People & Places

High Amana General Store stocked with vintage charm

Cliff Jette/The Gazette

The High Amana General Store is located in its original sandstone building, dating back to 1857.
Cliff Jette/The Gazette The High Amana General Store is located in its original sandstone building, dating back to 1857.
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When other shops in the Amanas were exporting the colonies’ craftsmanship and goods to the outside world, each colony’s general store imported the outside world to the Amanas.

“It brought all sorts of mysterious things like bananas and oranges and fashion and you name it,” said David Rettig, executive director of the Amana Colonies Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In the communal days, villagers had a $20 credit to spend each year in their general stores on wares that weren’t provided at the other shops, said Scott Williams, a guide at the Amana Heritage Museum in the main village.

“If they didn’t blow it all in one year, they could carry it over to the next year. They pretty much had everything they needed, but the men maybe bought some fancier tobacco than what they had from the garden,” Williams said.

But the villagers weren’t the only ones benefiting from these wares, and they weren’t really the target consumers in the communal days. Area farmers also flocked to the general stores.

“They had to have a city or town to trade in, and for some of them, Amana was a close one, so they would come here,” Rettig said.

They came from Marengo and Blairstown and other area communities, Williams noted, and shopped at a variety of the general stores.

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“Every store had something different than the other one because then people (would) go to more than one store, and certain stores were known for certain things. High Amana had a warehouse full of Brunswick tires, so people knew where to go for tires.”

Today, villagers and visitors alike can shop at the two remaining general stores, both built in the 1850s: the large one in Amana, filled with home and holiday goods, and the quaint one in High Amana, with an old-fashioned latch that opens the door to days gone by.

Billed as “just a few miles down the road ... and 100 years away,” you expect to see Nels Olsen of “Little House” fame behind the counter.

The original 1857 sandstone structure still has its pressed tin ceiling, post office cubby holes, wood-and-glass display cases, calico curtains and hand-pump sink. They set the ambience for goods hearkening to simpler times and needs. Vintage toys, dishes and kitchen gadgets fill the back nook, with handmade soaps, Amana preserves, old-fashioned candy and Old World Christmas decorations closer to the front.

“Nothing has changed, except maybe the product and the clerk,” Rettig said.

It’s a place where young and old alike can unplug from their gadgets and plug into the past. Simple woven finger traps — a common toy from my 1960s dime store childhood — kept my great-nieces and -nephews captivated one Christmas morning and made a delightful place to stash some rolled-up cash, further sweetening the treat. “Hog wash” super-soap has become a staple in my laundry room for scrubbing out stubborn stains.

The year-round general store in the main village of Amana is a for-profit operation, Rettig said, while the general store in High Amana is operated by the Amana Heritage Society, so the proceeds go to that nonprofit organization. A museum and a store, it is open daily April through October and Saturdays in November, December and March.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: High Amana General Store

WHERE: 1308 G St., High Amana

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April through October; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March, November, December

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DETAILS: (319) 622-3232 or Amanaheritage.org/museums

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.