Small Town, Big Charm

Photos and videos by Maddie Hiatt, Hoi Mun Yee and Kenzie Petty

These five towns may be lesser known than big Midwestern cities, but their appeal may change that soon.

Words: Maddie Hiatt

Located 10 miles west of St. Louis, Missouri, Maplewood is home to many locally owned businesses, bars, and one-of-a-kind shops. The town’s charming history began in the mid-1800s, but it is still gaining new residents and businesses today. According to the 2010 census, Maplewood has a population of just over 8,000 people, with over 1700 families.

“There are so many different types of people in Maplewood,” says Jason Bockman, owner of the Strange Donuts franchise. “It has the perfect mix of people in different life stages, different cultures, and different interests.”

Bockman opened the first Strange Donuts shop in Maplewood in 2013. He knew from the beginning that he wanted to be in the Maplewood area because of the variety of people. Along with its diverse group of citizens, Maplewood has become a home to a wide variety  of businesses. With donut shops, a cat-themed coffee house, a pinball bar, and a brewery, everyone can find something they like to do in Maplewood.


Words: Kenzie Petty

Fort Wayne, Indiana, has recently been called the “up and coming hipster hotspot” of the Midwest, and the town lives up to the name.

The city’s residents works together to create an interdependent web of small businesses that thrive on the benefit of working together. Almost every business promotes and advocates for its fellow owners, and they all come together for a weekly farmers market at the baseball park.

“It’s so cool the way that we can work with other businesses,” says Krystal Vega, the owner of Zinnia’s Bakehouse. “Really, you end up making friends along the way.”

Vega, along with dozens of other mom and pop shop owners, has helped to shift Fort Wayne into a flourishing community that’s gaining the recognition it deserves.


Words: Kenzie Petty

Benton Harbor sits just west of Kalamazoo where it rests on a quiet spot on Lake Michigan. The residents of this small area have worked tirelessly over the last decade to turn this former ghost town into a thriving arts community.

Downtown is home to an arts district which includes a bookstore/coffee shop, a glass blowing studio, new apartments, and many art installations.

This town hasn’t always been in such great shape.

“It’s the people who are here who have made a real difference,” says Japhy Bartlett, the owner and operator of The Phoenix Coffeeshop. “This area that was completely run down and abandoned is now a pretty cool area.”

Bartlett returned from Chicago a few years ago to keep The Phoenix open when the original owner was going to close down, as he saw the shop as an important staple of the community. Bartlett plans to keep the the coffee flowing for these Michiganians for the foreseeable future.

Benton Harbor, in conjunction with its neighboring town Saint Joseph, has completely revamped its local vibe and is growing a new culture worth seeing.


Words: Hoi Mun Yee

The town of Spring Green, Wisconsin, is located about 40 miles west of Madison. It is best known as the location of the summer home and former school of one of America’s greatest architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. Today, Spring Green is home to around 1,600 people and is a growing hub for artists in the Midwest.

“We’ve had a long, long history of artists in the valley, and once you have one group of artists, they attract another group of artists, and pretty soon we have American Players’ Theater and lots of visual artists,” says Terry Kerr, vice president of the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition. “It’s a beautiful rural spot with rolling hills, wonderful scenery, inspirational views.”

Creativity in the town is not limited to traditional art. Arcadia Bookstore is a new take on the traditional bookstore, with books on one side and a cafe serving only locally produced food on the other. A few blocks away is the Spring Green General Store, a gift shop and restaurant housed within a blue, spray-painted building. These local businesses aim to serve locals with a creative spin that attracts visitors from outside Spring Green.


Words: Hoi Mun Yee

Located on the bank of the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin, and serving as a separator between Minnesota and Wisconsin, this village of 66 people was founded in 1854 by immigrants from Karlskoga, Sweden. Stockholm might lose in size to its namesake in Sweden, but makes up for it with its proximity to the wondrous nature of the American Midwest and its welcoming, homey vibe.

“The philosophy [of my store] is that when you come in you will feel welcomed, like you would have felt had you come into my grandmother’s house, or my mother’s house,” says Nancy Fitzsimons, co-owner of The Palate Gourmet Kitchen Store with her daughter. Fitzsimons’ great-grandmother was one of the original Swedish settlers in the village.

Two stores down, Alan Nugent set up the Stockholm Pie and General Store, listed by USA Today as one of its “Destination Pie Shops” nationwide. The staff makes all their pies from scratch and “just like grandma’s,” according to their Facebook page. Entrepreneurs in the small village attempt to create the feeling of returning home when tourists visit, providing food made from scratch and Nordic-themed home decor as a way to emphasize the town’s Scandinavian roots.