Downtown businesses have long put up displays to encourage window shopping — a new phenomenon in Blooming Prairie, however, its shops and offices are putting up book pages to encourage “window reading.”
Organized by the Blooming Prairie Branch Library, the town now has its own StoryWalk along Main Street consisting of separate children’s book pages spaced out in shop windows up and down the historic district. Started by Anne Ferguson in Vermont over a decade ago, the StoryWalk initiative has now found unique relevance as a socially distanced activity for families during the pandemic.
In mid-June, the Blooming Prairie Branch Library installed its own StoryWalk by placing the pages of an illustrated children’s book in the windows of Main Street businesses. This month, families can walk up and down either side of the road to find and read “Over in the Meadow” by Jane Cabrera.
Library branch manager Nancy Vaillancourt said she chose this title in large part because it’s a counting book, making it easier for children to know they’ve found the correct next page as they tally more and more animals throughout the story. In all, there are 11 pages posted separately along Main Street.
“It has some bright, colorful illustrations that are large enough to see, and one other thing that makes it nice is that it’s numbered,” added Vaillancourt. “People can make sure they’re going in the right direction.”
The story runs up and down the length of the town’s historic business district, with the first page located at the Home Sellers of Minnesota office on the corner of Main Street and Hwy. 218. Readers can then continue along the south side of the street, before crossing at Second Avenue and returning back on the other side of the road. The story ends at TT Motorcycles.
“I’ve had some parents say that their kids are so excited to find the next page, they don’t even finish reading the first one,” laughed Vaillancourt, of the fact that the StoryWalk is also part scavenger hunt.
She added that at the beginning of next week, the library will switch out the window displays with a new story that will stay up for the month of July. Right now, the plan is to have a third book up in August and then evaluate from there to see if there’s enough interest for continuing into the fall.
While the idea itself has been around for a while, trademarked by Ferguson, this is the first time a StoryWalk has come to Blooming Prairie. In this case, Vaillancourt said the idea was to give families a socially distanced activity while in-library programming is suspended during the pandemic.
For the community, business owner Amy Doerhoefer added that the library is often not only a source of reading activities for children, but of physical activity as well. “The library programs are always known for being active events, not just stationary,” she said.
Her accounting office — Johnson, Doerhoefer & Miner, P.A. — is one of the businesses with a page in its window. Doerhoefer said she was first contacted for the project by the Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, which sent out an email asking for interested businesses. Doerhoefer got in touch with the library and the rest is history. Now, as she works in the office, she’s been able to see quite a few people interacting with the display.
“We noticed quite a few families last week, usually an adult with one or two children and sometimes even just adults on a walk will stop and read them,” she added.
One of Doerhoefer’s coworkers even made some additional decorations for the window, with a large stop sign encouraging people to “read here.” In this way, Doerhoefer added that the project has gotten the larger community involved, as well.
“We were just very excited to be part of helping kids read when the library was closed this summer and give them an option to continue to read over the summer and get them outdoors, as well,” she said.
While Vaillancourt added that StoryWalks are often placed along nature trails or in parks, she wanted to put its along Main Street to keep everything safe from the weather. It also had the added benefit of getting families downtown, especially after Blooming Prairie lost one of its beloved downtown gathering spaces when The Bakery burned down in January.
“When The Bakery was there, a lot of people stopped in for that,” she said. “We lost that bakery and we need to still keep getting people downtown.”