The Oak Center General Store is Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen
A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine told me about this amazingly bizarre, organic shop and music venue he went to in seemingly the middle-of nowhere, Minnesota. Naturally, my curiosity was sparked when he began to describe all of the quirks and wonders to be found inside this old General Store, like the ancient cash register, glass mason jars filled with goods and the music venue upstairs, and I knew I had to go check this place out for myself.
The Oak Center General Store is located in Lake City, MN, just south of Red Wing. It’s over 100 years old, sits on a 14-Acre plot of land (home to an organic farm) and is run primarily by volunteers along side the owner, Steve Schwen. The music venue upstairs is the result of a one night fund-raiser that gave Schwen and his then wife the idea that this could be an on-going way to earn a profit when the produce growing season in Minnesota comes to an end.
My friends and I got tickets to see a folk band perform and decided to make a day trip out of it. Lake City is just over an hour away from the Twin Cities. Sitting on the shore of the Mississippi River, the drive down to the General Store is beautiful - especially in the dead of winter when you don’t have to really worry about tourist traffic.
We stopped for some sight-seeing, shopping and cocktails in Red Wing before making our way to the show. Red Wing is most famously known for it’s name-sake boot manufacturer, Red Wing Shoes. I personally own 4 pairs of Red Wings, so yeah... I have a thing for their boots. Really I have a thing for quality, American-made goods, but also I really have a thing for boots. haha.
You can find Red Wing Shoes all over Minnesota, but it’s totally worth a drive down to the headquarters because the basement is home to the discount factory outlet. That, and they have a giant boot you can pose with. Upstairs, they have a mini museum where you can see displays on the history of Red Wing Shoes. It’s a pretty cool added bonus!
Red Wing is a gorgeous little river town and totally worth a stop in any season. Personally, I like having an excuse to go anywhere in the winter. Yeah it’s cold, but you’ll most likely have the place to yourself, which is awesome for adventuring in my book!
After dinner and a round of cocktails at the historic St. James Hotel, we made our way to the General Store. It was everything I had hoped, and then some.
In an age where every new restaurant and venue feels the same - white subway tile, reclaimed wood bars, Edison lightbulbs and over-priced drinks, going to the Oak Center General Store was unapologetically authentic and original in a way these trendy bars and coffee shops are claiming to be, but will never even come close.
Walking inside the store feels like taking a step back in time. The floor boards creak beneath you, the scent of wood smoke fills the air and an over-whelming feeling of coziness and acceptances greats you. That, and their array of stray cats and the owner’s 2 dogs are the unofficial welcoming committee.
It’s not pretty. It’s not even trying to be. The place is not even really organized in a way that makes sense to anyone other than the owner, but I love it. It feels like a treasure hunt in a way, each time you walk by, you notice something new.
The venue is at the top of some incredibly steep wooden stairs. Filled with wooden theatre seats and rocking chairs, the vibe is very chill to say the least. They had a table full of organic, home-made treats with bowls out for cash donations. The honor system is alive and well, and functions perfectly in a place like the Oak Center General Store.
My favorite part of attending this event, was getting to play with the puppies that were born around Christmas in the back room! I can’t guarantee you that there will be puppies to play with if you make attend a show here, but it was certainly a welcome surprise! Another article I read about the store, quotes a musician saying she got to play with a baby goat.. so, your chances are pretty good some adorable animal will be present!
In fact, I would say that if you are allergic to animals, make sure you plan ahead and bring benadryl or some other kind of antihistamine. Like I mentioned, there are two dogs and about a half dozen cats that roam the store. Half of my family lives and works on farms, so I am very used to (and enjoy) being around barns + farm animals. But I know it’s not for everyone.
There are folk bands scheduled at Oak Center through April, so why take my word for it? Go check it out for yourself and explore the store. If you go soon, there will probably still be puppies you can play with before the show starts!