Deyo: A different vision for Main Street

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A relative newcomer to the downtown business community says her year-old business has been sustained by community support, “a creative husband,” and location.

But others will tell you that her weekly offerings of author talks and activities, and numerous children’s events have bolstered her success.

“It is such a wonderful place,” said Austin author Virginia Larsen, “and Lisa is so good to us.”

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“Lisa” is Lisa Deyo, the owner of Sweet Reads and Candy Shop, at 407 N. Main St., right across the street from the Spam Museum.

Her energy and smile are both infectious. And, she needs that energy — her “regular” job is teaching fourth grade full-time at Southgate Elementary School. After she is done teaching for the day, she starts working at her new business.

Her husband, John — another small business owner, who has ViDeyo Arts Video Production Studio two blocks south, also on Main Street — thought a bookstore “was a terrible idea,” given the overwhelming attraction of internet giants like Amazon.

But when a storefront opened up right across from the Spam Museum, those feelings changed.

“Now, you have a potential of 100,000 visitors a year, right across the street,” he said, and the bookstore was a go.

Lisa said what she offers is more than books, and knew she could not compete with the Amazons and Barnes and Nobles.

So, she did not try.

“My business is a discovery zone,” said Lisa. She has worked from the beginning in June 2016 “to create experiences” for customers — with “meet and greets” featuring local and Minnesota authors; kids’ nights in costumes, with the help of Matchbox Children’s Theatre, and other events. A Sherlock Holmes night — with customers solving a mystery — was held just this week.

The store is more than “kid-friendly,” with creations inside to entertain children — a giant train, a homey sitting area with a fireplace — prompt young ones to stretch out and pick up a book. In the back of the store, she offers a large Berenstain Bears exhibit courtesy of former Austin High School band director Bradley Mariska, an avid collector.

While she did not compete with the big box stores, she and John often travel to investigate the “small boxes” — stores in the small towns, such as Lanesboro, or Decorah, Iowa. There, they get ideas and inspiration.

One thing that is universal to all successful downtowns, is the human element.

“We make connections here,” she said. “People love sitting in here, catching up.”

There are probably few Minnesota authors who do not know of Sweet Reads, a welcoming and friendly haven for new and working authors. Many have praised Deyo’s willingness to provide the time and space for book signings and talks.

Owatonna author Chris Norbury, one of nine authors whose talks were a feature of the annual Austin ArtWorks Festival, in August, praised Deyo for having “one of the funkiest bookstores I’ve ever been in,” but better yet, one that promotes and features Minnesota authors whenever possible.

“This is a wonderful place,” he said.

“It’s passion for people,” Deyo said in a Herald article shortly after she opened. “It’s passion for books; the literary world is so amazing. It’s passion for adventure … How can you not absorb that passion and make it happen here — and it makes me cry.”