Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
Rebecca Kolls with her dog, Cash, who hangs out at the store
Rebecca Kolls with her dog, Cash, who hangs out at the store and has his own Instagram account (@CashTheFarmStoreDog)
Rebecca Kolls became a household name in the Twin Cities more than two decades ago, when she was hired by WCCO to do the weather—and plant a garden in downtown Minneapolis. She’d come from Salt Lake City, where she brought gardening tips her grandfather shared with her since childhood into her TV forecasts. “When I was hired, they said, ‘We’re interested in the weather, but what we really want is a garden on the roof,’” she remembers.
Local viewers weren’t the only ones tuning in. Kolls counted Oprah Winfrey and Better Homes and Gardens among her fans, and three years into her Twin Cities stint, she’d landed her own nationally syndicated TV show and began making regular appearances on Good Morning America. Both continued for more than 10 years, eventually joined by a magazine (Rebecca’s Garden) and a book. Then came the recession. Kolls switched gears, becoming a consumer strategist for Washington, D.C.–based CED (Corporate Executive Board, an agency formerly known as Iconoculture).That’s her day job, working from her home in Hudson, Wisconsin—but it’s what Kolls does in her off time that’s put her back on the Twin Cities map. “I probably have the most demanding hobby I’ve ever taken on, and that’s the Farm Store,” she says. Kolls is referring to the Stillwater Farm Store, which first opened in 1896.
You can’t miss the Farm Store as you drive into Stillwater. But what attracted you to it?
I took it on because I thought I could reinvent it for a friend whose wife had died. When I first walked in, I looked at my friend and said, “Do you really want me to tell you what to do?” because my first impression was to start over, that he really needed to reinvent the store. The way it was set up was not conducive to what people want today.
How so, exactly?
The inventory was stacked floor-to-ceiling with cardboard boxes. It was a feed store and it smelled like a feed store. But the best way to describe it is as an old, very tired hardware store that needed some serious cleaning and that had a Ben Franklin twist to it—funky stuff that didn’t fit with the direction I would take the store. Take flags. They were big at one time, but they had probably 20,000 flags. And all these little yard gizmos that moved. And what I thought was very tired merchandise. So I was trying to help my friend figure out what to do, and he asked me to take over the business. There was no way I could with my job, but I thought if I come up with a vision and come up with key people who could help pull it off, we could make it work.
And from there, you bought it?
It was in November 2014 that I first went in, then we started talking back and forth. In January I made it more official that I’d buy the store, and that officially happened in April of last year. We were there from seven in the morning until 10 at night stripping it down, painting, getting rid of all the metal shelving and the stacks of boxes blocking the windows. The front’s all windows and we had this huge mess of sidewalk begging for attention.
So you actually did start over?
Yes, I came up with this motto—“lifestyles rooted in nature”—and everything had to fit that. I try to keep the focus on products made in the U.S. and from local artisans and entrepreneurs, and on what a farm home would need. So we came up with focuses like “farm baby,” “farm kid,” “farm kitchen,” even “farm dog,” because my dog comes in on a regular basis. But we’ve revived it as an urban farm store, so it’s applicable to everyone, whether you’re in a condo, in the suburbs, or on a farm.
But you still have feed—how does that fit now?
The entire back of the store is devoted to feed—and that was and is a staple of the business. The same with birdseed. We mix our own birdseed with fresh local ingredients using our own recipes, and it’s huge for us. We mix probably one or two thousand pounds of birdseed a week in a massive hopper, then fill 25- and 50-pound bags or sell it in bulk. And we have recipes specific to birds, too, like cardinals and songbirds. Along with that, we carry all kinds of feeders and birdhouses. My favorites are from Dick [Bellefeuille] of Beautiful Leaf in northern Minnesota, who takes birch bark and other natural materials and creates these birdhouses that are to die for. Every single house is different and they sell out right away. Just to know this 89-year-old man is combing the woods for materials and living his dream—that’s exactly what we want to support.
And is that philosophy reflected in your personal style?
Absolutely. My style is very comfortable and warm—it’s not pretentious and it’s not high-end. Although we sell beautiful things, some with higher prices, I want to give people the opportunity to still stay grounded. There’s so much going on in people’s lives today and in the world today, and the Farm Store provides a chance to connect with family and friends using nature as a theme.
So what’s next?
Now that the seed is planted, we kind of know what people are looking for. Now what I want to do is go back to my roots and bring even more of that agrarian spin to the store. We have a list of classes we want to start teaching on nights and weekends. Like how to raise chickens or how to make the best hollandaise sauce. We started bringing in baby farm animals last year and intend on doing it again. We’re selling baby chicks, and we’d like to bring in goslings and ducklings and piglets and bottle-fed lambs. We’re looking at bringing a CSA to the Farm Store, so if you don’t have time to grow a garden in your backyard, we can bring that to you. Things like fresh flowers and fresh eggs that will literally have been picked that day. And my ultimate goal is to pitch the roof and make it green, make it a living roof, perhaps even bringing in goats for up there on the weekends. I want to connect people with nature the best way I know.
401 S. Main St., Stillwater, 651-439-6143