NEW LONDON -- Unique Amish furniture, locally produced art, home décor and gifts are awaiting customers at the new Three Sisters Furnishings of rural New London.
The store is located in the former Cedar Inn restaurant at the corner of U.S. Highway 71 and state Highway 9 and opened in July.
"Our goal is to provide a really unique experience for the customer, something that they're not going to find in every store that they walk into, and also to support local artists and crafts people, and promote buying local,'' says Tracy Knudsen, who operates Three Sisters with her sisters Katie Hentges and Jacki Imdieke.
The store business is a new adventure for the sisters. Tracy worked as a public health nurse, Katie is a Spanish teacher at ACGC High School, and Jacki is a student at the College of St. Benedict.
The business was proposed by their parents, Roger and Judy Imdieke of New London. Hentges said she never thought she would be involved in the store business, but she said the sisters were excited about their parents' proposal.
"It's something new,'' says Hentges. "But we all enjoy being out here and we're learning as we go. It was something we could see ourselves helping out with.''
Imdieke came up with the store idea while looking for a site to promote a central Minnesota Amish craftsman who built a cabin with lumber cut from a woodlot at Imdieke's rural Elrosa farm.
Imdieke said he would drive past the Cedar Inn site twice a day, and his wife would often ask why somebody couldn't find something to do with the vacant building. One day Imdieke got the idea of opening a furniture store. His wife's response, Imdieke recalls, was: "At our age?''
But Imdieke thought the store -- if the girls were interested -- would be a good way to create a family business that wasn't farming.
"I said usually at their age the kids have more energy than we do and we could maybe put a little equity into it because the farm is a very small farm and the girls' careers are going in other directions,'' he said.
The building was last operated as a restaurant in 1997 and had also been used for a couple of short-lived endeavors. They bought the site in June 2008 and family members did most of the renovation. Katie's husband, Pat, an electrician, did the electrical work. Katie helped with painting and other odds and ends.
Tracy's husband, Troy, works in heating and plumbing and he installed a new furnace and air conditioning system and tiled the restroom. The ash flooring was made from trees harvested at Imdieke's farm last fall and dried and made into boards by an Amish craftsman. Parents pitched in with staining and painting. Two uncles and a cousin also helped with the project.
The place needed a fair amount of work after sitting empty for 12 years, "but it turned out real nice we think,'' Imdieke said. "We were fortunate to be able to do a lot of the work ourselves because we had a skill set that really came together.''
Shoppers can select from a variety of Amish indoor furniture and patio furniture or they can place a custom order. A picture will help the craftsman determine if the piece is something he can make. Customers will also find other Amish goods such as rugs, cookbooks and baskets, candles, glassware, gift items and pantry goods like popcorn, jams, jellies and noodles.
The store is also working with 10 to 15 local producers whose art and crafts will be featured in the gallery.
Hentges says they've heard nothing but wonderful comments from people.
"Everybody seems really surprised at all the work we've done both inside and outside,'' she said.
Imdieke is also pleased with the initial public reaction.
"Time will tell whether or not the receipts are what we hope or need them to be, but the feedback has been very, very good,'' he said.
Three Sisters Furnishings is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.