Rebecca Kolls revitalizes the Stillwater Farm Store.
No one could possibly accuse Rebecca Kolls of being a slacker. The former WCCO-TV meteorologist has a career path that zigs and zags, and always involves high-energy involvement from the passionate gardener.
After monitoring Mother Nature for WCCO-TV (or, as Kolls jokes, “I got paid a lot of money for getting forecasts wrong,”) she eventually focused on her passion for the outdoors and gardening, which led her to host her own network TV show, Rebecca’s Garden from 1996 to 2008. That in turn led her to become a home and garden contributor for the national morning news program, Good Morning America. Additionally, she has written a book about gardening (Rebecca’s Garden: Four Seasons to Grow On), and she was the editor and publisher of a quarterly magazine called Seasons by Rebecca.
Today, it appears Kolls has taken yet another path. She now works from home as a global consumer strategist, helping companies understand consumer behavior—how they think, behave and shop.
On top of everything Kolls is doing, she is also the proud new owner of Stillwater Farm Store in downtown Stillwater.
What inspired her to make that leap when she already had a full-time career? “Craziness. Insanity,” Kolls says. “Actually, I think it’s because when I was young and would say to my dad, ‘Dad, I’m too tired!’ he would answer, ‘You can sleep when you’re dead.’ And that just became part of who I am.”
Regardless of her work ethic or self-proclaimed insanity, the Stillwater Farm Store venture started out as Kolls doing a favor for a friend. The original store was primarily a farm and bird store that had three employees. When Kolls discovered she had the option to buy it, she saw an opportunity to turn it into something bigger and more diverse, all the while focused on her love of the outdoors and gardening. “I spent an entire day sitting across the street, watching people go by the store,” she says. “The operative word is ‘by.’ The main signs on the store windows were for weed killers and herbicides. People who know me know I don’t support that.”
A New Direction
Kolls wanted to take the store in a different direction while remaining true to its origins. “We still have farm stuff to keep past customers happy, but we also give people who are in town for the day something, too,” she says. “We needed [to stock] merchandise people wanted. I chose merchandise based on whether it was something I would buy, and those things are lifestyle in nature. I spent days poring over catalogs and online sites, looking for merchandise, and always asking, ‘Is this rooted in nature?’” The new types of items include products for children and the home, as well as foods and an expanded area dedicated to pets.
The store stocks as many local products as possible, such as food from Jamazing!, Firebuggz fishing poles for s’mores making, and OneLogFire, all Minnesota companies. They also carry jams from Tin Roof Market in River Falls. Additionally, the store prepares its own high-quality birdseed mixes in-house, and Kolls reports that they make 1,000 pounds of it each week.
Kolls wants to make her business more than just a store. “I want this to be an experience,” she says. “My yellow British lab, Cash, comes with me to the store and greets everyone. We have [food] samples and music. Sometimes we even turn up the volume and make everyone dance.”
The strategy must be working, because her staff has grown from three to 12 people, which allows Kolls to stay focused on her work as a global consumer strategist. “They’re great people,” she says. “I can run [the store] from afar.”
Strategies yet to be implemented as of press time include developing a possible partnership with local restaurants to teach classes on pairing fresh produce and herbs with wine, and possibly starting some classes at the store. “I already have a list of people who want to take classes,” Kolls says. “It’s just taking the time to get them in place.” She’s also considering classes on gardening and beekeeping (another one of her passions), as well as special one-time classes on making edible ornaments, or perhaps a children’s workshop on making nesting balls with found organic objects.
Kolls notes that these classes would make great holiday gifts for loved ones. “There are lots of holiday options that are so fun and meaningful,” she says. “We’ll have early-season starter packs, for example. We’ll also have one employee who will beef up the bird feed section with displays that tell you what will attract which bird, so people can give the gift of birding or nature, something that will last a long time. What could be better than that?”
Outside of the store, Kolls is an empty-nester who enjoys work and travel, as well as her free time on the St. Croix River. “I’ve lived in Hudson since 1995, and I’m right on the St. Croix,” she says. During the warmer months, she and Cash paddleboard early in the morning. “I’m so drawn to water that I don’t know what I would do without it. When I worked in the Cities, no matter how bad a day was, once I got to the St. Croix, it just made it all better.”
When it comes to life in Hudson, she says, “I love living in a small town and all that comes with it. Festivals, parades, all kinds of events, but they’re all so navigable. It’s not overwhelming, like something as big as the State Fair. You can get around, see people, and enjoy it.”
When asked if she would consider a return to television, Kolls says, “I don’t have any current plans in that area. I would think about it, if something came along. But TV work is very demanding. I loved my time on Rebecca’s Garden. That was probably the highlight of my professional life. It paid for my passion. I had an excellent team that I’ve worked with over the years and it was the most creative job I’ve had. It was also educational, going both ways—I learned a lot and taught a lot. It would be hard to top that. And right now, I’m very fulfilled with all that I have going on.”