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Atwater, Minn., greenhouse grows

ATWATER, Minn. -- By using "creative rearranging" in her greenhouse/cafe/hardware store/bait shop/gift shop/coffee bar, an Atwater woman has responded once again to the needs of her rural community. She has added the term "grocery store" to her a...

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Elsie Kashmark still operates a full greenhouse at her business, Peaceful Thymes in Atwater. (CAROLYN LANGE | TRIBUNE)

ATWATER, Minn. - By using “creative rearranging” in her greenhouse/cafe/hardware store/bait shop/gift shop/coffee bar, an Atwater woman has responded once again to the needs of her rural community. She has added the term “grocery store” to her all-under-one-roof business that’s reminiscent of an old-style mercantile.

“We’re busting at our seams now,” said Elsie Kashmark, owner of Peaceful Thymes, located on U.S. Highway 12 on the east edge of Atwater. “We’re full from floor to ceiling.”

For small towns struggling to keep businesses, Kashmark said it’s necessary for stores to do double-duty.

“It’s a challenge in a small community for independent businesses or individual, independently owned businesses,” she said. “So what we’ve found is that you have to go back to old-school and become a mercantile.”

Kashmark began operating her popular greenhouse and gift shop in 2005 on the other end of town.

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In 2007 she added a coffee bar.

In 2012, following a devastating fire in 2011 that destroyed a block of downtown Atwater businesses including a well-established hardware store, Kashmark agreed to residents’ requests to move her business to its current location and carry a full line of hardware goods.

Community volunteers even helped her move in the hardware items and stock the shelves.

At the same time, Kashmark added a bait shop and a small kitchen to serve up hot noontime meals in the town’s only cafe.

So when the town’s only grocery store closed last month, Kashmark stepped up to the plate again and began selling groceries, such as locally produced items.

Kashmark now sells fresh and frozen meat from Wick’s Meats in nearby Kandiyohi, Field Gate Cheese made by the First District Association from down the road in Litchfield, baked goods from Cold Spring Bakery, Harry’s frozen pizza made in Elrosa and Schroeder milk that’s produced in Minnesota.

She also carries fresh produce and added “60 feet of dry edible groceries” from an Alexandria supplier. “We started out with the basics and are adding and changing from there,” she said.

Kashmark did not expand the building to accommodate the line of groceries.

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“We just utilized the space that we had,” Kashmark said. “We haven’t reduced the hardware. We haven’t reduced our gardening offerings, and we’ve actually increased in our pet supply and pet care (products).”

The grocery shelves are steps away from shelves of saw blades, plumbing supplies, fishing tackle and a paint-can-shaker. A shelf with sump pumps is next to the cooler that’s full of milk and cheese.

Customers can view the store and the large, adjoining greenhouse - where petunia and tomato seedlings are growing in preparation for the spring gardening season - while drinking coffee or eating a meal at tables and chairs located near the door.

“We have a lot of customers who are later in life and they remember going into mercantiles with their families and that’s what this reminds them of, because they can come in get a cup of coffee, a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, a pound of nails, a container of wax worms and their seed potatoes or their tomato plants,” she said. “They can get a little bit of everything.”

Kashmark said customer response has been positive as new items are added and the store evolves.

“With each adventure we take, there’s a learning curve,” she said. “We invite people to come in, take a look around and see what we’ve got,” Kashmark said.

If you don’t see something you need, she said, let her know and if it’s available, she’ll do her best to get it.

Peaceful Thymes is open 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

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