For Dan and Alex Cordell, business is truly a family affair. The husband-and-wife team are the creative minds behind Solid Manufacturing Co.—which produces artisan goods in leather and wood—and always seem to have new ideas up their sleeves. In November, the Cordells opened their newest venture in Excelsior: Ace General Store, a tiny-but-mighty space purveying practical gear, from clothing, boots and hats to notebooks, axes and camping equipment. Of course, this isn’t a haphazard collection. The Cordells have carefully edited the current selection, and they rotate products constantly. “We have just under 400 square feet, so we have to rotate,” Alex explains. “We feature a good amount of local makers.”
Of course, the Cordells are makers themselves. “Dan and I met making things,” Alex says. While studying furniture design (Alex) and visual arts and photography (Dan), they found themselves often in the same workshop in Minneapolis. “We graduated and both had other jobs. Eventually we decided, ‘Let’s try this.’ We had a list of products in mind and launched in 2012.” Solid Manufacturing Co. produces furniture, home goods and leather goods. “We try to focus on the unisex,” says Alex. “And we both actually used everything that we made.”
“It’s a dream come true to finally have a brick-and-mortar store,” says Dan. “And it has been made all the better to have it happen in Excelsior … We’ve had a great response. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly people understood the concept.”
In addition to their own Solid Manufacturing Co. products, Ace showcases other Minnesota craftspeople, plus some national and international brands. “Our focus is primarily on quality, and we want to have things in the shop that you can’t get anywhere else in Minnesota,” says Alex. “There’s a constant rotation, so every time you come, there will be something different.” The vibe is distinctly masculine, and the Cordells expect many of their customers to be men, but 2018 means anyone can appreciate a finely crafted fishing rod, a cool set of beer coasters or a warm hand-knit hat. (When my family and I stopped by recently, I was taken with the attractive field notebooks, and my husband picked up a new beanie from Great Lakes, a local biz.)
“I’m passionate about well-made, practical goods and opening Ace allowed us to source and share our favorites,” says Dan. “As makers, our goal was to find new local artisans along with … brands that lack a retail presence in Minnesota. It truly does take a village,” he adds. “Many of our friends came together to help us put this shop together.”
When I ask the Cordells about the current retail boom in downtown Excelsior, they say they’re happy to be part of what feels like a big family. “We definitely wanted to be a little bit different,” says Alex. “We wanted to come in at a different price point and different customers.” They count as friends and Excelsior-mentors the owners of neighboring shops like The Golden Rule, Gray Home + Lifestyle and Brightwater Clothing & Gear. “There are a lot of boutiques, but that’s the charm of Excelsior,” Alex says. “That’s why people come.”
In fact, Ace General Store occupies what was once a small carriage house adjacent to the big house (now The Golden Rule). The owner of both properties “reached out to us when [the previous tenant] left the space, and he knew we had a business idea in mind,” says Alex. “He actually called us on the day our daughter was born and told us the space was ours.” The Cordells remember last fall with fondness and a little incredulity—they opened Ace General Store in late November, 60 days after that phone call and 60 days after welcoming their little girl Elliott. “She’s definitely a shop baby,” Alex says with a laugh. “She hung out here almost every day while we got things up and running. We just had to jump in.” The Cordells even moved to Excelsior because they loved the area so much.
In addition to Elliott, Alex’s brother and a cousin round out the all-in-the-family staff at Ace. “It’s been fantastic,” she says. “We try to split up the hours so either Dan or I are almost always here. We really want to meet people in the community.” Ace feels like a place where neighbors can stop by just to say hello; the Cordells stock free Five Watt coffee every day, light an inviting campfire outside on cool evenings and hope to soon host community supper events, too. “We really want to give a little back to the community and make ourselves part of the community,” says Alex. She often refers to the concept of “experience-driven retail,” which describes the current trend: Customers are looking for more than just the stuff (after all, you can find stuff online pretty easily these days without ever having to step into a brick-and-mortar shop). Instead, visitors to Ace and similar boutiques are there partly for the experience—the ambiance, the coffee, the community events and the stories of the local makers who produce the goods.
What’s next for Ace? They’ve recently added barber services, and “our long-term concept is to have services offered at a larger location that would include a barber and a lounge area, with billiards and places to hang out,” explains Dan. “It seems to be a lost concept to have a men’s club in the age of social media, but in all that I’ve experienced, men are looking for such a place—a place to gather with friends and make new ones, or share ideas and learn new things.” So stay tuned. And in the meantime, stop by the charming general store for a hot cup of coffee and a new hat (or whatever else strikes your fancy).
Ace General Store features the work of dozens of local and regional artisans, including:
Lanona Shoe Co.
Lake & Loon
Great Lakes Co.
Five Watt Coffee