BELDEN — Chris and Misti Aldrich moved their family from Omaha to Belden, looking for a break from big-city living and big-city stresses.
They sold their home, bought a camper and moved on to the Ed and Cindy Ridenour - Misti’s parents - property five miles south of town in September 2020.
The move was never intended to be permanent.
“It was always, we’re not staying here. We’re going back to Omaha. We weren’t necessarily part of the community, not having the personal connections,” Misti said.
That all changed when she started working at Down Home Bar & Grill.
“That was the turning point of even thinking about this place (as home),” she said. “I got to know the people serving them lunch every day. They weren’t just a farmer driving down the road. I knew their name and they knew me.”
Then, Misti became involved with the local library and planned the town’s first annual Halloween Boo Bash and also the town’s Christmas celebration with Santa.
The Aldriches purchased a home in town one year ago. And most recently decided to invest in the community that has invested so much in them as newcomers.
They purchased Cookie’s Castaways antique shop last December from Lois “Cookie” DeKay of Randolph with plans to transform the space into a restaurant.
“I wish I could’ve kept it up,” DeKay said, adding that her health forced the decision to sell. “My customers are my friends.”
But she was so impressed by the Aldriches that she is at peace with her decision.
“I prayed to make the right decision for myself as well as the town,” DeKay said.
Misti and her daughters, Rebekah, 17, Savannah, 8, and Chloe, 5, first started helping DeKay at the store last fall. The store had not been open consistently for several years and the inventory had piled up, some of it to the ceiling.
“We’ve had to shimmy through here and not have anything knocked over. There haven’t been too many casualties,” Misti said with a smile. “It has been so much fun going through and exploring.”
Seeing that DeKay was overwhelmed, Misti asked if she had ever thought about selling it. The Aldriches eventually purchased the store and all of its remaining contents that includes a full basement underneath the store also filled with “gems.”
“We loved it for what we want to do. There’s so much history still here. It’s something we can build upon and work on. It’s not so far gone,” she said.
In an effort, to clear the antiques and make for a future restaurant, the Aldriches are hosting a renovation and rummage sale every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Belden Fire Hall with the adjacent antique store open as well.
“We need to sell things out to make room in here,” she said. “It’ll take a little while but we’re really excited.”
The hope is that the renovation and rummage sale will also net enough profits to buy restaurant equipment.
Although it will take some time, the Aldriches are relishing the process.
“I’m kind of a dreamer and my husband sees it all and cuts it up into doable pieces and then we get it done,” Misti said.
It helps that Chris has a background in construction.
“We don’t want to open it really fast and do it wrong,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting to be in phase one.”
The Aldriches would like to keep the historical elements intact during the renovation that will include electrical and new windows. The kitchen may have to be expanded as well, Chris said.
The store on Belden’s Main Street used to be a drug store. In fact, in the unearthing of treasures at the store, the Aldriches located three boxes of Belden Drug Store receipts dating back to the 1920s. The building also used to be a sundries store with living quarters on the back and a pottery store before DeKay bought it for an antique shop in 2007.
“Everyone has been so excited. We’ve had really good feedback,” Misti said. “A lot of people wanted to come in and look because they were here at the previous stores when it was a drug store and a sundries store, they’ll come in and tell me (stories).”
During its time as a sundries shop, there was also a soda fountain, Misti’s been told.
“We have yet to discover that,” she said. In keeping with the historical theme, the vision for a new restaurant at the site includes some nostalgic elements but Misti doesn’t want to divulge too much about it yet.
She hasn’t picked out paint colors yet but has a clear picture in her mind how the wait staff uniforms will look and has space set aside in the building for a party/meeting room.
“We want it to have an atmosphere to it and be a destination type place,” with themed souvenirs and other specialty items that will make it a regional draw, she said.
The hope is to invoke feelings of a simpler time where people can find comfort and smile.
“The culture is so fierce and everything is so controversial. Everyone is so offended at something and it’s like I think people need to step back and breathe and remember the simplicity of being a kid and (without) all that noise in your head,” she said.
Most of all, Misti would like to be that important connection to the community for others.
“I want to meet the people,” she said. “I think people feel lost. You have Facebook and all the social media and people have all these ‘friends’ but when you get home at night, you really don’t. It’s all a facade. I don’t want anything here to be a facade. I want people to come in and they’re noticed.”
Although they are tight-lipped on the restaurant details, the Aldriches say that they gave careful consideration as to not compete with anyone else in town.
“I read this quote and I don’t remember who said it, ‘A rising tide lifts all ships.’ That’s what I would like to be is contagious to help everybody’s business in town,” Misti said.
DeKay said she’s offered her advice and her ongoing help as the Aldriches get the venture off the ground.
“I wish them the very best. I think they’re a wonderful family and a wonderful addition to Belden,” she said.