There was a time - just a few decades ago - when downtown Fort Dodge was the shopping hub of the city. That was followed by some difficult years when retail commerce substantially disappeared from what had been historically the commercial heart of the community.
During the last few there has been a rebirth of Central Avenue and nearby venues as a shopping destination. This retail renaissance features an array of small shops many of which are unique, heartfelt expressions of the specialized interests or talents of their owners.
The decision by Jan Dencklau to relocate her business ventures - Design Two and Maxine's Coffee - to Central Avenue and 12th Street is very much part of this trend. She said it is a marketing advantage to have her shop close to the other specialty stores on 12th Street between Central Avenue and First Avenue South - Tillies Quilts, Studio Fusion, Xessorize, Faith Works and Bridal Visions by LD.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Jan Dencklau, owner of Design Two, located at 1109 Central Ave., poses with a selection of Valentine’s Day items available in her shop.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Dencklau tries one of the scented hand lotions she has available for sale in her shop.
Dencklau said this grouping of complementary, boutique-style stores is helping make that part of downtown an appealing shopping destination for a diverse customer population, thereby, helping all the shops succeed.
"We're hopeful that there will be more shops that come in and there will be a nice little area for people to come," she said.
Design Two is now located at 1109 Central Ave. Dencklau's companion enterprise - Maxine's Coffee - does business through the drive-through window at The Dariette, 17 S. 12th St., which is just across the street. Maxine's Coffee is open year-round, while The Dariette is primarily a warm-weather venture. The primarily morning hours at Maxine's Coffee complement the afternoon and evening focus at The Dariette during those months when both establishments are open, Dencklau said.
Dencklau opened Design Two in 2003 in Crossroads Mall. It subsequently moved to 125 N. 27th St. Since October 2012, its home has been a historic building on the corner of southwest corner of Central Avenue and 12th Street.
Design Two features an array of gift and home decor merchandise. Additionally, Dencklau said there is a selection of kitchen accessories, gourmet food, jewelry, scarves, personal items and much, much more. The store also has a children's department and has an ever-changing selection of seasonal products.
Dencklau does the buying for the store. She said she works hard to find products that are both not readily available elsewhere locally and are things that would appeal to her if she were the customer.
"I prefer to have things that are more unique," she said. "Over the years, I have just chosen things that I like, rather than trying to figure out what other people like. ... I do all my own gift buying. ... That's one of the most fun jobs."
Dencklau said she was motivated to launch the store originally in part because she loves the creative side of decorating her own home and finds it satisfying to help others discover just the right gift or decorative product to fulfill their particular goals.
"I like to feature unique home decor and gift items for the person that is hard to buy for," Dencklau said. "We are willing to make suggestions to help them find the right gift. ... As you get to know your customers you get to help them more thoroughly - knowing what their likes and dislikes are."
Having the right merchandise for sale is one key to business success, but Dencklau said attentive service is crucial to the repeat business that keeps a store successful.
"We will carry out their bags," she said. "We will wrap it for free. We will order something I don't have enough of. ... It's all about customer service."
Maxine's Coffee, just across the street from Design Two features espresso, beverages and fruit smoothies and tasty baked goods including scones, cookies, muffins. Dencklau stressed that she does the baking herself at home.
While Maxine's Coffee currently provides drive-through service only, the patio area at The Dariette will be available during warmer months.
Dencklau said getting to know the preferences of regular patrons is an important part of the business strategy for Maxine's Coffee.
"We always say, 'We don't know their name. We know what they drink,'" she said.
Meet Jan Dencklau
Jan Levene grew up in Pocahontas and graduated from Pocahontas High School in 1979. She studied at the University of Northern Iowa, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in therapeutic recreation and subsequently worked at Trinity Regional Medical Center for 15 years. She is married to John Dencklau who is president of Dencklau Insurance Services. The Dencklaus have two daughters. Ashley, 22, is a graduate of Iowa State University. Anna, 19, is attending Iowa Central Community College. Both daughters graduated from St. Edmond High School. They also both are part of the team at Design Two.
The hours for Maxine's Coffee are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to noon. Design Two is open Mondays from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.