Big City, Small Town: Past Master

Once a mill and lumber town, Cedarburg, Wis., capitalizes on its history to become a charming small-town getaway.

Jimmy the Popcorn Man, clad in red and white stripes, hands me a little box — striped just like him — of hot, buttery popcorn. It's the perfect way to top off a day spent time traveling (OK, shopping!) in Cedarburg, Wis.

Some 150 years ago, when folks came to this area 20 miles north of Milwaukee, water from Cedar Creek powered mills for grain, lumber and wool. These days, Cedarburg offers glimpses of the past — with its Pioneer Village living history museum, last remaining covered bridge in the state and buildings dating to the mid-1800s — but the old structures have been converted into shops, restaurants, galleries and a winery.

Today, I'm here with my girls, and it's all about shopping. We discover, in our excursion, an interesting mix of old and new.

At Lillies Goods, a fair-trade shop, we peruse metal peace dove sculptures, Tibetan prayer flags and Green 3 Organic Love onesies for babies. I select a tiny Buddha, a nod to ancient wisdom and a reminder to live in the moment.

As we explore Heritage Lighting Gallery, our eyes are drawn upward, toward dozens of antique chandeliers, romantic sconces and glowing overhead lamps. A sassy little brass cupid flies high above me, bejeweled light bulb in his hands.

But there's no good spot for him to fly at my house, so I content myself with a cunning little set of kitten dishes from Frill Unique Gifts & Wishful Things, where the home decor items are handmade by artisans.

Meanwhile, in Cedar Creek Settlement, more shops fill the high-ceilinged, wood-beamed interior of the old Wittenberg Woolen Mill. My favorite for luxurious browsing is Robin's Nest Antique & Gifts with its delightful combination of jewelry, greeting cards, clothing, antique baubles and amusing trinkets.

But the most amusing blast from the past is around the corner at Creekside Antiques, where the eclectic collection includes Elvis movie posters and smiley-faced Have A Nice Day cookie jars. I spy an Old Milwaukee glass and pick it up for my husband.

Now, everyone knows that girls can't shop without lunch, so we continue our past-meets-present theme at Anvil Pub & Grille. This cozy dining spot is housed in a renovated 19th century blacksmith forge. Bruschetta piled high with tomatoes and cheese, plus burgers provide the perfect break between bargains.

For one last old-fashioned experience, we visit Jimmy the Popcorn Man on the way back to our car. Although it's a classic, striped-awning, wood wagon, Jimmy serves his fresh, hot treat with modern toppings: cheddar, cinnamon, even Cajun spice. We load up for the ride home and ease back into the present.

Old Milwaukee

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