Through a tourist’s eyes

I traveled with my mom this week to Clark, South Dakota.  It’s a trip we’ve taken several times as we go visit cousins.  This week, I went as a tourist.  What if this were my vacation?  What would I be looking for?

The first thing we did was get off the interstate.  We could have driven 6 hours, non-stop along the interstate.  That would have been six hours of missing local sites and sounds.  Instead we headed across Highway 18 in Iowa.

family table

Family Table Sheldon Iowa

We stopped at Family Table in Sheldon for breakfast.  There were a lot of cars in the parking lot and that’s always a good sign in a small town that the food is good.  Like many small towns, there were several groups meeting for coffee.  Breakfast was delicious.  On the table was a red sheet of paper listing all of the events occurring in town for the month. There was the usual fourth of July celebrations, Rotary meetings and church events.  What drew my eye was the book club meeting at Prairie Moon Books.  It was only 8:30 in the morning and I figured the book store would be closed.  I asked the waitress where it was – what the heck, let’s at least go look at it.  In a small town of under 5,000 people it’s unusual to have a bookstore.

Prairie Moon Books Sheldon Iowa

Prairie Moon Books Sheldon Iowa

It was my great fortune to see Prairie Moon Books.  Their hours are 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Now how smart is that? They are open when people are actually in town!  There is also a coffee shop connected to their store.   They had kids books, women’s books, travel books, half priced books and oh so much more.  My mom bought a book about traveling in the 99 counties of Iowa.  I bought a stack of books.  What good is a vacation if you can’t while away a few hours reading a book?

My grandmother worked in a Hallmark store that also sold books.  At nine years of age, I got to choose a book and go to the back room and read it while she worked.  Now, I have this great love for book stores and appreciate a town that has one, especially the locally owned ones.  We left and drove around the square.  Every store front had a store in it and there were lots of people walking around and talking to each other.  How encouraging to see a small town with no For Rent signs in the downtown store front windows.  I’m going to encourage my Chamber director to contact Sheldon’s chamber director and find out some of the things they are doing to remain so vibrant.

Next stop was DeSmet South Dakota.  We have been there several times and toured the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead.  It’s a nice tour and I recommend it for

Oxbox Restaurant in DeSmet SD

families and those interested in prairie history.  It’s one of the sites featured in 1000 Places to See Before You Die.   Find more information at

We were simply hungry – it was lunch time.  The Oxbow Restaurant was on the road we were traveling and it looked like a place to stop in. We walked in and at first I worried this was going to work.  There were two people eating, one waitress and the seats had tears in them.  We sat anyway.  Upon further inspection it was clean and the menu prices were quite reasonable.  Our waitress could have been Flo.  She was johnny on the spot, took our order, brought our drinks quick and was more than willing to accommodate what we wanted.  We ordered the hot roast beef sandwich – but we wanted to share it.   She returned about 5 minutes later with TWO plates, each containing 1/2 half a hot roast beef sandwich.  And the food was excellent!


Crocheted Necklace from Woods and Things

Finally we made it to Clark, South Dakota.  Our cousin Eleanor showed us around town and we visited the local Used Clothing store.  All profits go back to the community.  I got a kick butt pair of jeans there.  We visited the local Mercantile and were reminded of how much it was like the old Woolworth’s used to be.  Woods and Things is a shop where local craftspeople sell their wares.  You can find them at 119 N. Commercial Street, phone 605-880-5861. Mom got a vase with pheasant feathers and brush grass in it as a gift for a friend, we both got crocheted necklaces as gifts for family members, and spent many minutes browsing all the unique handmade items.  It was my pleasure to support local artisans!

Clark is a town of about 1,200 people and one of the best things I found there was a little coffee shop called SS Espresso.  Not only was the Coffee Toffee frozen drink I ordered just great, so was the wifi access.  I plugged in my computer, drank coffee and ate a turnover, and worked away.  There were two older gentlemen at the next table talking about the U.S. Presidents and what they thought about each one.  You can also get a bite to eat for lunch.  I was content to be viewing my emails on a screen larger than my cell phone!

holly hocks

Holly Hocks in Clark SD

There’s a gentleman who hates to see trash, empty spaces and lots and he loves flowers.  He has gardened all over town.  This man plants flowers where nothing used to be. He’s his own little beautification committee.  Makes me think – this is something that can be done everywhere!  How would your block change if there were flowers where there used to be nothing?

What does this trip have to do with social media and small business? Every trip can be an opportunity to notice where people are doing things the right way.  Loved what the town of Sheldon has done for their small businesses and tourism.  Really enjoyed Clark SD and their use of locals to create things.  I saw opportunities for Debworks to help small businesses use some simple online marketing tools to further increase their business.  And I had a great time away looking at small towns with a tourist’s eye.


Crain resting in lake in SD

I saw many things we don’t have in Iowa; fields of rye, pelicans, and land that stretches for miles and miles.  We visited with friends both old and new and heard the stories of the early pioneers – the utter desolation, the winds that never stop, snow and winter so cold you’ll think you’ll die.  Yet the people of South Dakota stay.  They love their land.  They’ve adapted and grown very proud of where they live.  Isn’t that sometime we all aspire to?


  1. Grant Griffiths on July 5, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Deb, love the post and the story. And both of the small towns sound great. I too would love to see more and more small rural towns do what you describe.

    While we can take all of these great ideas to our local ‘powers to be,’ how do we get them to do something? I am finding it more and more frustrating to see the glazed over look in the eyes of small town businesses and even Chambers when you talk about ideas to keep the town vibrant and live.

    What is also troubling is to watch these same businesses and Chambers do the same old ways of doing things. And don’t even get me started on the topic of social media, blogging and the internet when it comes to these same people. Even when you sit down and show them what they can accomplish with these tools. And even when they sit there shaking their heads in agreement, they still go back to their stores, businesses and offices and do the same old thing. Take out that boring yellow page ad, newspaper ad and pray to god someone actually shows up to buy their products or their services.

    What can we do to get them out of their outdated comfort zones?

  2. Deb on July 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Grant –
    It’s maddening isn’t it? I think one of the most important things we can do is keep stirring the pot – write about what we see. Show people who are doing it right. Bug the hell out of the powers that be. It takes a commitment to your community and it helps to find others who also have the commitment. Still…. there are days where you want to strangle everyone you meet! I think this must be the curse of the early front runners.

    I too want to hear what others have to say about what we can do to get these small businesses out of their old comfort zones.

  3. MissDazey on July 7, 2010 at 3:52 am

    This is so lovely, thanks for letting me come along.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Becky McCray. Becky McCray said: RT @Miss_Dazey: @debworks Read your story called " Through a tourist’s eyes" Thanks for a delightful day trip […]

  5. Deb Brown on July 7, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    You are welcome MissDazey – it’s nice to know someone enjoyed the trip with me!

  6. Deb Keller on July 7, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Deb, that sounds like a fun trip! Last year I took my mom home to Pipestone, MN and we did the same thing….instead of taking the interstate we took HWY 9 and stopped at EVERY quilt fabric shop on the way. It took 9 hours to make a 4.5 hour drive…and mom loved it. She still talks about it. At 81 she doesn’t like to drive far alone; but she still enjoys seeing the countryside and visiting the shops she can’t get to anymore.

  7. Deb Brown on July 8, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Deb – my mom and I would have LOVED going on that trip with you!