Posts Categorized: Entrepreneurs

Sum of Your Business: Brett Reese

SumBusinessLogo_2014

By Aryn Henning Nichols • All photos courtesy Brett Reese

PartnersIf ever a person were “born an entrepreneur”, it would be Brett Reese. Reese is one most inspiring business professionals I’ve ever met. We recently chatted about business beginnings and parents’ lessons in money over breakfast at Restauration in the Hotel Winneshiek – one the properties maintained by Rebound Hospitality, a Northfield, Minnesota, company owned by Reese (pictured, far left) and his business partners Jennifer Sawyer and Todd Byhre.

“I still remember the first dollar my brother and I saved. We pooled all our change together to get this one bill. But then we realized there was only one – who gets to keep it?!” he says with a laugh. “We agreed we’d have to share it.” That was just the beginning of Reese’s investment partnerships and doing nothing – business-wise – alone.

Born and raised in Castle Rock, Minnesota, Reese went to Luther College in Decorah. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in accounting and political science and passed the CPA exam as a senior. After graduation, he worked as an auditor with Grant Thornton in Minneapolis. While continuing this “day job”, he made the leap into self-owned business ventures in 1982 with the purchase (with a partner) of a Northfield pub, where, coincidentally, Reese logged many an hour working in his younger years.

He currently calls Northfield home with daughters Meredith and Milly. It also serves as the birthplace and home office of Rebound. For many years, Reese ran Rebound as a consulting business that worked as a sort of “business doctor”, helping mismanaged or financially troubled companies in a variety of industries rebound to success. It was 2008 when the investment and advisory side of the company – Rebound Enterprises – was founded with the help of business partner Jennifer Sawyer. Reese currently serves as Managing Principal of the Organization.

Archer House

From Rebound Enterprises grew Rebound Hospitality. The Rebound partners had a passionate desire to preserve, maintain, and enhance the Archer House River Inn (circa 1877) in Northfield (pictured above). During its renovation, which began in 2008, Rebound Hospitality was then created to invest in and preserve historically significant properties – such as the Archer House – that are important assets to their communities. On January 1, 2010, a second property was added – the Hotel Winneshiek (circa 1905) in Decorah. The company – whose vision is “to create a portfolio of historic boutique inns and distinct properties” – currently has five properties on its roster – stretching from Des Moines, Iowa (Des Lux Hotel) to Lakeshore, Minnesota (Lost Lake Lodge) – pictured below.

Lost Lake lodge

Rebound also encourages everyone on its team to give of their “time, talent, treasure, and thinking” in the communities where they live and work. It comes back to one of the biggest lessons Reese has learned along the way: “Don’t work in a vacuum. Do nothing alone. Together, we can always achieve so much more.”

Formal photo of Brett Reese—————-

The Basics:
Name:
Brett D. Reese
Age: 56
Business: Rebound Enterprises
Years in Business: 35

Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

Being an entrepreneur was in my blood at young age. At age five I wanted to be a CPA – just like my dad – though I didn’t know exactly what he did, just that he would “bang away” on a great big old adding machine that spit out numbers on paper.

I rode my bike at age 10 to my first job watering trees at Switzer’s Castle Rock Nursery for $.50 per hour, and then “graduated” to baling hay for a local farmer at $1 per wagonload.

BrettwithHorseI grew up on a hobby farm, and at age 12, started my own cow/calf operation. To fund the business, I took out my first loan with the President of the Castle Rock Bank, Dan Nicolai, who, 44 years later, is still the President of the Bank and someone I still do business with!

I bought my first business at age 23 – one year out of college – with my first business partner Dave Delong. We had the opportunity to purchase the “Rueb-N-Stein,” a bar and grill in Northfield, Minnesota, where I had worked from 9th grade through college. I had worked every position, knew it inside and out, and learned a great deal from the owner, Dan Freeman. My partner ran it while I worked along the sidelines and continued working as a CPA in the Twin Cities.

After 3 years as a CPA auditing companies, I followed my entrepreneur spirit in “taking the leap” by leaving public accounting to became my “own boss” as a “turnaround artist/business doctor.” Playing basketball I was known as “Rebound Reese,” and now found myself helping companies that were struggling by “Rebounding” them back to health. Over time Rebound Consulting became Rebound Enterprises with verticals in Hospitality/ Real Estate/ Manufacturing / Financial Services / Community and now recently Rebound Solutions – led by partner Jennifer Sawyer.

Also at a young age, I learned the value of delegating and surrounding oneself with partners and people smarter than you – helping them realize their dreams, while they’re helping you realize yours.

What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

• Independence, Flexibility, Freedom
• Controlling your own destiny
• The ability to take in and enjoy your kids’ activities, and spend time with them when you want
• Creating wealth for your family and investors
• Being able to choose to work with others by partnering and collaborating
• Seeing value where others don’t and being able to carry out a plan to realize it.

How about the worst?

• Lots of responsibility and at times being alone; Knowing that the buck stops with you
• Sometimes taking on too much risk; Payroll comes around and there is no money in
the bank!
• Long hours at times
• Going out on a limb and being criticized by others

Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

In 1990 I was on “top of the world, flying high” as the President of CCM, turning around this struggling local manufacturer located in my hometown of Northfield into a very successful company. Then the shareholders started fighting, and the minority owners bought out the majority owner, who then fired me. Never having been fired, it was difficult for me to get out of bed as I was so depressed. I would sleep till noon, getting up to play basketball over the noon hour at Carleton College, which helped keep me going. After a while (like months!) I picked myself up and decided that in the next turnaround project, I wasn’t only going in as management, but was also getting a piece of the action by taking an ownership stake. From this strategy, over time I was able to take ownership positions in a variety of companies that helped form the foundation of Rebound Enterprises.

Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I owe a great deal to many individuals:

• My father Bert Reese, a great friend, mentor and rock (pictured with Reese below).
Dan Freeman – bought my first business, the Rueb-N-Stein from him in 1983 with
$5,000 down; Great Marketer. Learned from him what to do, and what not to do.
Bill Palmquist – helped me through my first major turnaround – Braco Manufacturing in Moses Lake, WA- where at age 25, I had to fire my first employee (I think I cried more than he did.)
Bob Skluzacek – Helped me develop as a CEO / President of a manufacturing company: CCM – Computer Controlled Machines. $2m in sales to $18m over three years; 20 employees to 150 employees; from near bankruptcy to success.
Curt Swenson – introduced me to MCG –Motion Control Group. A struggling company that was bankrupt that become a very profitable company. MCG built a relationship in China beginning in 1999. Owned from 1991 to 2008: sold just before the downturn of the Great Recession. A smart move!
Bill Cowles – first met him in 1987 when he was a customer of CCM; He became an important mentor and a valuable sounding board for me and still is today.

Brett with Bert Reese

What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

There were a lot of times I didn’t realize that “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” Experience has taught me to really think about this. If I don’t know, I learn from the experiences of others and surround myself with people who do know. To then go out and find the answers and solutions. By not working alone, but through teamwork and collaboration, together we can arrive at the very best decision.

How do you manage your life/work balance?

I have been very fortunate by living and working the best of both worlds! I have had the opportunity to work with companies both globally – traveling the world over on business with our manufacturing firms, and at the same time being a part of local communities with our hospitality businesses and real estate investments.

Also I am blessed to have Margaret Jacobson help manage my work as my administrative assistant, who keeps me organized and who says her work purpose is “I am here to serve you, to make your life better and easier.” How lucky am I?

I have a passion for life, wanting to bring positive energy along with a good attitude. I try to be the best that I can – in my work, with my family, and in my faith. Here’s what works for me:

  • Set aside time for faith, family, profession, working out / physical activity and good nutrition.
  • Lots of travel. Finding new, fun, and interesting life experiences.
  • To be able to work from anywhere, anytime. Pick and choose when to work and when to play, relax and enjoy life.

What keepsPresident Obama at Hotel Winneshiek you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

I am inspired by challenges; A banker recently shared – “that is what Rebound and Brett do – they take on the unthinkable, the worst of conditions and have the ability to turn it around into success.”

Also very inspiring is that “it is not every day that the President of the United States drops in to visit and stay at your home” – a quote by me (President Obama staying the night at the Hotel Winneshiek!).

Some additional quotes I live by:

Energy is Everything!

“Success is when Planning meets Opportunity” (by partner Jennifer Sawyer)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Never say never

You will never achieve your greatest success without failing

Treat others as you would want them to treat you

Do the Right Thing

In closing, I am very proud of the Hotel Winneshiek (pictured below), Restauration Restaurant, Tap Room, and the Steyer Opera House of Decorah. The management team of Dan, Tom, Tammy, Deb, Laura, and their staff have taken a beautiful hotel renovated by Helen Basler – “a gift to Decorah”– and made it into a sustainable, successful business. My appreciation and thanks to you all!

HotelWinn

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Reese has recently launched two more business ventures:

The Northfield Real Estate Fund – a local group investing in their backyard – it has both a community component (supporting the community) and also a return on investment. www.northfieldrealestatefund.com

Co-founded 3C Capital Partners – an angel investing group that invests in start-ups and small and emerging companies – both locally and regionally. www.3ccapital.weebly.com

 

Go Big & Stay Home: Andy Stoll & Amanda West

GoBigAndStayHome
By Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos courtesy Seed Here Studio

There’s a fine line between inspiration and intimidation. It’s so easy to look at super busy, super successful entrepreneurs and think, “Wow, look at them go!” And “I could never do something as awesome as that.”

But we call bulls#*t.

There are a lot of hard parts to being an entrepreneur, but the hardest is probably mustering up the courage to take the leap. Once you’re in it, you learn, adapt, and realize that those super successful entrepreneurs – they’re just like you. They don’t have all the answers. They don’t have any special business-owner DNA. They’re just people with ideas they wanted launched into the world. (Sound familiar?)

“Our definition for entrepreneurs is: someone pursuing an idea/opportunity/passion/ambition without regard to their current resources,” says Amanda West, co-founder of Seed Here Studio and Iowa Startup Accelerator (to name just a couple). “That’s to say, people who are going for it, even though they may not (and usually don’t) have all the knowledge, network, team, or capital to fully realize the potential of their idea.”

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Amanda’s co-innovator/creator/conspirator is fellow Iowa City-based colleague, Andy Stoll. In addition to co-foundingSeed Here Studio – a program design, media, and events agency with a community mission – and helping launch theIowa Startup Accelerator – an intensive program that helps take tech-based startups from concept to successful launch in 90 days – Andy and Amanda have an ever-growing list of accomplishments in both life and work.

AmandaWaveFor real – let’s list!

Amanda:

• Launched a student engagement program called The 10,000 Hours Show that went on to be acquired and expanded by United Way Worldwide
• Worked for several years post-college with Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class) and The Knight Foundation to support mid-size cities around the country with their creative community building effort
• Is the current director of EntreFEST
•  Is the outgoing Project Lead for The Creative Corridor Project
• Is the co-founder and outgoing CEO of Vault Coworking – check this quote from the Vault manifesto:
“Gather your supplies, get a kick in the pants, and keep moving this city forward. We’ll grow what has been planted here, and we’ll take it to the next level. We will rebuild, reinvent and redesign and change the world in the process.”

2014 EntreFEST, Downtown Iowa City, May 14, 2014

Andy:

• Recently completed a 4-year, 40-country, solo trip-around-the-world
• Co-taught and helped design a social entrepreneurial course at the University of Iowa in collaboration with faculty member David Gould and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh
• Helped produce media projects ranging from a web series on world magic to award-winning feature films
• Worked as the creative director for a new media endeavor following adventurer Charlie Wittmack’s 10,000-mile World Tri
• Designed and authored the travel filmmaking curriculum for MatadorU
• Is a sought-after speaker on leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, cities, community-building, entrepreneurial ecosystems and travel (TedX, UI commencement speech, to name a couple)

The two friends met while in college at the University of Iowa in the early 2000s. Both were part of the group of dreamers and social do-gooders that founded The James Gang, the Iowa City non-profit organization behind projects such atThe 10,000 Hours Show, Public Space One, Mission Creek Festival, the free wireless Internet in downtown Iowa City, and lots more.

PrintNow in their mid-30s, Andy and Amanda could easily be considered a couple of those intimidating entrepreneurs we talked about earlier. But don’t be fooled – they’re still just people. And they’re native Midwesterners, to boot, so you know they’re nice too.

“We both wholeheartedly care about our mission and try to genuinely live out our values,” Amanda says. “We share a no-holds-barred sense of possibility and have a similar eye for BIG ideas, great design, and world-class production. We also have consistently different perspectives and very different skill sets and personalities. After working together for a decade, we’ve learned to trust and respect each other’s differences.”

Teamwork and collaboration is, in fact, vital to their projects’ success. Really, Amanda and Andy believe all entrepreneurs will have a much better chance at success if they employ the skills and resources of like-minded partners.

Print“One of the great benefits of working in Iowa is if you want to get involved with things at the highest levels, even if you’re young or new to the community, you simply have to raise your hand, let people know, and be willing to work with it. In my experience, people will help you,” Andy says.

It’s this notion that drives the direction of Seed Here’s current focus: EntreFEST.

EntreFEST, Iowa’s entrepreneur conference set for May 20-22, 2015 in Iowa City, is geared toward small business owners, high-growth startup teams, innovators inside large existing companies, ecosystem builders…you get the picture. This year’s attendees will get to check out keynote speakers such as Jacquie Berglund (founder/CEO of Finnegans Inc.), Trevor Owens (Lean Enterprise), Ben Milne, (founder/CEO Dwolla), and have the opportunity to seek out mentors, funding, and even new team members through this networking-filled event. You never know who you’ll meet.

“I love that Iowa is a one-degree state. If you want to connect with anyone, you are not more than about one degree away. It’s easy to access the top leaders in nearly every field, industry, community, and build genuine relationships,” Andy says.

AmandaSpeaking

2015 marks the 8th year for EntreFEST, and the third year that Seed Here Studio’s been behind the production. In the last two years, it has doubled in size and scope (twice), with another increase of that size anticipated for this year.

It makes sense; it’s the era of the entrepreneur! Folks are taking a look at the ways we’ve done business over the decades, as well as the current issues facing our world, and thinking there must be other ways to live, work, and affect change.

“Our society is ready for and needs a fresh approach and true/big problem solvers,” Amanda says. “Couple that need with access to a global network of people, knowledge and inexpensive tools to create with, and what we get is a growing number of empowered problem solvers setting out to make the world a better a place.”

Are you one of those people with an idea you’re waiting to launch? Now is the time!

“In the past 10 years, entrepreneurship and creativity have really been democratized, especially because of technology. If you have an idea in your head of something you want to create, the barriers of entry have just collapsed,” Andy says. “It has never been easier to make an idea happen and to find a global audience. There is no better time to start than today.”

AndyStollQuote

Literally, you should probably start today. The 2015 Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA) is accepting applications through June 2. ISA is an intensive program that matches tech-based startups – especially those in ag, health, education, manufacturing and transportation technology – with world-class mentors, Midwestern work ethic, seed funding and development expertise to take them from concept to launch in 90 days.

“The application process is competitive. Only 10 teams go through the program each year,” says Amanda. “Those teams get $20,000 of investment, a network of mentors and resource providers, training in Agile project management, lots of instruction on lean startup building, and a sweet office.”

EricAccording to Amanda, the program was practically willed into existence by their friend and fellow entrepreneur Eric Engelmann (pictured at right). Engelmann founded his software company, Geonetric, in 1999 and recently made a bold move to transition his company to self-directed teams, removing all middle management.

“That freed up some time for him, and when he saw Brad Feld from Boulder talk about TechStars at an event in Des Moines, he found his next project,” says Amanda. “From there he was off like a bullet train, and it’s been an amazing ride.”

The very first round of teams went through the Iowa Startup Accelerator last year, and everyone’s expectations were met or exceeded.

“From the know-how and tenacity of Eric and our program manager, David Tominsky, to the quality of the mentors, to the progress of the businesses, to the relationships of the founders to each other, to the investments that came immediately after the program, everyone was very happy,” says Amanda.

But even if you don’t have a tech start-up idea, or you don’t want to go through the intense – albeit amazing – process of ISA, you should still “trust your crazy idea.”

“There is a growing entrepreneurial community around Iowa and if you can plug yourself into it, you will find resources, moral support, and encouragement that will help you get your idea off the ground,” Andy says. “Surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs is the fastest way to become one.”

BarcampICT-2011-75

Andy and Amanda should know. Last year they had the opportunity to travel with Steve Case, founder of AOL and Revolution, through the Rise of the Rest road trip – two bus tours to nine American cities including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Nashville Madison, Minneapolis, Des Moines, St. Louis, and Kansas City. They met with “hundreds of founders, CEOs, investors and civic leaders, heard dozens of pitches, and invested $1 million to foster emerging startup ecosystems in America’s heartland.”

Andy and Amanda joined Steve Case for pitches at SXSW in Austin this year, and will hop in on another Rise of the Rest road tour for 2015.

“We went across the Midwest on this tour to learn about and cheer on growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. This movement is everywhere, and the cities that will be the Silicon Valleys of tomorrow are forming right now,” says Amanda. “I see this shift as a great moment in time. It’s definitely the era of the entrepreneur/innovator/creator, and it seems we’re only getting started.”

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Aryn Henning Nichols is totally agrees that it is, indeed, the era of the entrepreneur… and it’s gonna be awesome. Aryn actually knew Andy in college, and had a blast learning about all of his latest projects with his “partner-in-crime”, Amanda. See you at EntreFEST, folks?

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8th annual EntreFEST
Iowa City, Iowa • May 20-22, 2015
www.entrefest.com

EntreFestWhy you should go:
• Feedback for EntreFEST 2014 in downtown Iowa City was so positive, organizers have chosen to host an even larger version this year.
• All three public Iowa universities – University of Iowa, Iowa State, and University of Northern Iowa– have joined forces for the 2015 event.
• Iowa City is awesome.
• We (Aryn & Benji) are going to be there. (Hey, totally worth mentioning.)
• Of course, amazing keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and fun parties!

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Iowa Startup Accelerator
Applications open through June 2, 2015
www.iowastartupaccelerator.com

Print“Heard of the Midwestern work ethic? You’ll experience it first hand here at the Iowa Startup Accelerator. From the minute we hit ‘go’ we’ll all be working around the clock with you to make your business work. Make no mistake. If we pick your team, it’s because we believe in you. Be ready.” Eric Engelmann, managing director Iowa Startup Accelerator.

Tips from co-founder Amanda West for applying:
Entrepreneurs with early-stage scalable companies should apply. Last year, we received applications from all over the world, and we expect the same and more this year. My best advice to companies applying is to get a jumpstart on your customer discovery and minimum viable product. If you have a prototype to test and have already started talking to customers, you’ll stand out much more. If you can, I highly recommend you go through a pre-accelerator program like the University of Iowa’s Venture School. That program walks you through customer discovery and designing your business model canvas and serves as a great introduction. With that knowledge in your pocket, ISA can help you get much farther to launching by the end of its 90 days.

Sum of Your Business: Robin Bartell

We’re excited to be hosting a new, regular Q&A section in Inspire(d): Sum of Your Business, featuring entrepreneurs in the Driftless Region. Our readers have asked to learn more about people who have started their own businesses, how they’ve done, and how they’ve done it! We thought that sounded like a great idea! Who knows – maybe you’ll even be inspire(d) to create a business yourself! 

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Introduction by Aryn Henning Nichols

Anyone who has ever ventured in or around Spring Grove, Minnesota, has undoubtedly seen Robin Bartell’s work. Either inside her fun store – the Yah Sure You Betcha Shoppe – or in the seriously great graphic design she’s produced for area projects and businesses.

The Shoppe features all sorts of silly and unique items and gifts – lots with Norsk and Midwestern humor, along with a “solid nod to the Norwegian heritage of Spring Grove”. Robin designed many of the pieces in the Shoppe herself through Robin Bartell Designs, and she offers promo product design for other companies as well.

The young entrepreneur has been at it for five years now, but had long been planning her move to self-employment before she took finally took the step. For her, planning and research were key to finding the courage. Robin shares what she’s learned, the ups and downs of being your own boss, and what’s kept her inspired. Has it been easy? Probably not. Has it been fun? You betcha!

RobinThe Basics:
Name:
Robin Bartell
Age: 36
Business: Yah Sure You Betcha Shoppe (and the home of Robin Bartell Designs)
Years in Business: 5

Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?
The desire to venture out on my own actually happened slowly. I didn’t jump, I planned. I did a lot of research. I over-researched. I read a lot about personality traits needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Looking back now, I believe the things you will read about ‘creatives’ being ill-equipped to be business owners is mostly rubbish. Self-doubt nearly killed the big plan. In a fit of confidence, I decided that I owed it to myself to try. The worst that could happen was that I would have to find a job again, right? (I should also tell you about a recurring dream I had where colleagues and entrepreneurial-type people in my life kept saying ‘what are you waiting for?’). True story. I jumped.

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What’s the best thing about being your own boss?
I get to decide what my job will be everyday! Yah Sure You Betcha Shoppe is a three-part business: a retail apparel and gift store, a graphic design firm, and a promotional products distributor. I get to assist other small businesses with their marketing and branding efforts everyday. I love getting to know my customers and working with them directly. It’s so much better than being in a ‘cubicle-corporate-graphic-design-departmental-hell.’

How about the worst?
Two-part answer: A. Always feeling like I need to answer calls, emails, etc, even when I am at home or on vacation. B. Balancing the importance of creativity and time management on a daily basis.

ButtonsEtc

Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?
Little bouts of self-doubt were the greatest hurdles. Having supportive family and friends is key to overcoming that self-doubt. Then you just have to be prepared to work your patooty off to make it happen!

Finding the perfect spot for the retail store was a little bit of a challenge in the beginning. My office space moved a few times, and I grew impatient about where the store would be permanently located. Thankfully we were able to purchase our cute little building on Main Street last year. Now I feel like it’s finally permanent and real.

Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?
Early on in this endeavor, I spoke with colleagues and a few like-minded small business owners within the community. The advice given by those who have blazed a trail before me is definitely gold-nugget wisdom. I have learned to NEVER disregard networking – at any stage of life, or in any job I’ve ever had.

BagLefseNinja

What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?
You simply cannot plan for everything that may/will go wrong. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts. Not every decision will be rational, and not every irrational decision will end in failure.

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

How do you manage your life/work balance?
It’s tough, but I try not to work/check messages/email when I am home and it’s family time. Sundays are family days – always. If I do have work to do at home I try to use ‘time blocking.’ As in “kids, I need one hour to finish my work, then I’m all yours!” Sticking to that is the trickiest part.

What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?
My design clients and retail customers keep me inspired to push forward, create more, design better, and keep forging ahead! I feel like there are so many creative and imaginative people in our area; keeping people in your life that nurture your talents is very important.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King

Check out Robin’s Yah Sure You Betcha Shoppe in Spring Grove, Minnesota at 118 East Main Street (open Wednesday through Saturday), or online at www.youbetchashoppe.com.