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WCCO Viewers' Choice For Best Gift Shop In Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Ask anyone who lives in New London, and they will likely tell you there are a lot of positives to living in a small town.

"Everybody's so nice here," said resident Sharon Olson.

That, and if you pick the right spot, you can pretty much survey the entire business district without moving a muscle.

"It's a small town," said resident Anita Stulen. "Our Main Street is two-blocks long, but there's a lot happening here."

"Here" is the Mill Pond Mercantile gift shop. And on the day of our visit, like many others, it's the retail center of activity.

Mill Pond Mercantile
(credit: CBS)

"I come in here to buy gifts for my grandsons, my daughters, and today I'm buying for myself [laughs]!" Olson said.

But to understand how this 5,000-square-foot gift-givers mecca came to be, it's important to know the story of its owners: Ginny Knapp and Anita Stulen.

"This community, they just did this [shows big embrace]," Knapp said.

This is a story about friendship and faith.

"We actually met in college, bible college, back a year or two ago [laughs]!" Knapp said.

"We give all the credit to God because we don't know what we're doing, but he does," Knapp said.

It is also a story about chasing the same dream that they just couldn't let go.

"We both did crafts in our basement. We talk on the phone and do our crafts, and we always prayed and dreamt about someday having our own store," Stulen said.

Ginny Knapp and Anita Stulen of Mill Pond Mercantile
Ginny Knapp and Anita Stulen (credit: CBS)

"If we did, what would we do? What would we sell? How would we decorate it?" Knapp said.

Undoubtedly, prayer can be a powerful thing. And in 1996, they got their answer.

"And then this opportunity came up. They said, 'Have you guys ever thought about maybe having a store? Would you like to continue the mercantile? Here's the vacuum, here's the cash register, here's the key to the door,'" Knapp said.

That "door" was affixed to the old Mill Pond Mercantile store down the street, a former artist's co-op, and a much smaller space -- but daunting nonetheless.

"No business training," Knapp said.

"Absolutely none [laughs]!" Stulen said.

Now, 22 years later, with a lot of support from the New London community, their dream continues.

In 2003, they built their current location, and with the additional space, they also built their inventory.

"We have everything from clothing, kitchenware, a whole room full of greeting cards, linens, a children's section," Knapp said.

Yet with all the growth and success that these two women and their employees have enjoyed, the real benchmark is still that one thing that truly demonstrates what owning a "gift shop" is all about.

"When we go to market and find those things that we bring them back to the store, and then someone comes with it up to the counter [and says]
'Oh, I just love this!' that is fun!" Knapp said.

"Oh yeah, that's a win, that's good!" Stulen said.


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