Betty Sorensen’s Excelsior lease was up for Petunia’s, her vintage décor retail shop. What to do? What to do? Her query was answered, as are many of life’s questions and uncertainties, over a fortuitous cup of coffee.
Jane Hall, Suzanne Thiesfeld, Sara Smith and Maria Leary rounded out the table, and the group of retail business owners decided to lock arms and open Shop 501, a collaborative venture, featuring antiques, upcycled items, handmade goods and original art in Chaska. “We all respected each other as business owners, and we all have a unique look,” Sorensen says. “I feel like we work really well together.”
Shop 501 is the type of place where anyone can find a nugget or goodie to take home. It’s where people, who understand that Frozen Charlottes aren’t sugary cocktails and Tom and Jerry sets aren’t cartoon toys, venture in to find objects that carry them back in time. It’s a shop where young homeowners can develop their signature décor sensibilities by creating new elements from salvaged pieces. Each of the vendors, distinct in style, offer shoppers a creative palette to illustrate their personal vision.
Hall’s “shop inside the shop,” Mustard Moon, presents eclectic items ranging from primitive to frilly. “Her visuals are amazing,” Sorensen says of Hall’s display technique. “She’s good at showing people how you can use things in different ways.”
Thiesfeld (Objects & Art) is an artist by trade and accepts commissioned work, including paintings and signage. The world really might be her canvas—she even paints tableaux on the inside of box covers.
Smith (Salvaged and Rescued Art) can leave shoppers either fascinated or freaked out, especially by her pieces using doll heads and other (body) parts unknown as eccentric elements. “She’s quirky in a good way,” Sorensen says.
Leary (When We Were Young) started out creating clothing with repurposed fabrics, including lace and blankets. Today, she’s also turned an eye toward furniture, luggage and trunks. “She’s very good at listening to what our customers are looking for,” Sorensen says.
Sorensen trends toward French and European items. She enjoys blending primitives and features glassware and Victorian lighting. “A lot of people refer to me as the plant lady,” she says, explaining her inclination to add natural greenery to elements.
While each of the partners brings a different look to the retail table, they all suffer from the same compulsion. “You just have this bug that you want to go out and find something new,” Sorensen says. “The thrill of it is finding good things, bringing it back to the store and having our customers get excited about it, too.”
The partners occasionally conduct search and rescue as a team, but they often head out alone to the wild, wild world of auctions, estate and garage sales, and the like. “We all have our individual places we like to go,” Sorensen explains, noting they keep their eyes peeled for pieces that might tickle the creative fancy of the other partners.
Shop 501 has found its rhythm and timing. Pop-up sales are de rigeur in segments of the retail world, and some of the partners have experience in one or both approaches. Sorensen’s Excelsior store was open daily, and it was problematic. “That didn’t give me the chance to go out and look for stuff,” she says. Since Shop 501 is only open a few days a week, it builds anticipation and allows the partners a chance to restock and reconfigure inventory. “We made an excellent decision to be open weekly, instead of every month,” Sorensen says.
Creativity and inspiration operate at their own paces, and it can take a few swings around Shop 501 to get those engines firing. “That’s the thrill of it,” Sorensen says, explaining that the partners enjoy watching the customers’ creative cylinders operating at full capacity—recognizing the look that says, “Wow, I love that. I gotta have it.”
Shop 501 Hours:
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays