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Specialty retailers find success during the holiday season

Angie Wiegmann of Sunburg shops Thursday at the Calendar Club kiosk at the Kandi Mall in Willmar. Revenue for Calendar Club, an Austin, Texas, retailer of calendars and games, is a little off this year over last. However, Janet Olney, a local artist who manages the ki-osk, says if she misses her sales goal this year, it won't be by much. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

WILLMAR -- Specialty retailers are finding success in selling different or unusual gift items during the holiday season at the Kandi Mall in Willmar.

Nanna Turkson of Hopkins, a native of Ghana, West Africa, is in her second year of selling ethnic, handmade women's jewelry, along with accessories, in her kiosk near the Herberger's entrance.

Turkson learned about Willmar while earning her degree in economics at the University of Minnesota-Morris.

She will have her kiosk at the mall through Tuesday. She's been making jewelry out of natural materials such as African amber, and coral and sterling silver for 21 years, and also offers dresses, bags and scarves. She sells at festivals and art fairs and in metro shopping centers.

"Business has been pretty good because I keep up with my customers so they know I'm here, then they come and find me,'' Turkson said. "My things are very unique. I send out e-mails from last year and postcards, and I have many repeat customers.''

She believes customers want something they can't find elsewhere.

"They like one-of-a-kind stuff, and the quality is really good,'' she says.

Next to Turkson is Janet Olney of Willmar, a local artist in her third year of managing a kiosk for Calendar Club, an Austin, Texas, retailer of calendars and games.

Olney said everybody needs a calendar, and there's a calendar cover to probably suit any interest from dogs, cats and horses to beefcake and cheesecake to art, travel, cars, trains, movies and celebrities.

Despite reports of a shopping slowdown brought on by a slumping economy, Olney said the calendar business is doing well.

"We've had three very good years. Last year I was 99.28 percent of my goal. This year, we're a little slower than last year, but we still sell a lot of calendars,'' she said. "If we don't make our goal, I think we'll come real close.''

Arlene Kranz and her daughter Kari Olson of Montevideo are selling hand-painted ceramic tiles -- some with photo holders and others with inspirational sayings. Their business is called Designs by Moon Sun and they sell at art shows in seven upper Midwest states.

Kranz said her adopted daughter, whose Korean name was Moon Sun, got the idea for painted ceramics while walking past tiles on the way to the paint department at Menards.

"She picked them up and said, I wonder if we can do anything with these,'' said Kranz. Each piece is initialed in the lower right corner with a moon and a sun. "We have the pride of making every single piece, all hand-done,'' said Kranz.

This is their fourth year at the Kandi Mall, and from what Kranz sees, it is business as usual.

"People are looking for something different. All of our regulars say they are so glad that we came back, maybe because they know they can order the exact saying they want and we'll get it to them for Christmas.''

Lesley and Kerry Barrie of rural Grove City have been seasonal sellers for 10 years. They switched from wood products such as chairs and deacon tables to personalized embroidered sweatshirts, roll-up chalk boards, aroma lamps and other items.

"We've had to evolve and just keep changing our product line as we go,'' says Lesley Barrie. "We've been doing embroidery the last two years out here.''

Barrie says his sales are about the same as last year.

"Between craft shows and Christmas time, this is all we do,'' Barrie said. "The fall sales for our craft shows have been really good, and our sales here so far this year are good. We're doing fine.''

Some brand-name retailers with large stores outside the mall, such as Apol's Harley-Davidson of Raymond, set up smaller, accessory shops.

"We love it here,'' says Jessica Bonnema, Apol's manager for the third year in a row. "We do a huge amount of business out of here during the holiday. We went through our numbers and we're actually up from last year. This is a huge thing, especially in the time where we thought it wouldn't be. It's doing really well.''

Desiree Weinandt, Kandi Mall marketing director, says the holiday season gives the mall an opportunity to add specialty merchants. Kiosks and cart merchandizing are staples in the mall industry and are offered year-round at Kandi Mall. Several kiosk merchants have turned into full-time stores.

"We try to find merchandise or products that we don't normally offer in the mall and it gives us an opportunity to test the markets or get their product out there to see what the response is,'' says Weinandt.

"It also gives our customers some additional options during the holiday season while they're shopping our mall. We think it's a great program. It's a nice opportunity for the mom and pops to get their product out to the public during our busiest time of the year. We look forward to working with the businesses.''