A red barn southwest of Groton beckons shoppers with its focus on farm-house décor.
At a recent “Christmas at the Barn” event, shoppers packed the barn, eager to take home rustic additions for their homes.
“People enjoy the items I have for sale because they are not found in every store," Jessica Kroll said. "I try to have unique pieces and give people an experience."
In 2012, Kroll decided she’d turn her passion for collecting such items into a business, offering to sell unique, country-themed items in the family barn. Her husband, Joel, works full time at Butler Cat but willingly moves the tractor, 4-wheeler and other items out of their barn to turn it into an occasional shopping destination, known as Front Porch 605.
“I’ve always been drawn to retail,” Kroll said. “I like to pick up old stuff, unique items. One of my friends asked me if I’d ever sell my stuff. She planted the seed and I’ve turned it into a business. I enjoy finding stuff and passing it on.
“In the beginning, you could see the insulation in the barn and it looked like a farm shop with no walls," she explained. "As the events become popular, Joel’s okay with making improvements. This fall, I painted the barn’s overhead door black just a few weeks before our event. He lets me do what I want for the shop, but he’s the more cautious one.”
The demand for her items grew enough that she quit her Aberdeen job in finance to concentrate on this business. She has an event at the barn in the spring and the fall and travels to several vendor shows throughout the year. In response to her customer's comments, she’ll open a second time this month, after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29-30.
“People like to bring their families and girlfriends and make it a destination," she said. "Several said they’d like to bring their extended families during the holiday so we’re happy to try this.”
The most popular items this year were the metal cutout signs proclaiming, “Let it Snow,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Merry Christmas.” At every sale, Kroll has her signature grain sack pieces that include Christmas trees and snowmen for the holidays.
With three active young boys, Kroll appreciates the flexibility she has to go to their school and church activities. Jace is a sophomore and provides muscle for her when loading the trailer with show items. She also has Connor, a third-grader, and Ethan, a fourth grader, who help out when they can.
“Joel takes me to shows as he’s great at backing up the trailer," she said. "He’s wonderful. And he’s my main muscle.”
Some items she wanted to provide meant Jessica needed to sew.
“I tried to learn to sew from my grandmother in junior high but I just gave up," Kroll said with a laugh. "Three years ago, two of my aunts patiently worked with me and now I can do everything. I don’t panic if the machine breaks, I have the confidence to solve any problems that arise. If it wasn’t for those two, Debbie and Sharon, I wouldn’t be able to do it. We make all sorts of items from grain sacks: pillows, table runners, aprons and more.
"These aunts have moved but we still collaborate on ideas over the phone. We’ll make something and send pictures to each other to figure out how to make it better. They are truly a blessing to me," Kroll said.
In their nearby home, Jessica dedicates one room as her sewing room with the unheated upstairs loft used for storing inventory. When she’s getting ready for a show, her work spreads around the house as she may start stuffing trees in the kitchen, making more trees in coffee cans in the dining room and pricing boxes in the family room.
She’s always searching to add to her offerings. Her items are a mix of what she finds, items from some of her favorite makers and going to market so she can mix what some classify as “junk” with the new pieces.
The events at the barn draw in extended family to help. Her mother, her mother-in-law, and sisters-in-laws, aunts and other family members make items, price items, handle kids and help customers.
Jessica won’t let go of a few items.
“I’ve had lots of offers for the 6-foot windmill hanging in the barn, but until I find another one, I’m keeping it," she said. "Joel reminds me, ‘This is not a museum,’ but this is one thing I’m keeping.”
In her own house, Jessica has two décor items she will never give up.
“I love the canister set with clear glass jars with clamp lids that say coffee, tea, flour and crackers written in a plain font from the late 60s," she said. "The other thing is an American-gothic type picture of an old couple holding hands. I’ve never seen these things anywhere else.
“Some days, when things are really crazy, I think I should get a normal job,” Kroll said. “But the second those words come out of my mouth, I’m already thinking about how I can improve some things or something else I want to make or order. I’m drawn to this and I’ll keep doing it until I burn out.”