ST. PETER, MINN.
Follow the signs to St. Nick's Antiques 6 miles west of St. Peter on Hwy. 99, then a couple of miles north on Nicollet County Road 13 and three of the least-threatening white dogs will greet you as you kick up dirt driving into a 120-acre corn and soybean farm. ¶ The dogs, American Eskimos, are named Princess, Chenoa and Katrina.
"She was born the day that hurricane let loose down there," Geri Pehrson explains, calming down the excitable Katrina.
Pehrson has lived here for all 72 of her years. Her grandfather built the first house in 1890. After she met her husband 51 years ago at a dance in Mankato, they built the second house. They raised one daughter, who now lives 20 miles away in Madison Lake.
For 37 years, Geri worked as an assistant at Nicollet High School's administration office.
"I was practically an antique myself," she jokes.
She retired just as her addiction began gripping her like a vise: Estate sales, flea markets and antique auctions became so overwhelming, she converted the old house on the farmstead into St. Nick's Antiques.
The house's several rooms are chock full of quilts, china, paintings, lamps, Coca-Cola trays and bric-a-brac.
"It's kind of a duke's mixture of collectibles," she says, pointing to a birdhouse converted into a lamp. "I can't remember where I found this, but it works."
She plugs it in, adding light to the cheerful room.
There is a life-size, bearded, robed and slightly creepy statue of the St. Nick of Christmas fame, complete with wire-rimmed glasses. (That's him with Geri in the photo.) But that's not for whom she named the store.
St. Nicholas Catholic Church served as the spiritual home and wooden country church of Pehrson, her parents, Genevieve and Melville Miller, and her grandparents, George and Mary Miller.
"My parents were married in that old church and so was I," she said.
She remembers the precise day the old church shut down for good -- July 1, 1990 -- on the old Fort Road winding to Fort Ridgely off County Road 13.
She thought of opening her antique store in the abandoned church, but the cemetery out back made that an inappropriate fit. It was torn down a few years after it was closed.
As her antique collection built up over the years, so has St. Nick's business. Despite its off-the-beaten-path location, she says plenty of people stop by, especially on weekends. Her hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
"There's a little bit of everything," she says. "I'm down to about one or two sales a month because I really need to cut down on my inventory."