By Lori Erickson
Handcrafted products made by Iowa artisans, farmers and entrepreneurs can be found at these outlets:
West Des Moines
Located in Historic Valley Junction, the Heart of Iowa Market Place is the mother lode for Iowa-related items. Gourmet foods, books by Iowa authors, university-themed apparel, and artisanal products line the shelves. You can also have the store create a customized gift basket for your foodie cousin, ISU alum brother, baby niece or college-roommate-in-California who’s missing Iowa.
Don't-miss item: The Original Iowa Cow Chip ($15 for one pound of homemade chocolate walnut fudge shaped like a cow chip).
Founded in 1984, the Iowa Artisans Gallery is a beloved store on the pedestrian mall in downtown Iowa City. Founded and staffed by artists, it sells exquisite handcrafted items in many media, from paintings and pottery to jewelry, fiber arts, glasswork, and paper items. The work of many Iowa artists is displayed here, including paintings by Marcia Wegman, Mike Ryan and Gordon Kellenberger and pottery by Reiko Uchytil. Some of the pieces are functional, like walking sticks, purses and outlet covers, while others are delightfully whimsical, from decorated tea cups to birds made of swirls of colored glass.
Don't-miss item: Wooden whistle in the shape of an oak leaf by Connie Roberts ($18).
3. Amana Shops
Thanks to their German heritage, the Amana Colonies have long valued fine craftsmanship. Four historic shops offer a range of high-quality, Iowa-made products. At the Meat Shop & Smokehouse you’ll find delicious smoked meats and German-style specialty foods such as sauerkraut and mustard. The Woolen Mill sells cozy blankets and textiles, while the General Store stocks Iowa-made products that include Milkhouse Candles and Rada Knives. And the Amana Furniture & Clock Shop showcases heirloom-quality items that will grace your home for many years.
Don't-miss item: Amana double-smoked summer sausage (14 oz. for $7).
4. Agora Arts
In the heart of downtown Decorah, Agora Arts specializes in high-quality, handmade items, many created by local and regional artists and craftspeople. You can bring the beauty of Iowa home with you by purchasing prints by Carl Homstad, Mary Ann Gloe and Carol Gaustad, or pick out a bowl created from local clay by Allamakee Woodfired Pottery. Owner Gail Bolson Magnuson stocks items made by more than 200 artists in her store, which has been a local landmark for 25 years.
Don't-miss item: “Nordic Maddie” wrapped canvas print by Waukon artist Val Miller (from $48).
This lively marketplace anchors the thriving NewBo District in Cedar Rapids and serves as an incubator for local entrepreneurs specializing in locally sourced and environmentally sustainable products. Here you’ll find urban décor at Moss and handmade soaps from Rare Bird Soaps. Shop the Artisan’s Emporium for wraps and scarves made from hand-dyed wools spun by local spinners. Then buy a treat or two from the market’s food and drink purveyors and enjoy one of the many social and cultural events held at the market, from bingo and trivia to live music on the outdoor stage.
Don't-miss item: Vinyl record transformed into a clock by Brian Norris, owner of Laser Squared ($30).
6. Ed & Eva's
Located just off the town square in Greenfield, Ed & Eva’s is named for the couple who in 1896 built a structure that operated for many years as the E.E. Warren Opera House. Today the stately brick landmark serves as the Warren Cultural Center. A light-filled corner of the building houses a store specializing in products made by Iowa artists and artisans. Amish rugs, quirky household items, handcrafted clothing and jewelry, and decorative items for gardens make this a great place to shop for the perfect gift.
Don't-miss item: Pair of handcrafted earrings made from copper from the 1896 façade of the building ($22).
The charming Mississippi River town of McGregor is home to By the Spoonful, a deli, grocery store and cooking school that specializes in local and regionally sourced foods and products. Popular items include Ruff’s Sugar Bush maple syrup, WW Homestead Dairy cheese curds, Edgewood Locker brats (32 flavors!), Yellow River Honey, O’Briens Own Gourmet Granola and Empty Nest Wine from Waukon.
Don't-miss item: ZaZa’s artisan pastas ($5.50 per box).
You can rely on That Iowa Girl (also known as Colette Johnson) to steer you right when it comes to food. Since 2010 she’s been distributing products made by more than 20 small businesses in the area, from grass-fed beef and farm fresh milk to burritos and salsas. Thanks to her business, the bounty of the region is stocked by hundreds of stores throughout the Midwest. Stop by That Iowa Girl outlet in Clarion to shop for products that include Beeler’s Pork, Picket Fence Creamery cheese curds, La Reyna guacamole, and Oasis hummus.
Don't-miss item: Frisian Farms aged gouda ($15/pound).
Woodworking has been a Brokaw family tradition for six generations. Joel and Karma Brokaw and five of their seven children are involved in this business located in rural Kalona. They make beautifully crafted desk and dining accessories from a variety of natural hardwoods. From cutting boards and cherry cribbage boxes to personalized Christmas ornaments, their inventory includes a wide range of moderately priced products. Added bonus: they also sell handmade quilts by Amish and Mennonite women and furniture made by Amish carpenters.
Don't-miss item: Striped, multi-wood coaster in the shape of Iowa ($10).
Onion Grove Mercantile is located in a downtown storefront on the Lincoln Highway in the eastern Iowa town of Clarence. Owner Jennifer VanOort makes custom, handcrafted signs, often using upcycled materials. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind sign for your home or business or for a memorable wedding gift, she can create a design with a pleasantly vintage feel. The store also sells metal art by local welders, beauty products by Dubuque-based Nora’s Naturals, and home goods that include handmade potholders and tea coasters.
Don't-miss item: Set of two handmade signs ($65).
11. The Market Place
Jaime England opened this boutique store in an historic building in the northwestern Iowa town of Manning in 2015. She wanted to fill a vacant retail niche in her hometown, as well as provide a gathering place for both visitors and locals. In addition to a full-service coffee shop, Market Place has home décor, gifts, artwork, women’s clothing, and furniture. The store also hosts many classes and special events, including wine and art pairings and pottery painting.
Don't-miss item: Handmade Wilson Rocking Horse ($350).
Lori Erickson is the author of Iowa: Off the Beaten Path.