WAYNE, Neb. | When Mark Kanitz and Lukas Rix set up shop at Rustic Treasures six years ago, the thrift store owners stated how passionate they were about making the downtown district a retail destination.
Since that time, Rix notes, around one dozen retail businesses have opened in downtown Wayne. Others have expanded. And, a leadership program organized by the Wayne Area Economic Development organization operates at capacity, offering business training, counsel and a support network for those entrenched in the risks and rewards of doing business in a city that rises in the shadow of larger retail hubs like Sioux City and Omaha.
"We've grown every year since we opened," Kanitz says of their sprawling businesses, seemingly always in expansion mode and the winner of the 2017 Business of the Year in Wayne. "We continue to exceed expectations."
The Rustic Treasures owners, who also own The Emporium and Thrift Warehouse, credit more than themselves and their customers, however. They even laud other competitive antique/salvage/thrift store operators at Highway 15 Salvage and Nana's This and That.
"If you have a handful of antique stores, you'll drive here, as you would to Walnut (Iowa)," Kanitz says, citing a western Iowa antique epicenter.
Beyond the enterprises in their genre, Kanitz credits a variety of other businesses, ranging from a brewery to clothiers to an art gallery to a popcorn store and on and on.
Jen Claussen, a 2008 Wayne State College graduate, is part of the eclectic business mix making Wayne retail tick. Claussen began working for Swans Apparel at 205 Main St. during her senior year in college. She ended up going full-time, then became manager before joining her husband, Chad Claussen, in buying the store from owner Marie Mohr three years ago this month. Mohr had owned Swans Apparel since 1982.
The Claussens represent just the fourth owners for a clothing firm in its 99th year of service in the heart of "Wayne, America."
"I began working at Swans during my senior year and I felt right at home," says Claussen, whose husband serves as chief deputy for the Cedar County Sheriff's Office. "I absolutely love Wayne and the support we get from from the development office."
The native of Emerson, Nebraska, sought to expand Swans Apparel from women's clothing to men's and women's lines, revisiting a theme the business enjoyed from 1936 to the late 1950s, when the business split and men's clothing found a place on the other side of Main Street, a few doors to the north, at 218 Main.
"Then, that business changed as Swans sold it," Claussen says.
So, for the last several decades, Swans hadn't had much of a men's clothing presence, if any. Claussen reintroduced men's clothing displays in her women's clothing store in 2017, but ran out of shelf space. She and her husband then found the storefront directly across the street and were able to purchase it in July 2017.
"We couldn't expand on either side of our women's store," she says, "so we went right across the street."
The 1913 building was home for years to Mines Jewelers. Claussen still has the Mines Jewelers safe, and has given it a new purpose as Siouxland's most interesting display rack. On Wednesday, a local couple, with assistance from Swans employee Maelynn Johnson, plucked from the safe a pair of gloves to purchase.
"The vault is part of this building, and, thankfully, we can use it in a display," Claussen says.
Johnson noted that more than one customer has been so taken with the giant piece, they've offered to buy it. For now, though, the old jewelry vault is not for sale.
"It's fun," Claussen continues. "We wanted to keep the safe as part of our respect for this site."
An old Mines Jewelry bag is framed and stands atop the safe. Nearby is a framed $2 gift certificate from the former Swans men's clothing site. The gift certificate was printed and enclosed in an envelope in 1957. A customer brought it to Claussen upon hearing she was about to expand Swans across the street.
That kind of customer commitment keeps a smile on the business owner's face as customers wander up and down Main Street and within the downtown sector, seeking "mom-and-pops" who are making ends meet offering everything from beer (Johnnie Byrd Brewing Company) to popcorn (Aqua Pop) to art (the Blue Cat Gallery).
Actually, that list is but a start. And music to the ears -- a Swans song, if you will -- to a young retailer who found her business home without ever leaving.