Rochester is best known for its distinguished Mayo Clinic. Thousands of patients and their families travel yearly from around the world for treatment. However, there are many ways to enjoy Minnesota’s third-largest city, just 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities.
We recommend walking through downtown’s artistic pedestrian mall, Peace Plaza, which features the Peace Fountain, the historic Chateau Theatre, and poetry in pavers. In addition, discover Rochester year-round from over 85 miles on a paved trail system. But we found that when shopping for unique one-of-a-kind gifts, Rochester’s vibrant small business community makes this city of over 100,000 second to none. We enjoyed exploring the city’s locally owned shops and uncovering the distinct personality of each one.
In no particular order, these are our favorite shops to up your gift-giving game.
1. Knotty Woodpecker
Sean Archer builds custom high-quality hardwood furniture and kitchen products with vintage hand tools inside his Knotty Woodpecker studio. He makes all of his woodcrafts without power tools or unnatural products. Furthermore, you can shop his merchandise and other local artists’ products inside his showroom on the lower level of the downtown Riverfront Building north of the Rochester Art Center. Stairs or an elevator can be used to reach the lower level.
Sean’s orderly workshop is inside the same room as his studio, where visitors can browse and watch him work simultaneously. His workbench and hand tools neatly line the walls, each piece in a specific location. In the back, a large log chiseling block with its bark intact and carved tree limb legs sits underneath a hanging board of tools. To no surprise, Sean makes his hand-held mallets from trees too. Additionally, he invites visitors to watch while he creates wood products.
You’ll find different styles of beautiful custom tables, and those made of cherry are magnificent. They quickly became our favorite. Along with tables, he builds stools, tool chests, and yoga blocks derived from Taiwanese Aboriginal patterns, to name a few. Examples of kitchen gifts he makes include kitchen bowls, cutting boards, soap dishes, kitchen utensils, dough scrapers, dumpling dough rollers, Jeb Taylor knives, and chopsticks.
Gifts available to buy from local artisans consist of loose-leaf Taiwanese tea from CHOOCHOO-ca-CHEW, pottery, jewelry, textiles, leather goods, prints, succulents, soaps, lotions, candles, and Jeb Taylor knives.
2. Threshold Arts
Over 50 local artists sell their products in Threshold Arts. The bright storefront allows artists to sell their products without the overhead of renting their own space.
Black industrial piping holding wood display shelves rises from an old wood floor. Paintings and prints line the walls and sit neatly on shelves. In all mediums, orderly displays sit on simple wood tabletops. Placards within each display talk about the artist and their inspiration. Although Threshold Arts has a small storefront, unique gift ideas completely fill the shop.
Additionally, all visual arts — such as pottery, wood bowls, textiles, hand-painted cards, stationary, soaps, lotions, brooms, and photography — are required to be made by a local artist. Even though there’s so much to choose from, we liked pottery bowls and mugs made by Anne C. Rader, along with framed glass mosaic art by Debra D’Souza.
3. Clover & Rose
After teaching middle school art for 7 years, Cassandra Buck decided to pursue her artistic passion full-time. The 2016 Rochester Mayor’s Medal of Honor for Artistic/Cultural Achievement recipient chose to open a shop to showcase her art, unique gifts, and love for vintage items.
Enter Cassandra’s shop, Clover and Rose, through a side entrance to find a feminine style with a modern minimalist touch. Along with jewelry, paintings, embroidery, and handmade cards created in her studio shop, over 20 local artists stock all-natural soaps, candles, art, jewelry, and vintage items. Rare vintage clothing and home goods are some of our favorite items to find, and Cassandra’s too. Listen to her light up when talking about what she finds.
Pro Tip: Since hours vary, check @cloverrosemn on Instagram for updates.
4. The Nordic Shop
Visitors from around the world shop for high-quality Scandinavian clothing and gifts at The Nordic Shop. Located downtown in the Galleria At University Square Mall and within walking distance of the Mayo Clinic, the shop offers premium sweater selections. Specifically, Dale of Norway and Oleana sweaters, which the Nordic Shop has America’s most extensive selection.
Besides well-known Scandinavian clothing brands, gifts include ornaments, collectibles, Norwegian Solje jewelry, cookware, dinnerware, glassware, and food. In addition, highly knowledgeable and friendly staff assist customers with the finest details to ensure they choose the right merchandise and fit.
Pro Tip: Search through Scandinavian books in the “quiet corner” of the store.
Let’s face it: Finding gifts for some people can be challenging. Sometimes, we need a quirky shop for those people, and Treedome might answer the call. Located downtown between the popular Bleu Duck Kitchen and the Hilton Garden Inn on Broadway Ave S, Treedome’s dynamic character became unmistakable as soon as we stepped through the door.
Vinyl record bins immediately drew our attention in the window next to the door. We couldn’t resist flipping through the stacks of albums and reminiscing — most were vintage, with some new. We also found cassette tapes and even a few 8-tracks. An album by the Moldy Peaches was probably the most interesting record we found. Music, posters, prints, T-shirts, and a cornucopia of miscellaneous gifts fill the store.
As our eyes scanned the narrow shop, we noticed an odd variety of merchandise for sale — vintage clothing and hats with new skateboards decorating the walls — likewise, a nice variety of vintage-style Nike high-tops. An antique refrigerator painted pastel green sat against the wall with vibrant skateboards displayed over it.
On the opposite side of the store, a beautifully restored bar serving as a counter extends down most of the wall. At the same time, an old-fashioned chalkboard with “Dumb Discounts” caught our eye next to the bar. Customers can receive a 20 percent discount off an album with their name on it, 0 percent for family and friends, and a $1 surcharge for bad taste. Now that’s quirky!
6. Art Heads Emporium
If you love spiral staircases and classes to create masterpiece gifts, visiting Art Heads Emporium would be an enjoyable experience. Located in the same block as Threshold Arts and Treedome, customers can shop for gifts, but classes seem to make the most memorable experience here. Sure, the store is stocked with gifts, but a handmade gift holds more meaning.
Each week instructors lead classes in themes such as Van Gogh sunflowers, paint your pet, acrylic pour art, clay sculptures, Winter garland, sacred candles, and floral courses. Check their online calendar for a monthly schedule. That said, merchandise available for purchase includes jewelry, crystals, miscellaneous vintage finds, textiles, and locally made art.
Pro Tip: Art Heads Emporium supplies all materials needed for classes. Wine, beer, and non-alcoholic drinks are available to purchase.
7. Rochester Art Center Gift Shop
Overlooking the South Fork Zumbro River and downtown Rochester, the contemporary Rochester Art Center has a gift shop that shouldn’t be overlooked. Purchase pieces from exhibiting and local artists for unique gifts that art lovers will appreciate.
After seeing the exhibits, we enjoyed visiting the gift shop and found a few of our favorite pieces on notecards and notebooks. However, Kristina Tran’s punch needle embroidery became our favorite — her designs on cosmetic bags in particular.
Do-it-yourself art kits, coasters, vintage clothing, jewelry, ceramics, stickers, prints, and paintings are available, to name a few. Although apparel and beading are popular, the most sought-after merchandise has the “Stay Corny” slogan with images of Rochester’s famous Ear of Corn water tower.
8. Rochester Pet & Country Store
Close to the intersection of State Highway 14 and Broadway Ave S and within sight of the famous Ear of Corn water tower, enormous murals make Rochester Pet & Country Store stand out. Friendly employees welcome everyone to their distinctive store that’s in a class by itself. At first glance, the pet store reminded us of other big box stores until we looked closer. Then, we began finding hard-to-find items perfect for gift-giving.
Cats needing a forever home freely walked around and crates housing cuddly rabbits and guinea pigs sat around merchandise on one side of the store. An owner explained how they don’t like to see any animal suffer, so they work with local shelters to help people adopt animals or reptiles that need a home. Some uncommon examples of adoption include chinchillas and a bearded dragon.
The Rochester Pet & Country Store stocks popular dog and cat toys, but we like how the store stocks many unusual toys, treats, and accessories that are usually found online. Plus, we found an excellent selection of fun small-dog clothes and a fancy pair of sunglasses for our Shih-Tzu, Madibelle. Of course, they carry human T-shirts too. Our favorite had a silhouette of a dog wearing a cone that said, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.” We also noticed the best selection of glass lawn ornaments, bird feeders, and windchimes that beats big-box store options.
Although CHOOCHOO-ca-CHEW doesn’t have a physical location, we had to include Tiffany Alexandria’s business because her uncle’s Taiwanese tea is one of the most unique gift ideas we found.
Tiffany, a talented local artist, was born and raised in Taiwan. Her uncle, a master Taiwanese tea maker, supplies her with tea that he grows and processes. Making tea is a complex operation in Taiwan. Tea typically grows in the mountains and requires hand-picking, then delicate processing to meet Taiwanese high standards. So, picking up Taiwanese tea as a gift is a special treat.
CHOOCHOO-ca-CHEW’s Taiwanese tea can be found at the Knotty Woodpecker and Threshold Arts. Styles of tea available are Misty Garden Black, Dayuling Oolong, and Guifei Oolong.