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Calhoun County, Iowa
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J & J Candles & Soil of IowaThe ability to spread happiness and hope shines at J&J Candles in rural Manson, thanks to owner Janis Miller, the self-proclaimed “Crazy Candle Lady.” “I fully embrace that role,” said Miller, who has a custom-made, decorative sign with her distinctive title displayed above the door.

Her unique shop is one of 15 local, small businesses near the Highway 20 corridor in the Webster/Calhoun/Pocahontas County area that will participate in Iowa’s Historic Highway 20 Fall 2023 shop hop on Saturday, September 30, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can find vintage housewares, antiques, bakery treats, beautiful home décor, affordable clothing, jewelry, toys, gifts and more at this day-long event showcasing small businesses.

This year’s September event builds on shop hops these store owners have hosted in the spring and fall for the past few years. While promotion is always important for any small business, it has become critical in the last few years, Miller said. “This is the roughest patch I’ve ever experienced in business. The economy is tough, and things like scented candles or home décor items aren’t necessities in people’s budgets.”

Small-business owners face big challenges

All this matters to not only the local, rural economy, but the U.S. economy. A 2019 Small Business Administration (SBA) report found that small businesses accounted for 44% of U.S. economic activity. Not only do small businesses drive the U.S. economy, but they also keep the American dream alive.

More small-business owners have struggled to keep that dream alive, however, during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The price of some of the key items Miller needs to make her candles has soared more than 200% in recent months. Customers have also dialed back on how much they’re willing to pay for items. “People are looking for deals,” Miller said.

To give customers options, local shop and restaurant owners are looking forward to hosting the Historic Highway 20 shop hop on September 30. “I’m all for entrepreneurship, especially in rural Iowa,” said Miller, who has been in the candle business for 27 years.

Customers can choose from an incredible variety of scents at J&J Candles. “We have more than 200 fragrances,” Miller noted. “You know how some people collect food recipes? I collect candle fragrance recipes.”

Options include:

For more home décor options, head over to Knierim to Kelly’s Country Relics. Owner Andrea Grady offers a wide range of vintage kitchenware and home décor items, to her family’s acreage north of Knierim. “We built onto our machine shed, and I’m open by appointment,” said Grady, who also owns Estate Sales by AMG.

Among the top sellers at Kelly’s Country Relics (which is named in honor of Grady’s late father) are galvanized wash tubs, vintage kitchen utensils and blue-glass canning jars, which some customers use for wedding reception décor.

Good eats, cool finds along the route

There’s something for everyone during the Historic Highway 20 shop hop, which includes LA Krave’s restaurant in Rockwell City; Lizzie’s Gift, Thrift and Consignment in Pomeroy; Hummingbird Confections in Callendar; Brickyard Antiques in Otho; vendors at the Callendar Community Center; Trash & Treasures in Rockwell City; Thoma Flooring & More and Redone by Angie in Manson; Vintage & Reclaimed in Manson; 600th St. Retro near Palmer; and Uptown Elegance in Clare.

“It’s so important to have opportunities like the Historic Highway 20 shop hop to connect with customers and meet new friends,” Grady said. “We love giving people the opportunity to explore rural Iowa and see what’s going on in the area.”

Fall 2023 HWY 20 Shop Hop Map and Shop List

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