"Would you like a cup of coffee?" I'd just wandered into the new Duluth Trading Co. store in Mount Horeb on a brutally cold Wisconsin day. I turned, and a pleasant middle-aged woman in jeans and khaki vest motioned me over to a quiet alcove, where she proceeded to brew a cup of coffee for me. "Cream or sugar?" I was sold.
The Duluth Trading Co. catalog, with its homespun illustrations and whimsical cover art, has been a favorite in our house for years. Its products are solid, simple and never wear out.
The company was started in 1989 by two brothers in Duluth, who'd designed a tool bucket called the Bucket Boss. Its headquarters were a barge in Lake Superior. The mail-order company changed hands and names, but really took off in 2002 with the invention of the beloved Longtail T ("the solution to Plumber's Butt"). The Duluth Trading Co.'s call and distribution center is now located in Belleville, Wis.
The Mount Horeb store is its first bricks-and-mortar retail outlet. For hardware-store fans, and hard- and not-so-hard-working men and women, it's a little bit of heaven.
First, the surroundings. While sipping your coffee, you can relax in Mission-style chairs and browse through a few shelves of books (everything from The Engineers' Blackbook to Totally Irresponsible Science). Tucked into another alcove is the Wally Keller Tool Museum, with enough gadgets and thingamabobs to make any tradesman or weekend DIY-er weep for joy.
For the guys: finally, a place where they can get into the shopping experience. There's a men's apothecary, stocked with lilac vegetal aftershave (my dad's fave); No Crack hand cream ($6/4 oz. jar), the best I've encountered; neck dusters; and Anti-Monkey Butt anti-friction powder.
And they'll find clothes to fall in love with - clothes that bear up to manly tasks. In addition to the Longtail T ($15-$20), there's Ballroom Jeans ("Crouch without the ouch"), sturdy jeans with a gusseted crotch ($34.50); Fire Hose Workwear - a clothing line "Tough as blazes, broken-in soft" (Duluth Trading Co. goes in for catchphrases big-time); and Buck Naked Underwear ("So comfortable they're like wearing nothing at all").
Hard-working women aren't left out either. There's a good selection of stylish/sensible workclothes similar to the men's. I particularly loved the Women's Overachiever Overalls ($59.50), which come in a red-stripe ticking perfect for Badger games; and Bogs, crayon-colored waterproof boots.
There are too many other wonderful things to go into in this short space: slide whistles, a curtain of antique plumb bobs, old-fashioned corn poppers. So do the manly thing: Brave the five roundabouts (easy: yield to the left), grab a burger and a beer at the Grumpy Troll, and get shopping.
Duluth Trading Co.
100 W. Main St., Mount Horeb
Mon.-Wed. 9 am-6 pm, Thurs.-Sat. 9 am-8 pm, Sun. 11 am-5 pm.