At the Edge of Civilization: The Gluten-Free Market Niche in Unincorporated America

Mama Bear Shoppe
Mama Bear Shoppe in Three Lakes, WI

Don’t get me wrong – sometimes there’s nothing better that hearing the silence of the stars and the chirp of a fishfinder echoing over a frozen lake.  When the rush and clutter of the city really grinds on me, I revert to a nostalgia for the summer home of my childhood: a place where the guy in the ice cream store remembers my name and the main street runs along ten storefronts on either side of town before veering off into an endless winding exploration of the forest beyond.

Building business relationships in these small American towns is a very different experience from the bustle of urban interactions.  Here, there is no room for superfluous business.  You have your doctor, your barber, and your grocer.  The local grocery store carries the basics, because nobody is going to purchase foie gras in a town where the general population prefers beer and Friday Night Fish Frys.

This all sounds somewhat disheartening for the gluten-free individuals living in these towns.  The good news, however, is that the push for eco-living and local produce has encouraged small business owners to stock their pantries with local jams and gluten-free products.

The town in the Wisconsin Northwoods where I spent my childhood has just such a store – my mother owns it.  Mama Bear Shoppe opened its doors in November of 2009 in the unincorporated vacation town of Three Lakes, Wisconsin.  Its small store footprint carries fine teas, sausages, an entire gluten-free lineup, and doubles as a massage salon.  And its popularity is growing – locals stop by for the advice and sausages, and the urbanites that flock to Three Lakes for its excellent fishing and hunting opportunities snap up the gourmet sauces and gluten-free pasta.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about the small business model is the flexibility – Mom has significantly improved her selection of gluten-free products based on customers’ requests.

Gluten-free food at Mama Bear Shoppe.
Part of the gluten-free selection at Mama Bear Shoppe.

So, if you happen to be in this little town voted the “Single Best Town in America,” stop in to the Three Lakes Winery and use your Grocery Guide to pick up some goodies at Mama Bear.

And if you have a local favorite in your little town – tell us about it!  Let the world know how much you appreciate their contribution, and how they can make your life even better.

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