Red Wing native with entrepreneurial genes finds dream fulfillment in New Ulm.
Photo by Kris Kathmann
It’s easy to understand why Barb Haroldson regrets being confined to her office on the second level of 16 North Minnesota Street in New Ulm.
Downstairs, the rich aroma of hot coffee lingers in the air; the warmth of hot ovens filters through the space, mingling with the pleasant chitchat stretching from one end of the building to the next. Soft chairs and sturdy tables encourage friendly conversations over a wasabi chicken salad or a cup of Hungarian mushroom soup. The European street scenes painted along the walls provide a brief interlude from a gray winter day in southern Minnesota. And the customers come and go with cheerful greetings for the familiar faces behind the counters.
It’s exactly the atmosphere Haroldson had in mind when she bought the old, narrow building on Minnesota Street six years ago. It’s exactly what she hoped it would become during the almost nine months she spent gutting and remodeling the space. It’s exactly what she wanted it to be on the day she opened Larkspur Market in November 2000.
With one small exception.
“I would so much rather be on the floor visiting with customers than up in my office managing the personnel,” Haroldson admits. “I love the people—that’s the frosting, the fun part for me. But managing the employees is a huge job in itself. I had no idea how much time it would take.”
Not that Haroldson went into business blindly. She knew what she was getting into, if not exactly how she would spend her every waking minute. She grew up in a business family (her family owns Red Wing Shoe, which also runs the St. James Hotel in Red Wing). She had spent months, if not years, exploring similar shops in similar towns. And she was in fact looking for a way to fill her days once her children hit high school.
Her days have indeed been full. Many of her nights too. She remembers sitting in the still-unfinished building late at night, perched on an overturned five-gallon bucket while a friend and her sister painted the murals on the walls. She recalls frequent trips to and from the Twin Cities, most of the miles spent with her cell phone attached to her ear answering questions from the plumber, electrician or designer. She recounts the many times she was caught sound asleep on her desk, surrounded by paperwork and plans.
“Once it got going, it took a lot to stay on top of it all,” Haroldson says. “I was working seven days a week, all hours of the day. My son would come upstairs at night and I’d be lying on my desk sleeping, or be sprawled on the floor fast asleep. The intensity was crazy.”
Her hard work has paid off: Larkspur Market, a gift shop, coffee shop and deli, has become a popular destination for shoppers, diners and drinkers across the region. They find exquisite jewelry, unique dishware, gifts for the grandkids and fun little trinkets (“Everyone needs a pretty toothbrush,” Haroldson laughs) up front, then drift along the tiled path to the coffee shop and deli, where every salad, soup and sandwich is made from scratch daily. And on occasion, they even find Haroldson herself, enjoying a cup of coffee, eating a fruit parfait or happily chatting with friends who frequent the store.
“I really like being able to come downstairs and have lunch,” she says. “I get to eat such good food. And I get to spend time with the people. That’s what I love.”
Larkspur Market began because Barb Haroldson needed a project. As a stay-at-home mom, she found herself with too much time on her hands when her two children—Emily, now 20, and Ross, 19—turned into teenagers. Her girlfriends, with whom she often toured small town gift shops and coffee houses, kept telling her that New Ulm needed something like that and she should open it. The idea intrigued her, especially because she had worked in retail since taking a job at a women’s clothing store in high school and because she so enjoyed working with people.
Then, during the summer of 1999, a new shop opened in her hometown of Red Wing. The owners had incorporated several concepts into one location; they had a coffee shop, a floral boutique and a gift shop all in one small space. Haroldson spent a lot of time talking to the two owners, who in turn introduced her to a coffee vendor in Minneapolis. It was all the impetus she needed to get going. By the time fall rolled around, Haroldson was scouring the streets of New Ulm for a building of her own.
She secured her space late in February 2000 and set a plan to open by late summer. She hired contractors to gut and renovate the building. She went to New York City to shop the gift markets and placed orders for the merchandise she wanted for her store. She found someone who could run the deli and started commuting to the cities in search of a kitchen designer. But soon it became clear that getting the store up and running was going to take a bit more time than she had expected.
Everything had to be redone—but it had to be done in the right order. The plumber had to wait for the electrician to finish the wiring before he could put in the pipes. The woman who had originally planned on running the deli decided to do something else. And it took time to incorporate all the artistic touches Haroldson so desired in her store, from the mosaic tile floors to the murals of European buildings on the walls.
“I had gone to market in April, and all the merchandise came in June,” she says. “It sat in semis until we were ready to open in November. We had Christmas merchandise in there too, so we really had to get it out.”
Five crazy Christmases have come and gone since then. During that time, Larkspur Market has become known throughout the region for its unique gifts, its adventurous menu and its comfortable setting. Book clubs, church groups and local businesses come to sit in the coffee shop for their meetings. The store’s alley door, which remains unlocked after the front, gift-shop door closes, has also made it a popular gathering spot for local college kids, who appreciate that they can get a cup of joe until 11 p.m. most nights.
“That was an idea from one of the college kids working for us,” Haroldson says. “He said there was no place in town for his friends to go at night. I told him to try it, just to tell me how much coffee he thought he would need. Now we have lots of college kids who hang out here in the evenings.”
As much as Haroldson enjoys going to market, picking out one-of-a-kind products and setting up beautiful product displays, she’s especially glad to be able to get breakfast, lunch and, if needed, dinner at her own deli counter—without having to cook it herself or clean up afterward. She’s delighted that her coffee shop and deli have earned regular customers, many of whom have come to enjoy the offbeat recipes her chefs try. “We’ll make a pesto salad, and it might sell or it might not,” she says. “This is a small town and not everyone is going to like that. But if they’re willing to make the attempt, if they’re willing to try it, most will decide they like it.”
New items show up on the menu almost weekly, Haroldson says. Many of the recipes come from staff members, who are constantly on the lookout for Larkspur-worthy ideas. Some even come from customers, who bring in recipes they’d like to see featured on the menu. Haroldson loves that interaction between the community and her store and would like to encourage even more of it. “I think it would be fun if people brought in their favorite family recipes,” she says. “I would love to be able to do Grandma Rose’s chocolate cake—the kinds of things that people are known for.”
Haroldson still occasionally gets away for weekend jaunts with her girlfriends, and she still loves ducking into little gift shops and coffee houses during those trips. Now, however, what she looks at has changed. “I call it spying now,” she laughs. “I like to go into stores and see the different merchandise they carry. I turn all the products upside down to see the names of the manufacturers and then try to remember them until I’m out the door and can write them down.”
Making time for herself has become a bigger priority for Haroldson now that the store has proven successful and she’s been able to hire capable staff. A year ago, she hired Nancy Quam to manage the store, which allowed her to take a step back from the day-to-day running of the business. “I’ve really started taking care of me,” she says. “My youngest has graduated from high school and the business is up and running. It’s time to take care of myself.”
So these days, she goes to the gym before she goes to work. She tries to make it home around dinnertime. “I get in between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and I stay until 5 or 6—or until I clear off my desk,“ she says. “Last night I was here until 10, but that doesn’t happen as much anymore.“
And in the meantime, she does her best to get out of her office whenever she can, even if it’s just to have lunch or a cup of coffee. “I really want to have more time on the floor,” she says. “That’s the fun part. That’s what I love.”
Tale Of Two River Towns
Barb Haroldson grew up in Red Wing, Minnesota, a sweet little small town on the shores of the Mississippi River. When she got married and moved to New Ulm, Minnesota, also a sweet little small town, yet on the shores of the Minnesota River, she was amazed at the similarities between the two cities.
“New Ulm is a lot like Red Wing,” she says. “They’re both river towns, they have about the same population, and both have a heavy industrial base with high employment and a good work ethic.”
It’s not a huge surprise, then, that the blueprint for Larkspur Market emerged after a similar gift shop/coffee house opened up in Red Wing. If it could work there, Haroldson thought, then surely it could also work in a place like New Ulm.
Her Red Wing-based business background didn’t hurt either. Her family runs both the Red Wing Shoe company and historic St. James Hotel, and her siblings have gone on to open their own businesses as well. “I talked to my mom a lot about the business as I was getting started,” Haroldson says. “And my sisters too. It’s great to have that support system.”
Larkspur Market was named for Barb Haroldson’s favorite flower—the tall, stately blue spikes that are a common sight in gardens around her home. But as much as she loves larkspur, it wasn’t her first choice for the name of her business.
“I originally wanted something to do with the food—Savories, or something like that,” Haroldson says. “I had lots of ideas, but when you apply for corporate status, you find out that there are lots of names that you just can’t have, because someone else already has them.”
Larkspur, she says, was somewhere around fourth on the list. But it fit the primary criteria she had for a name — that it be something different — and represented her personality as well. She paired it with Market because she liked the European implications of the word, and because, as she says, “That’s what it is.”
Making the Old New, Again
Barb Haroldson had at least some idea of what she was getting into when she bought one of the old buildings lining New Ulm’s Minnesota Street. Her father had long ago instilled in her his love of old buildings, and she had watched, as he got personally involved in the restoration of several old buildings in her hometown of Red Wing—including the historic St. James Hotel.
“I got to watch as that hotel was being transformed,” Haroldson says. “It helped me to know what’s possible, what you can do with a building. And it helped me understand how such a project can benefit a town.”
Her building at 16 North Minnesota Street was a monumental restoration project. “Everything was old,” she remembers. “It needed all new wiring and all the plumbing had to be done. You have to basically start over.”
In the process of starting over, Haroldson unearthed the original brick walls and discovered the original tin ceiling. Although the ceiling was far too rotten to salvage (she had it completely redone), the brick was in beautiful condition. Leaving it bare helped establish the old world European feeling that she continued through the rest of the building.
“Once we got started, the building took on a life of its own,” she says. “It just evolved into what it is now.”
Just three years after she had finished getting Larkspur Market off the ground, Barb Haroldson undertook another project: Interior Motives, a custom interior design shop two doors down on Minnesota Street.
Again, she and her partner in the project, Lynn Heuchert, bought an old building and gutted it, then filled it with unique furnishings and accessories they found at the various markets they fly to each year. “We had so much fun with it,” Haroldson says. “I love fabrics and furniture. I had just redone my house, so it was a great time to get into it.”
Interior Motives, which Heuchert runs with a staff of designers, is filled from front to back with furniture, accessories, flooring samples and fabric swatches. In the back there’s a sample kitchen, where Heuchert counsels customers about custom kitchen design, among other things.
As at Larkspur Market, Haroldson let the building’s natural beauty shine through in the renovation; the original brick was restored, and the second floor was opened up to the let the sunshine through the skylight above. But she and Heuchert also took great pains to show off their design ideas in the decorating process. They especially enjoyed selecting an assortment of tiles for the bathroom, just to illustrate what could be done in a small space.
“We had a great time picking out paint and wallpaper and so forth,” she says. “We wanted to show people what kinds of things are possible.”
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