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Small Town Profile: Minocqua WI

Not every small town needs to be visited during 'peak' season. Some are just as nice when there are not as many people. Granted, you miss the festivals, the special concerts, and the parades but what you gain is pretty nice. Nice quiet strolls through town. Such is the case with Minocqua, WI.

This town of just over 4,000 people pops out of the woods and lake country of Northern Wisconsin and during the summer this place is alive. Many a city folk make the four-plus hour trek up from Madison, Milwaukee, or Chicago to take in the boating, colors, and small town charm. But in the winter, it's bare. Basically in Minocqua you have two seasons, one is when Paul Bunyan's Cook Shanty is open and you wait an hour to get inside the building, and the other season is when it is closed.

So, I spent a Thursday afternoon checking it out with not too many other people walking the main street.

When you arrive on the Island, as it is referred to by the locals, you will notice that there is a one-way street going through the old downtown. This is the main spot for great local shops, antiques, restaurants, and views of the water. The main focal point of this strip is the Gaslight Square Shops. This is a cool building with interior shops with cobblestone hallways and the town's best antiques on the 2nd floor. If you want a quick treat or gift to bring home with you, check out Kilwins Chocolate, Fudge & Ice Cream, Dan's Fudge, or Minocqua Popcorn. As far as food is concerned, you have some decent sushi at Kobe Sushi, a really nice diner at the Island Café, as well as your classic pubs and boathouse restaurants.

During my time in Minocqua, I never pass up going to a wonderful toy store called Imaginuity or Northern Waters Distillery. Yes, a toy store and moonshine don't usually go together, but I love them both because they really show how much people care in the town. Imaginuity is a classic toy store with items for all ages and interests. They are not a trinket store but a finely curated selection of items. Northern Waters is a wonderful story of a family starting small and doing their craft so well that they are expanding. Their family business is 100% science and 100% art, and you will experience both as you check out their new digs. They just recently expanded from a little house 'on the island' to a full-fledged distillery and tasting room just south of the bridge on Hwy 51.

So take some time to check out a small town around you in the off-season and give some of those shop owners your patronage.

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