Searching for gnomes, visiting local shops and stopping at the park

Item photo by Kolleen Long One of the great things about visiting Kutztown is exploring the many local businesses. The Frying Dutchman is a made-to-order doughnut shop offering unique and delicious treats; the Firefly bookstore next door has thousands of used and new titles and plenty of space to browse.

It all started about a week ago, when my son’s music teacher mentioned a doughnut place near her house where they make the treats fresh to order for a mere 90 cents. When she mentioned that a great bookstore is located right next door, well, the die was cast and our next Fun Friday was planned for Kutztown.

Back in 1755, George (Coots) Kutz first purchased the land that would become Kutztown. The area officially incorporated as a borough in 1815, making it the second oldest borough in Berks County after Reading. A quick online search reveals Kutztown as the home of artists (like Keith Haring and Gary Mark Smith) as well as athletes (Bruce Harper, John Mobley and more). Of course, Kutztown is also known for Kutztown University, and the population swells during the academic year. For our visit, however, college was on break and the Main Street shops were ours for the exploring.

First, though, we decided to make a slight detour. I had earlier stumbled across a web site, roadsideamerica.com, a self-described listing of the quirky, ironic and other oddities. They listed a “giant gnome statue” near Kutztown off Old 22, with a smaller gnome carving nearby. How could we resist?

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Indeed, a large carved statue stands on the parking lot of Hudson Motor Cars. A man working on one of the vehicles came out to talk to us. We learned the gnome was carved about 8 years ago as a solution to a “nuisance” tree, one that kept getting tangled in electrical wires. My daughter was delighted with the giant Gnome and his “brothers,” carved in a smaller tree across the street at a related business. My son was more fascinated by the classic Hudson cars on display at the small facility.

We piled back in the car and headed to Kutztown itself. First on our stop was the aforementioned doughnut shop, the Frying Dutchman. As we walked in, a new batch of dough was pulled off the mixer, and the friendly cashier/cook explained the process: each individual doughnut is cooked to order and topped with the customer’s choice of flavors (we selected blueberry crumb, snicker’d and butterfingers). She demonstrated the “hopper,” an old-school device that drops a measured and shaped piece of dough into the hot oil for cooking.

“And then you wait the longest 90 seconds of your life,” she joked, as the dough travels through the cooking oil, is flipped and then dumped, hot and fragrant, into a waiting bin. Toppings of your choice are then added. Within minutes, we tasted the delicious results. My son was so impressed, he pulled out his own personal money and bought a second doughnut: French toast. For our budget, we included three doughnuts plus coffee and juice for a total of $8.95.

Main Street is full of shops, and we decided to check out Firefly, the bookstore next door. Just two years old, this shop is jammed full of more than 43,000 used and new books, plus an assortment of stationary, stuffed animals, games and calendars. A worker wandered over to our group and engaged my son in a discussion on classic junior literature, like Tom Swift, and pointed out other series he might like. To our joy, he also told us of the day’s Facebook special: all children’s books were buy one-get one free. This greatly expanded the five dollars my children had to spend, and each was able to find two new-to-them books to add to their bookshelves. That brought our total for the day to just over $19.

Still buzzing from our sugary doughnuts and flying high with our new book buys, we made one more stop in our Kutztown outing: the park. Located on Main Street, this park is actually one of our favorites, and we stop several times throughout the summer. The park is much bigger than it appears from the road, and features the usual slides, swings and other playground items under cover of large trees. The park also has a band shell (home to a summer concert series), scooter shed, sand volleyball pits, other playing fields, and lots of pavilions and picnic tables. What I like best about it, though, are the many grassy areas, dotted with trees for shade and benches for sitting. We ambled around the park for about an hour, and to keep boredom at bay, I challenged the kids to an impromptu scavenger hunt.

Once your kids move up in age, a park with a playground does not hold their attention as long as it used to do. We’ve found fun scavenger hunts (I.E, can you find a stick as long as your leg? How about a pine comb the length of your thumb?) are a great way to keep us moving around a park. Our kids are sadly competitive, and raced around the park looking for their finds. My youngest was thrilled to end up with one more item than her brother, but we agreed the Fun Friday in Kutztown was a win for all of us.

Bonus – Remember those books we bought earlier? An added benefit for the drive home was the blissful silence in the backseat, broken only by the sound of an occasional page turning.