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.