Occasionally, I shop. Occasionally, the stores in Buffalo, Minn., are open. Seems like destiny.
Buffalo is considered by many as the town that got the whole “occasional sale” concept going in these parts. What, you may ask, is an occasional sale? It’s a store offering mostly previously owned or homemade goods that’s open only one weekend a month.
In Buffalo, these stores open on a month’s first weekend, Thursday through Sunday. Sure, some stores are open every weekend — some are even open every day! — but the bustle and buzz of occasional sales are what make Buffalo a destination for browsers who, shopkeepers hope, also are occasional buyers.
The first clue that Buffalo occasionally attracts a lot of traffic are the polka dots painted on Hwy. 55 west of Rockford, part of a county-state project to discourage tailgating on the two-lane.
Drivers are to keep two dots visible between them and the vehicle ahead; at 55 miles per hour, two dots equal three seconds of forward motion. Given the visual cue, that suddenly doesn’t seem like very much time to react. Point taken.
Proceeding safely has another advantage, prolonging the time for catching up on gossip with the girlfriends you’ve cajoled into joining you.
(Your companions can be of any gender you wish. But for efficiency of writing and demographic odds, we’re referring to girlfriends.)
The trip takes about an hour, time for everyone to finish their coffees. So the first order of business is to recharge.
Two options: Drive through Buffalo until Hwy. 55 crosses Hwy. 25. To your right is a rather unremarkable strip mall that’s home to Moon Donuts and Cafe, whose pastries are that rarity, the not-too-sweet doughnut. Get a selection to go, then follow the signs into downtown, where, once parked, you can devise a strategy while standing around eating doughnuts. A decent start to any day.
The second option, especially if you need more coffee, is to go directly downtown to Buffalo Books & Coffee (6 E. Division St.), where everything is a little sturdier, from the coffee to the scones. Again, a decent start by any measure.
After that, well, you shop. From the lakeshore for several blocks north along Central Avenue and 1st Avenue NE., there are shops. Lots of shops. A smattering of suggestions to illustrate the range:
Patina General (2 1st Av. NE.) is what some fondly call a junker’s shop, what with its Mason jars, Scrabble tiles, rain gutters, yardsticks, ironing boards, glass insulators, copper Jell-O molds and more. Be inspired by how the shopkeepers have repurposed these finds into shabby chic decor.
Serendipity (16 1st Av. S.) has decorative items you didn’t know you wanted until you see them: bird figurines, candleholders, platters, wrought iron thingies for an empty wall, small tables and vintage signs. And most for a bargain price.
Now & Again (26 1st Av. NE.) is divided into small rooms for vendors dealing in furniture, found art, vintage clothes and jewelry, record albums, toys and way more. If nothing tempts you, you’re not trying.
A Wreath of Franklin (11 E. Division St.) is among the stores open every day, and the quality of goods, selection and prices reflect that greater commerce. This is more of an interior design emporium, with antiques and collectibles, furniture and stuff to throw on it, little bird figurines — there are a lot of little bird figurines in this town — armoires, paintings and so much more.
Gem (26 Central Av.) is just that, with gemstones, salt crystals and semiprecious stones, made into jewelry and raw, ready for your own ideas.
Buffalo Nickel Antique Market (1004 S. 3rd St.), also open daily, is sort of a curated garage sale, with dozens of dealers spread out through a rabbit warren of shops. It’s just fun.
Something to chew on
At some point, you’ll be hungry. The cafes in the neighborhood seem geared toward diners who want to refuel and get back in the shops. Choices are straightforward, service is fast and prices are reasonable. We had a tasty bowl of white bean chicken pesto soup and a gingersnap cookie at the Loaf & Ladle (200 Central Av.), where everything is homemade.
There are other homegrown dining options downtown, and a slew of commercial chain restaurants on Hwy. 55. If the weather’s nice, you might picnic in Sturges Park along the shores of Buffalo Lake. The park is the best public access to the lake, whose northern shore is rocky riprap, so after lunch, you might as well shop some more.
One option for the drive home: a visit to Buffalo Rock Winery between Buffalo and Rockford (www.buffalorock winery.com). This is one woman’s dream venture, with red, white and rosé wines, along with others made from blueberries, cranberries or apples. Check the website for hours.
Finally, if you see homemade signs for a Yard Art Sale, follow them out of town. (If you get lost, your ultimate destination is 2009 SW. 2nd St.)
This is where Wanda and Steve Linster make fanciful creatures from dishes, glasses, forks and whatnot they’ve picked up at various garage sales. Their creations bridge kitschy and charming — owls and turtles and designs that simply catch the light. They work without hoopla or publicity, save for the little signs that appear once a month.
But they epitomize the serendipity of a good day trip.