Up north — to Anoka

Carved stone, brick ornament, and architectural details make Main Street distinctive. Credit: Photo by Linda Koutsky

You don’t have to go far for a good escape. Sometimes just 20 miles will do it. In less than a half hour you can be in downtown Anoka to spend an afternoon on one of Minnesota’s quintessential Main Streets.

Known as the capital of Halloween because the town held one of the nation’s earliest Halloween parades there in 1920, Anoka has plenty to offer everyone. The several-block-long Main Street is lined with two-story brick commercial buildings full of stores selling gifts, flowers, clothing, shoes, candy, quilt supplies, antiques, and musical instruments. Above the stores are dentists and lawyers offices and apartments. Bars, restaurants and coffee shops are interspersed throughout the downtown business district.

I was on a quest on my last trip to Anoka. Recently I learned about Thermo Serv, a company in Anoka that manufactured millions of gold and black insulated drinking tumblers popular in the 1950s and 60s. They also made thermal coffee pots, insulated hotdish containers, and all kinds of dishware. I wanted to find a few pieces so I thought I’d go straight to the source. Downtown Anoka has several antique shops. Pick up a brochure in your first shop with a map so you can be sure to find the others.

THE BIG WHITE HOUSE is exactly what it’s called. This 110-year old mansion on a side street has two floors filled with treasures. Wandering through the rooms of the house it’s fun to imagine what types of objects actually resided there over the years. Antiques and collectibles spill out onto the wide front lawn. EMERALD ISLE is a relative newcomer in town in the historic post office building that is also filled with other boutiques. ANTIQUES ON MAIN has two floors chock full of a general line of antiques. There must have been a million items in that store. I didn’t spot any Thermo Serv, but I sure got distracted.  Repurposed antique jewelry, plenty of clocks, and Minnesota-made caramels fill the narrow storefront at PEGGY’S FRONT PORCH.

I decided I needed a break so I headed across the street to AVANT GARDEN. This small coffee shop has a few tables and a wonderful wood backbar where you can sit and watch your coffee being made. How could I resist an Anoka Mocha?! With a steaming cup of coffee in my hands I headed back outside and took a walk toward the Rum River. A bridge at Main Street overlooks the dam and along the banks there are scenic overlooks, plenty of seating, and a bike trail. Just a few blocks from Main Street is Peninsula Park, where the Rum River empties into the Mississippi after flowing 145 miles from Mille Lacs.

There are so many other stores in Anoka to visit too but I was running out of time. THE CORNER carries gifts and toys, and garden decoratives. ANOKA VARIETY STORE used to carry a wide variety of merchandise then the owner realized he sold more artwork than anything else, so now he only carries prints including work by Minnesotans Ken Zilla and Jim Hansel. REYNOLDS MUSIC COMPANY had a beautiful window display of instruments for sale, rental, or consignment. But the sun was going down. And I didn’t even make it to the other antique shops around the corner. If I planned in advance I could have stayed at the TICKNOR HILL BED & BREAKFAST and had another day! I’ll have to go back. Because even though I didn’t find my Thermo Serv, it might still be there waiting for me. And I’ll go to the Anoka County Historical Society too and find out more about the company. So I made a quick stop on 5th Avenue at legendary HAN’S BAKERY for their famous Beehive pastry, filled with custard, and took River Road home.