YSS Celebrates 40 Years With Youth Art

By Virginia Kovach
                   The 2017 Art Walk is almost here. On Friday, June 2, you will find artists displaying and selling their wares at most of the downtown businesses. It’s always a fun event, but this year has something special: YSS will be celebrating its 40 year anniversary.

                   While you browse downtown, make sure to stop at 420 Kellogg, the YSS building. They will have an open house from 4-6, honoring the achievements of YSS staff, volunteers, and alumni. Outside, they will display art by their youth.
                   Deanna Wheeler, volunteer coordinator, said YSS applied for a grant last fall for art supplies to help their youth express themselves. 
                   She said the residential treatment programs help youth who are dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues, and a lot of them have been through trauma.
“Because they are teenagers, I think they’re trying to figure out what they’re passionate about and they’re trying to identify ways to cope emotionally,” Wheeler said.
                   Wheeler said art can be a good way for them to work through their emotions, as well asa way for staff to facilitate discussions.
                   Kenzie Hosch, a volunteer who works with the YSS art program, said she has enjoyed working with the youth. She helped both the girls and the boys make single painted canvases that show glimpses of their experiences.
                   Hosch said the girls’ canvas spoke a lot about what YSS meant to them and what sobriety meant to them. The guys used their canvas to communicate where they came from.
                   “Sometimes it’s as simple as doing something with your hands,” Hosch said. “It’s tangible. And you get to make mistakes and that’s okay.”
                   She said she looks to doodling or hand-lettering when she feels sad sometimes.
                   Anthony Bonner, residential program coordinator, said the youth are pretty excited about displaying their art.
                   “A lot of our youth exhibited great artistic abilities and we want to make sure we can maximize that and use that as a coping skill for them in real life,” Bonner said.
                   Bonner said that in addition to the art on display, YSS will have past members share their stories during the 40 Year celebration.
                   “We have really been able to help a lot of youth and they have really excelled,” he said. “Even when they do have some mishaps, when they get back home they still reach out and we can help them further, so really every case has been a success here.”
                   YSS has different facets: prevention, residential, and outpatient. The organization works with youth and families. Make sure you stop by during the Art Walk so you can learn about this important pillar of our community.


Skunk River Cycles Celebrates National Bike Month

By Virginia Kovach

            With the weather getting nicer every day, it might be time to start thinking about changing your mode of transportation. I stopped by Skunk River Cycles to see what owner Ronn Ritz and his staff have been up to for National Bike Month.

            “We’re encouraging riders to bike to work,” said Ritz.

 Photo Courtesy of City of Ames.  Several people attended the Bike to Work breakfast on Monday, May 15.

Photo Courtesy of City of Ames.  Several people attended the Bike to Work breakfast on Monday, May 15.

This week is National “Bike to Work” Week and Skunk River Cycles will host a commuter breakfast on Friday, May 19, from 7-9 a.m. to reward cyclists for biking to work. The breakfast will be the final one in a string of commuter breakfasts in different locations around town.

            The shop participated in a bike rodeo hosted by Ames Kiwanis on May 6, where staff gave safety checks on kids’ bikes and offered an obstacle course to help kids gain confidence in riding.

            As Ames moves into its summer season, there are more and more reasons to hop on a bicycle.

            “Saturday mornings are a good reason to ride a bicycle to downtown Ames because it’s farmer’s market and there really is no parking if you’re a daily motorist,” Ritz said.

            I asked Jacob Nolte, Skunk River Cycles employee, what sort of things he would recommend to someone who is thinking about using a bike more often.

            “Get a good reliable bike. It doesn’t have to be a fancy expensive one, but something that fits you well and you know how to ride it and shift gears,” Nolte said. He said having a light in the front as well as the rear of the bike is important for safety.

            Nolte said he thinks Ames is a good place for cycling.

            “It’s small enough that you can ride across town pretty easily,” he said. “There are a couple good routes, and now that the students are gone, Ames is always a lot quieter in the summertime.”

95 Years of Flowers, Gifts, and Joy

By Virginia Kovach
                   If you’ve been to Everts Flowers lately, you may have noticed that the shop looks  a little more festive than usual. We’re always filled with bright and cheerful décor appropriate to each season, but when you enter via the front door, you might wonder why we have a May pole with baskets of candy all around it. And when you come to the front counter, you might notice another May pole and a couple of shop clerks like myself  crafting  300 little, brightly colored May baskets. What’s it all for?

 Everts original location at 208 Main Street

Everts original location at 208 Main Street

                   This year, Everts Flowers turns 95! When we told this to one customer on Wednesday, she joked, “Well! You don’t look a day over 80!” It is true, we look good for our old age. But it’s common wisdom that age wears well on people who have a joyful attitude.  And at Everts, joy is always just part of the job.
                   This has certainly been true for me. I can create a fun display with my coworkers, or I can brainstorm with someone about what gift would be just right for their mom or sister or brother or friend; whatever each day brings, I can find joy in the work.
                   I asked Brian Smith, the owner, what he loves most about working at Everts.
                   “No two days are alike,” he told me. He said he loves working with nature, pleasing people, and being free to be creative.
                   Smith has been a part of Everts since December of 1985, when Peggy Harrison owned the shop. She retired in 1997 and Smith became the owner. He is the fifth owner. Our current location at 329 Main Street is its fourth location. Everts has moved around a bit over the years, but it’s always been downtown.

                   The downtown community is like a big family, Smith said. Working with other people who own businesses in the Main Street Cultural District gives him a “bigger voice” as a small business owner, he said. Shops work together in advertising and marketing initiatives, and they also stand together when city issues arise that affect shop owners.
                   For me, being a part of the downtown business community by working at Everts has opened up one of the richest phases of my life so far. During my morning routine of walking four blocks from my apartment on Burnett and 8th Street to Everts at the corner of Burnett and Main, I have a few minutes to think about how thankful I am. I have the opportunity to serve people who still believe shopping on Main Street is enjoyable — and, for many of them, essential.
                   The customers who visit Everts aren’t there to hurry through a shopping list. They are there to look, smell, and appreciate the colors and fragrances of our little world. The big windows on the front and side of the store let the sun in to shine generously on  the garden décor, wall art, silk flowers, crystal, and countless other little pieces that exist to offer  joy to whoever experiences them.
                   The floral industry has changed a lot over the years, as Smith will tell you. Many people don’t buy fresh flowers as often as they used to. Everts has adapted to this and expanded its offering of gifts and décor.
                   Some things, however, don’t change. As people are born, graduate, get married, and eventually pass on, flowers still  serve as symbolic gestures of celebration or sympathy.
                   “We watch families grow,” Smith said. “We bring them into the world, and we are with them through every event, through the good times and bad times, until they’re taken out of the world.”
                   Similarly, our little team at Everts is here for each other, through good times and bad times. I can say that being a part of the team over the last two years has meant being part of a family. As my personal life has followed twists and turns, Everts has become  a  source of comfort and joy. I know that after 95 years, we will continue to share that with this community. Thank you to all who have been a part of the Everts story.
                   You can celebrate with us on May 1, when we will have a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. in front of the store. We’ll give away May baskets, and we’ll have special sales and other surprises all week. I hope to see you there!

Little Woods

By Virginia Kovach

The spicy, earthy smell of herbs is the first thing I notice when I open the door of Little Woods Herbs & Teas, at 136 Main Street. The sounds of running water and cups clinking at the bar mingle with soft music and conversation. Gray bags with hand-written labels line wooden shelves. Front windows give a generous amount of sun to art on the walls, a couple tables, and low bookshelves holding books about healthy living. One or two ladies wearing aprons usually greet me from behind the bar. Usually, a few people are sitting at the bar, sipping tea and chatting.

The store is the retail location for owner Kristin Roach’s custom loose leaf tea blends. She - or any of her staff - will fill you in on exactly what herbs are in each tea and exactly what those herbs can do for you. They might soothe a cold, wake you up, calm you down, help restore tired muscles, or maybe even bring some relief from PMS. You can buy tea to take with you, or you can take a moment to enjoy a cup in-store.

One day when I stopped by Little Woods, Roach was hosting a tea tasting event for the ISU Women’s Potpourri Group, a subsection of the ISU Women’s Club. During the tasting, Kristin gave each guest four four-ounce cups of different teas. With each cup, Roach talked about the herbs, the process required to transform them into tea, and the instructions for brewing a good cup.

When I stopped in to interview Roach about her work and the challenges of owning a business as a woman, she offered me a cup of Gyokuro, a Japanese spring tea. It was a light, fresh-tasting brew. She got the idea to carry this blend from a customer. As I listened, it became clear that learning - from research, from her customers, from whatever is helpful - is key to Roach’s success.

“Yesterday, I was faced with the task of sending out renewal notices to our tea-of-the-month club subscribers,” she said. “We launched it in December, and it’s a three-month subscription. I read a bunch of other renewal notices. Then I read articles about making your renewal notices more impactful.”

She didn’t craft her own renewal notice until she had assimilated all relevant information about how to do it.

“I realized, I don’t just pull things out of thin air,” she said.

Roach’s commitment to learning and preparation started in the beginning. She started out by selling loose leaf medicinal herbs and blends on eBay, then brought her products to farmer’s markets. Opening a physical store was part of a long-term plan. When the space at 136 Main opened up last spring, she realized she was ready for retail sooner than she had thought.

“The year leading up to (the store opening in April 2016), I had actually been writing a business plan, developing inventory lists of things we would need to carry, even lists of fixtures - and figuring out a budget and costs,” she said. “So when the space opened up and the question became, ‘Do we have enough money?’ I was able to look at the research I had done. I was able to answer, ‘Yes.’”

Roach is the majority owner of Little Woods. Her husband, Jason Shaw, is a partial owner. He works as a senior software engineer for HLT, a company based in Iowa City. The two of them have a 3 ½ year old daughter, Lucy. Roach opened up about how family life has changed since opening the shop.

“As a woman business owner, there are a lot of unique challenges,” she said. “It’s often the case that in order to own our own business, as is the case for me, I went from staying home with our child to venturing outside of the home,” she said.

Now there is the extra cost of daycare, but the emotional cost of missing her child every day is hard too.

“I miss Lucy every day. And every day I’m like, I want to leave work early and go pick up Lucy because she’s awesome. And that’s hard,” Roach said.

As Little Woods becomes more established, she intends to cut back on what is now 50-60 hours of work a week so she can spend more time with her daughter.

For all the challenges Roach and her Little Woods team are facing now, the store seems like a success to me. Our conversation came to a close, and I could hear the chatting and cup-clinking from the bar again. I reflected on the peaceful friendliness I always experience there.

I recommend stopping by Little Woods. Even if you don’t know much about tea, you might discover a desire to learn more. Keep an open mind - and try the “Lavender Field of Dreams” blend while you’re in there. It’s my favorite.

For Ames Silversmithing, It Started With Love

By Virginia Kovach

The best things in life begin with love. Maybe that’s sentimental, but think about it: many of the things we enjoy about life, from music to art to food, exist because someone was ignited with passion for something. For Gary Youngberg, owner of Ames Silversmithing, it wasn’t something; it was someone.

 Gary and Karen Youngberg

Gary and Karen Youngberg

            “Well, I was in love with a girl,” he said when I asked him how his jewelry business began. “I was going to the University of Iowa at the time, and I wanted to give her something for Valentine’s Day —I was broke, for the most part — and I decided to string some beads and make some necklaces for her.”

            The girl Youngberg was in love with is now his wife, Karen.

            “I sold a few necklaces to the girls in the dorm,” he said. “The next thing you know, I was buying more beads and making more pieces.”

            Soon, he learned how to do basic silver smithing from library books, using a torch in his dorm room to create jewelry on a new level. He started selling his pieces at art fairs.

            Youngberg realized that college wasn’t for him — even after he switched from the University of Iowa to Iowa State. He decided to open his own business in August, 1976.

            Today, walking into their sparkling Main Street store, you will be greeted by warm, professional staff who are happy find you something beautiful at your price level. My husband bought our rings there. Every time I look at my aquamarine engagement ring, I am reminded of how great it is to have a good relationship with a classy jeweler right here, in downtown Ames.

            It’s a family business, so chances are that you will work with Karen, Kyle or Kirk (Gary and Karen’s sons), or Katie (Kyle’s wife). The family dynamic only adds to its charm.

            You’ll find exquisite creations with diamonds, pearls, and other common fine jewelry stones at Ames Silversmithing, but you’ll also see unique pieces with agates, jaspers, and turquois. Youngberg has a special place in his heart for those stones.

            “It’s Mother Nature at her best, and they’re just fantastic to look at,” he said.

          Like many Main Street businesses, Ames Silversmithing is involved in philanthropic work. Youngberg frequently donates jewelry to auctions raising money for people who need help with medical expenses for health crises like cancer.

            “I’m happy to do it,” he said. “I’ve had a great business life, our business is good, and I’m thrilled to be able to support those things.”

            Chatting with Youngberg deepened my appreciation for Ames Silversmithing. Their commitment to quality and their passion for this community are exemplary. If my husband brings me home another trademark green box, I will smile just as much for their story as for their beautiful product.

The Fuzzy Faces of Main Street

By Virginia Kovach                                                              

           I met my favorite coworker at Everts Flowers before I even interviewed for the job. He was looking at me as I came to the counter to inquire about any openings. I noticed his friendly – but not too friendly – demeanor, his quiet confidence, and his complete ease with his surroundings. Just knowing he was there made me even more certain that I wanted to work at Everts.

            I’m speaking, of course, of Remington, the great, respectable (if unpredictable) shop cat. Nobody is better at reminding me that I am lucky to work at a beautiful downtown business like Everts. Nobody is better at making me smile. And nobody is better at driving us all crazy sometimes!

            One day, we noticed Remington approach the water cooler with a curious look on his little face. He stood on his hind legs and tapped the water handle with his paw. The ensuing “splash!” was so delightful to him that he repeated the action. Then he repeated it again… and again. We all laughed (I even got a video on my cell phone). The customers got a kick out of it. Remi got so hooked on that little “splash!” that he started hanging out by the water cooler for most of the day. It wasn’t long before I started to notice a damp patch forming at the base of the water cooler when I opened the shop in the morning. Then the damp patch became a bigger damp patch, and we noticed the water level descending rapidly. We tried to outwit Remi by placing baskets or boxes in front of the water cooler at night, but somehow, he always got through. Finally, we had to get rid of the thing. Remi had defeated us. No more cool water for us! Like I said, nobody is better at driving us all crazy. But we love him. How could we not?

            I asked Brian Smith, the Everts owner, why he has a shop cat.

            “We like to be around animals,” he said. “We grew up with cats. I think people enjoy coming in to see a cat, especially people who used to have a cat that can’t have one anymore. It’s like therapy for them.”

            If you walk up and down Main Street in Ames, you will meet our Remington, but you might be surprised to find which other shops have furry employees. I took a walk downtown and I found, among others, a chihuahua at a salon, a cat in a bike store, and a black lab in a jewelry store!

            I met Violet the Chihuahua at Valor and Violet, a salon on Main Street. She was, like most shop pets, friendly and curious. Kari, one of the salon owners, said Violet was initially a little standoffish but has since opened up to the customers. Except people with hats. For some reason, people wearing hats really make Violet nervous. I theorized with Kari about whether this was because Violet, a rescue dog, had a bad history with someone who wore hats, or whether it’s just hard for her to read people if she can’t see their faces very well. Either way, I have a feeling she will get used to all kinds of people soon enough. When I met Violet, Kari had only just gotten her three weeks ago.

            Another famous Main Street pet is Willow, the Basset Hound who comes to work with Michael and Barb Morris at Treats on a Leash. Treats on a Leash is a gourmet dog treat and pet toy store, so it makes a lot of sense for the Morrises to share their beloved dog with her adoring public. The logo for Treats on a Leash is a Basset Hound, so in many ways Willow is the shop’s mascot.

            “Our customers love Willow. They come in looking for Willow and they’re disappointed when she’s not here,” Morris said. Willow was rescued from a poor breeding situation, Barb said, so Willow doesn’t always trust people easily. Barb and Michael have been sending Willow to Doggy Day Care to try to strengthen Willow’s confidence. The Morrises have a heart for rescue animals. They host adoption events at their store, bringing in animals from rescue organizations to meet and greet potential owners.

            Moving down that same block of Main Street, you will find two more furry faces in separate jewelry stores. Kota, the two-year-old yellow lab at Ames Silversmithing, is still learning how to handle himself in the store, said owner Gary Youngberg.

            Kota replaces Tucker, their previous yellow lab, a “big, strong, barrel-chested dog,” who would lie around on the floor in one spot without moving, and let people pet him. Kota is a pointing lab, bred smaller than Tucker.

            “He gets plenty excited to come into work and see everybody,” Youngberg said. When Kota comes in to the shop, he’s often sitting next to owner Karen Youngberg, with a leash on, observing everybody. Eventually, Youngberg said he envisions Kota hanging out in the shop without a leash.

             Gilger Designs has Durbin, an 8-year-old black lab. She is very well-mannered, almost shy at first, but friendly if you want her to be. Michael Gilger said he believes dogs should be with their masters during the day, not at home alone. If you ask him, Gilger will show you Durbin’s tricks (which include rolling over, playing dead, and dancing). Like many dog owners, Gilger is proud of his pet’s intelligence. “She understands about 600 words,” he said.

            The last shop pet on our tour is Rover, the tuxedo cat who lives at Skunk River Cycles. He’s mostly black with a white “bow tie” under his chin and a white tip at the top of his tail. Ronn Ritz, the owner of Skunk River, told me Rover likes his head “mauled.”

“If you are interested in being friends with a cat, you can just do this to them” – here Ritz stopped and mussed up the hair on the top and sides of Rover’s head with one motion – “and they just sort of turn into putty.”

I’ve been a cat person all my life, and I’m just learning about this. Better late than never, I guess!

Thanks for coming along with me on this Main Street critter tour. Now, next time you visit Main Street, you can: buy some flowers at Everts and meet Remington the cat, have your hair cut at Valor and Violet and visit with Violet the Chihuahua, pick up some dog treats for your own dog at Treats on a Leash and met Willow the Basset Hound, purchase some gorgeous jewelry at Ames Silversmithing and pet Kota the Yellow Lab, purchase some more gorgeous jewelry at Gilger Designs and meet Durbin the Black Lab, and buy a new bike (or fix your old one) at Skunk River Cycles and meet Rover the Cat. Sounds like a perfect day to me!

After 30 Years, Worldly Goods Continues to Inspire

By Virginia Kovach

I was in high school when I walked through the door of Worldly Goods in downtown Ames the first time.  Little did I know, I was about to learn that shopping can be a spiritual experience.   From the start, I was entranced by the rich colors, textures, and details in every display. I soon learned all those beautiful items were produced by people in developing countries who were paid fair wages and treated with dignity. Buying something beautiful is one thing, but buying something beautiful to help the person who made it is shopping on a deeper, more meaningful level. This kind of shopping, I discovered, was good for my spirit.

            Worldly Goods celebrates 30 years of helping others through fair trade this year.  As I think about the impact the store has had on the Ames community, I reflect on the influence it’s had on me. I volunteered for Worldly Goods in college. I was a journalism major working for The Iowa State Daily when I decided that I wanted to learn more about fair trade and the larger issue of sustainability. I created a “sustainability beat” and learned to think about how all our life choices affect the people and the environment of this generation, and the next.

            “We have a unique product mix that you can’t find in other stores,” said Andrea Gronau, store manager since October 2012. “Our mission has helped people all over the world, allowing a lot of people the chance to see other cultures they wouldn’t have seen in other places.”

            While the merchandise comes from a variety of companies, Worldly Goods works with The Fair Trade Federation to ensure that all of their artisans are paid a living wage. A “living wage” is a foundation of fair trade, but as Gronau or any of her volunteer staff will tell you, fair trade goes beyond that.

            Fair trade is a system of exchange that provides, in addition to fair wages in the local context, workplaces that are safe, healthy, and participatory. Environmental sustainability and respect for cultural identity are also basic principles of fair trade. Artisans are supplied with financial and technical support to build capacity, and organizations like the Fair Trade Federation work with the artisans to establish direct and long-term relationships with shops like Worldly Goods.

            One example of a long-term relationship is the shop’s relationship with Chiri, a baby alpaca knit line from Peru. (see photo below) A former volunteer started an artisan cooperative in Peru and brought the product line back to the store. The items are soft, beautiful pieces that are both chic and practical in cold Iowa weather.

Jody Melcher, who is entering into her 9th year volunteering at the shop, appreciates how everything at Worldly Goods has a story. She really likes the metal work from Haiti. She has visited Haiti on her own, and she saw people creating pieces like the ones in Worldly Goods. She said her volunteer work in the shop helped her understand and appreciate the people she met when she was in Haiti.

            “I like the whole mission of Worldly Goods,” said Melcher. “I like the fact that it helps people get out from under poverty or bad situations and it gives them the opportunity to use their skills and provide for their families.”

            Merry Rankin, President of the Worldly Goods Board of Directors, and Director of Sustainability at Iowa State, said the mission of Worldly Goods is near and dear to her heart.

            “Collectively we all, all around the world, every single person, every single ecosystem and all the inhabitants of those ecosystems are facing the future together,” Rankin said. “The future we leave ourselves, no matter who we are or where we are, collectively impacts all of us. Worldly Goods really represents such an important facet of the collective sustainable future that we will leave each other.”

            Rankin said that under Gronau’s leadership, Worldly Goods has established the concept of fair trade as an option for everyday purchases such as food and apparel. Some fair trade stores focus mostly on special occasion gift items, but Worldly Goods shows us that fair trade principles are just as applicable to necessities.

            She also praised Gronau for finding new ways to reach out to the Ames community with the principles of sustainability. Worldly Goods will hold its second Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle Market this summer where local vendors will showcase their reused and repurposed items.

            It’s encouraging for me to see how a store that introduced me to the concept of sustainability is continuing to do that for people in our community. I wish Worldly Goods a hearty congratulations for reaching that 30-year milestone. It will be fun to see what comes next.