew I’d be looking for a while. Before he left, he encouraged me with, “Go ahead and load up.” Even though he knows I have plenty of art books, he also knew this was a great find for me. Well, don’t mind if I do.
I ended up restraining myself somewhat and purchased nine books. One of the books I was super excited about because it’s been on my Amazon wish list for over a year. It’s called A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art and the price has been hovering around $90-120. I just couldn’t justify spending that much on an old, instructional art book, so I’ve been watching and waiting, hoping to find it at a better price. And yesterday, that patience paid off. I got the book for $4.00!
And Jeff carried all of my books back to the car again…
Jeff was right about getting me out of Rochester for the day and he was right about Stillwater. We had a wonderful time together and it was energizing. And, of course, I love that I found some goodies. That was the icing on the cake of a good day.
But, some of you have seen this coming…I am creating a wee bit of a problem for myself with all of the books! I mean, we have a big house and plenty of storage space, but if I want to keep all of my art books in my studio, I am rapidly running out of room! I view the books as my continuing education and I do get so much instruction and inspiration from them. There are certainly worse things to have in abundance.
While I did get a couple of great bargains, most of the books I found can be purchased online used for reasonable prices. Some are even just a few dollars! These are the books I bought yesterday if you’re curious.