From the outside looking in, you might think Walnut is just another rural, close-knit farming community on the eastern side of Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa. Yes, there is a lot of agriculture in southwest Iowa and Walnut's tallest building is the local grain elevator.
However, at some point, the town decided to turn their farming community into a tourist destination and to create a strong brand and identity. Based on everything I saw, it appears that the town has fully embraced it.
It's a town of between 700 and 800 people and almost as many antique stores. Well, maybe not quite that many - but it sure has become a destination for those who love antiques, collectibles, and a rush of nostalgia. So much so, that they are now proudly known as "Iowa's Antique Community".
On a recent and very chilly Saturday afternoon, I was traveling from Omaha back to Des Moines on I-80 and decided I would stop to see what was going on. It's only a mile south of the I-80E at Exit 46.
I started my wanderings by simply parking on the main north and south street through town (Antique City Drive) as I assumed most of the shops were all in a fairly compact downtown area. The sidewalks have nice "old-timey" light poles and great cobblestone pavers make up the streets.
Walnut's Welcome Center
For my first stop, I wandered over to Walnut's Welcome Center, which is sponsored by the Walnut Optimist Club. On this particular afternoon, a gentleman, whom I assume to be a volunteer, was staffing the building. There are public bathrooms, a gift shop, some bottled/canned beverages, and suggestions of other places locally to visit in southwest Iowa, among many other things.
The Haystacker's Diner
I asked the gentleman in the Welcome Center if there was a coffee shop or bakery where I might be able to find a cup of coffee. There is a large Kum & Go on the north end of town, which is near the Interstate and I don't mind gas station coffee...but I always like to seek out the local options first. The gentleman suggested I check out The Haystacker's Diner.
This was an outstanding suggestion. I was looking for some coffee but I thought I would see if they had any dessert options as well. I settled on some ice cream with chocolate syrup.
For $2, I got three scoops of ice cream with chocolate syrup on top, a cup of coffee to have with my ice cream, a "to go" cup of coffee to take with me, and some milk that served as the "creamer" for coffee. Unreal. That would have been $10 in Des Moines. I left a $3 tip to go with the $2 bill. What a deal!
There was one other couple dining in the restaurant when I was there and it appeared they had some delicious looking comfort food on their plates. I had eaten lunch in Omaha before driving to Walnut, but what they had sure looked and smelled delicious. The interior of the diner is not unlike any other eatery that you would see in small-town Iowa. No frills - just good food, hot coffee, and reasonable prices. It's a great meeting place for the community.
The Barn Mall
Now that I had some coffee and ice cream, I was fueled up to go explore the various antique and specialty stores in town. Easily, the most memorable might be The Barn Mall, which was located near the Welcome Center. It's certainly an old barn but if the owners ever got tired of antiques, it would make an amazing events venue, especially for weddings.
I loved the beautiful mural on the side of the building.
Inside, I was blown away. It's technically an antique mall in that there are many vendors. Inside, you find beautiful architecture, stunning natural lighting, gorgeous wooden beam ceilings, and multiple levels of treasures.
At the back of the barn, I encountered a sign tacked to a door that said "More in Rough Room". Obviously, who isn't going to look to see what's behind that door?
Here's the rough room. Definitely not as well insulated but still plenty of treasures.
On the highest level of the barn, there was a whole floor of only chairs. If you are missing a chair to complete your "set" or want to take on a refinishing project, there's probably something great to be found.
Plum Krazy! Vintage & More
Next to the Walnut City Library, was Plum Krazy! Vintage and More. It was filled with a lot of nice items. Many of the stores along the strip had multiple levels - either "upstairs" or "downstairs".
Next door was STG Games and when you walk in, you assume it's another standard antique store until you get to the back of the store and discover a whole lot of games for sale. Looking through many of those games brought back a lot of memories of my childhood.
B Restored Home & Garden
Continuing on down the street, I sauntered into B Restored and immediately discovered that this place was doing something totally different. They had a lot of items that have been "upcycled". Two items that really jumped out at me right away was the use of truck end and an old hog feeder to make a bar. Having grown up on a hog farm, that type of feeder looked awfully familiar. There are certainly a lot of both (old trucks and feeders) out on the countryside and this business has utilized those "discarded" materials to make one-of-a-kind pieces. Great place! I always admire creative people.
Corn Country Antiques
There was a lot to look at in this store and I always love mission oak antiques, including a gorgeous (though non-working) grandfather clock. Like a lot of the stores, you could walk through 100 different times and see something new and interesting every time.
Rusty Farm Girls & Sugar Grove Antiques
I am not entirely sure if the name of the store was Rusty Farm Girls or Sugar Grove Antiques as they had both names on the premises, but there were several levels of all kind of things. Perhaps there was two stores in one and I didn't even realize it? Very eclectic but fun.
Granary Antique Mall
I mean no offense to any of the other stores that I enjoyed, but I actually believe Granary Antique Mall might have been my favorite ONLY because of the extensive showroom of gorgeous antique furniture. Amazing. Obviously, there were lot of other stuff from many vendors, too.
This particular business was also offering refinishing and restoration services for antique furniture.
Of course, it's not an antique mall without lots of cases of collectibles or Red Wing crocks.
Growing up, I used to get a Breyer horse from my grandmother every year for Christmas. It was fun to see the shelves full of these. I believe mine have been packed away and are somewhere, in a plastic container, in my parents' attic.
The Village Blacksmith
There were several antique stores that were closed on the day I was in town. However, the last stop for me was The Village Blacksmith. Another jam packed store with just about something for everyone.
Here's a great sign for the Trump lover in your life.
If you have never been to Walnut, I think it's worth a visit. I look forward to return trips. I know that they get a fair amount of bus traffic, especially during the warmer weather months. There are other businesses in town as well including restaurants, bed and breakfasts, hotels, a gun store, and more. You could do a full day or Southwest Iowa weekend, without a doubt.
During Father's Day weekend every year, there is a mammoth-sized antique show with apparently hundreds of additional vendors who roll into town.
What did I miss? I hope to stop back - maybe when it's warmer and even more of the stores are open. There is plenty to see and do in Pottawattamie County and elsewhere locally.
If you have a suggestion of somewhere I should visit and profile on a future adventure, please drop me a note through my website.