With live jousting, horse racing, the Steel Venom and a corn maze shaped like a steam locomotive, Shakopee shouldn’t be faulted for resting on its eye-popping entertainment laurels. But visitors willing to forgo the adrenaline rush and keep driving will discover rich and varied options in the hilly and understated city, located along the Minnesota River southwest of Minneapolis.
A living history farm, a biker shop featuring black leather bustiers, decadent doughnuts and a fascinating connection to Watergate await, most of it within walking distance of wherever you park.
“Our challenge is to get people to think beyond Valleyfair and come down [Hwy.] 101 and into our community,” said Shakopee spokeswoman Shelly Loberg.
Here are many reasons to do just that.
Their motto is “We Make History Fun,” and it’s true. The Landing — with more than 40 buildings (including outhouses), livestock and costumed interpreters re-creating late-19th-century farm and frontier life — offers visitors a chance to learn, eons away from the pull of modern stresses. Sit in a one-room schoolhouse, shop at the general store for china, barter for barbed wire, then be sure to walk to the Minnesota River overlook and listen to the rustling leaves and melodic birds. (2187 Hwy. 101 E., 763-694-7784.)
A find for men
Billy Wermerskirchen would love to talk — just as soon as he wraps up with a customer, answers the phone, grabs a tux, then answers another call. Bill’s Toggery (way more fun than calling the place Bill’s Clothes) is a madhouse, and third-generation owner Wermerskirchen couldn’t be happier. “Four wedding parties,” he says as he rushes past. “That’s what we do.” The full-service men’s clothing store (regular as well as big and tall) opened in 1931 and, since then, men have brought in their sons for rites of passage — from proms to weddings to being fitted for their first business suit. The store also offers tailoring and dry cleaning, and soon will expand its bridal department into the building next door. (138 Lewis St., 952-445-3735.)
Fabric of our lives
Outside, a train barrels noisily along the tracks. Inside Eagle Creek Quilt Shop, serenity reigns. The once-vacant train depot has been exquisitely restored to its early 1900s glory, with wood floors, 14-foot ceilings and large windows. Naturally, there are quilts, too, dozens of beauties, hanging from the ceilings. With more than 3,000 bolts of fabric, selection is a nice problem to have, from contemporary designs to Civil War reproductions. “We’re constantly amazed at how far our customers travel to find us,” said Becky Kelso, co-owner of Eagle Creek with Lori Gillick. “But that’s part of the fun.” Watch for the shop’s upcoming Quilted House Tour, Sept. 26-27. (333 2nd Av. W., 952-233-3774.)
Art and antiquing
Sisters Jessica and Veronica Case dreamed of opening a gift studio with “a fun, eclectic mix,” and they succeeded with Tupelo, tucked away in the former Huber House, named for the town’s longtime banker. Along with jewelry, soaps, candles, note cards and antique items, the shop carries whimsical fish art carved from timber, handblown glass vases, and watercolors by their artist mother, Judy Case. (210 Holmes St., 952-445-1955.)
For lovers of shabby chic, stop in at Amour Cru, an occasional store featuring vintage, restyled and “upcycled” items, jewelry and small furnishings. (120 1st Av. E., 612-462-6405.)
Lovers of American Indian jewelry have a winner with the Shakopee Trading Post and Gallery, which offers a stunning collection of handmade silver and turquoise jewelry, blankets, baskets and some cool-looking spurs. They also do simple jewelry repairs. (723 1st Av. W., 952-496-2263.)
It’s never a good idea to shop hungry. Head to Shakopee Bakery, where co-owners Shirley and Bruce Garness serve up traditional rolls, doughnuts, bars and melt-in-your-mouth cookies (oatmeal, chocolate chip, ginger and more). “We’re not retro,” Shirley says. “We’re original.” (114 1st Av. E., 952-445-2663).
For more substantial fare, Wampach’s offers comfort food and friendly service in a family-owned 1950s diner that puts the emphasis on tasty, overflowing plates instead of updated furnishings. Lucky for us. Biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, and sublimely crispy hash browns, plus lunch specials including meatloaf, and ham and scalloped potatoes. You’ll need a nap afterward. (126 1st Av. W., Shakopee, 952-445-2721.)
Zuppa Cucina is a local favorite for sandwiches, wraps and gourmet pizzas. (1667 17th Av. E., Suite 104, 952-445-3737.) For dinner, locals head to Pablo’s for authentic Mexican food (230 Lewis St. S., 952-445-9218) and to Dangerfield’s for American fare and patio views of the river. (583 1st Av. E., 952-445-2245.)
A role in the scandal
An exhibit running through March 14, 2015, at the Scott County Historical Society, “Watergate: The Scandal That Rocked the Nation” follows Shakopee native Maurice Stans, who was finance chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. That president’s name was Richard Nixon, and we all know how that turned out. The less known, but fascinating story is that of Stans (cleared of all charges), who defended Nixon throughout his life, and raised 90 percent of the $275 million needed to build the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. (235 Fuller St., 952-445-0378.)
A hot journey
Inessa Hansen began riding Harleys in 2007 and quickly discovered she had nothing to wear — “nothing exciting or fashionable,” anyway. In August, she and her husband, Kyle, opened For the Journey, a biker apparel and accessories store. Most of the merchandise is designed for women, including sequined jeans, embellished bras, caps, belts and jackets, under the One Sexy Biker Chick brand name. Hansen designs about half of it, drawing inspiration from the growing number of female bikers she meets at rallies. Hansen sells what she calls “on trend and contemporary” clothing, including a playful pair of sequined undies with the message, “If I straddle it, it’s mine.” Says Hansen: “We’re giving people something to talk about.” Guys, there’s stuff for you, too, including a good selection of jeans. (230 1st Av. E., 952-496-2718.)
And, of course
The Minnesota Renaissance Festival (technically located in Louisville Township), runs through Sept. 28 (952-445-7361). Canterbury Park offers live racing through Sept. 13 (952-445-7223). Mystic Lake Casino (in Prior Lake but owned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux) offers regular entertainment throughout the year (952-445-9000). Sever’s Corn Maze opens Sept. 12 (952-974-5000). And Valleyfair Amusement Park is open this weekend and next; the grounds transform into ValleyScare beginning Sept. 20 (952-445-7600.).