Historic building provides great venue for Utica business

Published: Feb. 12, 2021 at 1:02 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - When you think of an old cottonwood, you might think of the Nebraska state tree. But the name “Old Cottonwood” also applies to a fun store in Seward County.

Leah and Brent Daehling grew up going to garage sales, thrift stores and auctions. Now, the couple runs a business called “Old Cottonwood”. The business focuses on finding, selling and re-purposing antiques, along with fixing old furniture. “We are kind of big in farm primitives,” Brent said. “We both grew up on farms. That’s kind of where we lean towards. We love the history of things. We love it when there’s story behind it, and our customers do, too.”

Leah is from Elgin, and Brent is from the Staplehurst area. You could say the couple’s rural roots are reflected in the items they sell. Even the name of the store has a tie to Leah’s life growing up in rural Nebraska. “It actually was a tree on my grandparent’s farm outside of Elgin, and it was the old cottonwood tree,” Leah said. “That’s just what we called it. You had to drive around it on the farm, so it was a central part of the farm.”

While the antiques and primitives that Leah and Brent offer to customers are eye-catching, the building where their business is housed, is a treasure all its own. It started out as a mercantile. “In 1903, a man named Zumwinkel opened it,” Brent said. “And there’s a story in a centennial book that I like to read, that tells how kids would come in the store, and he would give candy to the little kids. They called him Zummie.” Then the Jones Brothers rented it as a grocery store. “They eventually bought it, and a couple of buildings as well. They also had a variety store,” Brent said. “We have signs up on our wall from the original Jones store, so we are pretty excited about getting those.”

A few years ago, Leah and Brent got a chance to buy the building. “I happened to be going by, coming from an auction one day, and I thought, why haven’t we checked in Utica?” Brent said. “I drove by this building, and there was a big for sale sign in the window, and I’m like, we have to look at this.” Leah says the first time they looked at the building, they knew it was a place they wanted to be. “It had a drop ceiling in it and the walls were drywall. The floors were covered with new click wood. Still, we were like, there’s got to be brick walls, a tin ceiling, or wood floors,” Brent said. It turns out, they were right. The building had all the “bones” they were looking for. “It turned out almost better than we had imagined,” Brent said. “We didn’t think we’d ever find a building that we wanted, that we had pictured in our mind, but it turned out to be this and more. It was exciting. We put a lot of work into it.”

Now the owners of Old Cottonwood are excited to welcome shoppers, and they get visitors from near and far. “We get a lot of travelers from an hour or hour and a half from our store,” Brent said. “But the amazing part is since we are close to the interstate, we get people from Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and we’ve actually had people from Tennessee.” They come looking for antiques, primitives, and items re-purposed into furniture. And like an old cottonwood, this business is ready to stand tall on the prairie for a long time to come.

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