Brooke Pfeffer wouldn’t describe herself as a “community builder.” But community has a way of happening all around her (even some fun four-footed kind). That can’t be a coincidence.
Brooke is the owner and operator of The Peddler, a colorful and cozy little gift shop tucked into a side street of Lanesboro, Minnesota. A Minnesotan from the start, she was born in Mankato and grew up near Pemberton. She met her future husband, Joel, on a blind date in 2000. “I was planning to move to Detroit to become a flight attendant and told myself not to get distracted,” she remembers. “After three dates I got distracted.” They married, bought a fixer-upper house in Joel’s hometown of Madelia (where he was a self-employed contractor), and established their most important community, four kids: Brynn, Havilah, August, and Jolie, ranging from age 10 to 15.
Then Lanesboro happened. “Relatives in Preston invited us there for a birthday party,” she says. “We’d never heard of Lanesboro but as we drove down the County Road 8 hill on a beautiful fall evening, we were blown away with the look and feel of the place. We came back to look around and do some biking and soon found ourselves talking about moving here.”
On one of those visits in the spring of 2017, she walked by an antique shop downtown that had a “For Sale” sign in the window. “Other than brief Target and Herbergers jobs, I’d never worked retail before,” she says. “But I started imagining an antique shop that might also offer fun clothing and craft items. We made an offer. Six months later it all happened.”
Brooke’s desire to get involved in and give back to her new community started with simple questions. “When Joel and I first considered moving to Lanesboro we asked ourselves, ‘what can we bring to this place? What skills or talents can we add? How can we benefit the town?’”
The answers are coming for Brooke through The Peddler, but also through her volunteer efforts like serving on the board of the Friends of the Lanesboro Library, helping to organize recent Taste of the Trail events, her Farmers Park fund raising efforts, and volunteering with the Girl Scouts. “We had nearly 30 girls in the shop recently for an art project. It was a bit of a squeeze for our space, but I love doing events that bring people together. We also offered a pinecone painting class with ‘artists’ from age three to 80. I want the Peddler to be an inclusive, welcoming place for everybody who comes in.”
The Peddler has prospered, even through the COVID pandemic, evolving into the store Brooke envisioned. “I have fewer antiques now, more clothing and crafts. We also have homemade handbags, hats, swimwear, candles, baskets, pillows, furniture, toys, shoes, and gifts, among other things. A fun variety. I look for whatever sparks peoples’ interest, what they’re looking for and talking about. That’s how I connected with the Fair Trade community.”
Fair Trade items come primarily from developing countries, made by workers who receive fair wages in healthy work environments. No sweat shops. “The work and the workers are monitored and certified,” says Brooke. “You feel good knowing that what you’re buying didn’t involve suffering of any kind.”
Fair Trade helps create the “feel” and the inventory of The Peddler. “We have knit-ware from Nepal, wrapped skirts and blankets from India, decorative trinkets from Thailand, Peru, and Mexico. I majored in geography, traveled some, and have always been interested in other cultures, so this is a good fit for me. For many customers the items spark memories of their own travel.”
For now, though, Brooke and her family have put down roots at their five-acre, formerly Amish farm six miles south of Lanesboro. It works for storage of Joel’s equipment, and was a perfect location for an expansion of their family – the four-legged kind. “We certainly weren’t looking for a new house. But I had dabbled in horses long ago and Joel said maybe this could be a place to do that again,” Brooke says. “Girls like horses, you know. He sold me and here we are.”
The farm now hosts a community of eight horses, seven alpacas, and two dogs. Most of the horses and all the alpacas came from Wisconsin via Craig’s List (“the lady made me promise that we’d keep them all together as a family”). Brooke has rescued the other horses from “kill pens” as well.
“People sometimes end up with older horses, often in bad health, that are difficult to re-home,” she says. “They don’t want to keep feeding and supporting them so they offer them for sale online. If the horses don’t sell in a week they end up in a kill pen to be shipped off for slaughter. We bought three including one that looked very overweight. A few months later she surprised us with a foal. They’re all doing well and we love them.”
Why alpacas? “I like alpacas,” she says. “They’re different. They also can present some challenges. For one, they need to be sheared at least once a year. I knew nothing about that. I figured it must be like bathing a dog, right? I ordered clippers on Amazon and watched YouTube videos to learn about it. I gave it a try one summer afternoon but after an hour in 100-degree sun with cranky alpacas and crying kids I realized it was not like bathing a dog. I called a local sheep shearer who did all seven in about an hour. I plan to call him next year, too.”
Are there new communities that Brooke plans to build? “My daughter wants chickens but I’m not sure about that. We might expand The Peddler so we can do more there. I’d like to offer more support to other business-friends in town.” As a busy mom and business owner, there’s much to keep her busy. “I need to keep my head down and not get distracted,” Brooke says.
But it happens. “On a recent Saturday morning I went for a walk to get some coffee and passed by an Amish family selling quilts and things. They had a crate of puppies. One had a broken tail. What can I say?”
Steve Harris, a freelance writer and the author of “Lanesboro, Minnesota,” has given serious consideration to the theory that alpacas are actually life-forms from another planet. Contact Steve at email@example.com.