Timeless Thymeless: A St. Ansgar staple celebrates anniversary

The creme-colored, two story Victorian-style house on the corner of 4th and Washington has long been a familiar sight in St. Ansgar. The “Thymeless Treasures” sign in the front yard is a friendly hello to each passerby that rolls to a halt at the town’s only stoplight. 

Fourteen years ago, the sign almost was taken down as previous owners of the home decor and gift shop, Tim and Jody Schulz, were looking to sell. But along came the Kosters. 

The year was 2004. Jon and Jean Koster had recently moved to St. Ansgar from Austin to raise their two sons, Jack and Garrett. 

“We both grew up in this area and really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” Jean said at the time.

Jean was working as a part-time nurse at the school when she wasn’t at home with the kids. Jon works a seed business outside of town, working as an agronomist and farmer. 

“I had no retail experience,” Jean said. “I was just a part time nurse and a stay at home mom…but we hated to see a business in town close.” 

When the Koster’s purchased the shop, they didn’t buy any of the inventory with it, they had to start from scratch. 

“We were moving into a new house, so we needed to buy [furniture and decor]  anyway,” Jon said, joking that the store’s inventory is just extra furniture they bought. “Might as well get it wholesale.”

While that claim may be a little far from the truth, it is indicative of the friendly atmosphere the store strives to offer. Customers come in and chat like old friends while they shop, and that’s a personal touch that you can’t get anywhere else. 

“The kids went to school just a block away, and they’d come in here with their friends and I’d make them malts or ice cream. Then they’d go out in the front yard and play football,” Jean said. “There were kids running around all the time, sometimes I wonder ‘How did I run a business like that?’.” 

Besides the kids and their friends occasionally tearing through the store in their younger days, being a small retailer can present quite a challenge. 

“Retail in this day and age is hard, it’s very different,” Jon said. “People will come in and say ‘I can get the same thing for this price online,’ and sure, we’re not always going to be able to compete with price. But do you have to wait for it to be shipped? Can you take it home, try it out, and bring it back if it doesn’t fit?”

Consumers have continued to see value in that personalized service, however, as this past week marks the 14th year since the Kosters have owned Thymeless Treasures, and each spring they put on an anniversary sale to show their appreciation to their customers. (Because one of the biggest snow storms, Jean said, they’ve decided to extend their sale through Saturday, April 21.)

“I challenge people to find better shopping than we have in St. Ansgar,” Jean said, followed by a pause, then a laugh. “Wait, don’t put that.”

Confident in her store, proud of her town, and too down-to-earth to brag too much about it, Jean finds joy in the friendships she’s made just from running the store.

“I could come up with a list of 15 friends I’ve made,” Jean said. “We’re friends just from the them shopping here. You build some great relationships with people.”

And it’s those relationships that keep people coming back.

“People come in from Rochester, Austin, Mason City, Decorah, we have regulars from all of these towns.” Jon said. “There’s one couple, I think they’re sisters, it’s cute to watch them. One comes from Waverly, one from Decorah, and this is their meeting place. They meet [in St. Ansgar] and just shop. According to Jean, she’s had some great help along the way. Her sisters and a few employees pitch in to keep things running smooth. 

“I couldn’t do it with out them,” Jean said. “They help me a lot,”

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