Quaint and comfortable are the first impressions upon entering Lakota Made’s new store in Frost Plaza on North Riverfront Drive in Mankato. Then, proprietor Megan Schnitker brings to mind warm, welcoming and winsome.
Lakota Made creates a wide variety of personal care products from locally sourced, sustainably harvested plants and herbs. For several years, Megan and husband Ethan Schnitker have been growing Lakota Made as the primary source of income for their family.
Out of space
Lakota Made was operating completely from the Schnitker’s home, primarily based out of their second kitchen, but taking up more and more space.
“Lakota Made was starting to take over my back porch and my front porch. My upstairs hallway was lined with jars. Clare [Carroll] was shipping in my dining room and there was a nanny trying to keep my toddlers and my baby in the living room. It was chaos. Sometimes we just tried to find a place to eat.
“We had to order bulk jars and shipping boxes and all these materials. I ended up ordering seven pallets of stuff from Uline and all of a sudden, it’s all sitting in my driveway and there’s nowhere to put it,” Schnitker recalled. “We had to go buy a 10 by 20 canopy to cover it all.”
Schnitker put out a plea on Facebook, wondering if any of her friends knew of a space they could use for storage. Not for the last time, Natasha Frost, owner of Wooden Spoon and whose family owns Frost Plaza had a solution. The Lakota Made team took possession of the basement of Frost Plaza in fall of 2020 and transformed it not only into a storage solution but also their new production facility. “It went from a dark basement to a very clean white laboratory looking environment with stainless steel tables,” Schnitker said.
We’re getting a store!
Together with their online store, vendor and farmer’s markets have been a big part of Lakota Made’s business. All the hauling, packing, and unpacking took a toll and Schnitker started to feel the desire for a more permanent space.
“It’s physically demanding, it’s a workout twice a day and it’s very, very demanding. Those totes can weigh up to 80 pounds because our salves are so heavy,” she said. “There’s no way I could continue to do it because last summer I hurt my hip really bad and I wasn’t walking right and I couldn’t do vendor markets. I had to rely on Gus [DeJesus] and Ethan and Clare and it just wasn’t going to be sustainable for my 38-year-old body with rheumatoid arthritis.”
The search for a store location began, but the entire team wasn’t united behind the vision.
“My husband, Ethan and our friend Gus, who has been there since the beginning, they were like ‘No, you don’t need a store, just stick with online and vendor markets.’ I fought with them for the last three years.”
Once again, it was Natasha Frost who had an answer. Schnitker and Frost came to terms on a lease for a recently vacated space and Schnitker brought it to her team, “We did a staff meeting. I slapped the lease down and I said, we’re doing a store. And they were like ‘No,’ and I said ‘Yep, I gave her the check. I paid for the year. I got the keys.’”
A team effort
Schnitker didn’t want to stretch out the store opening, so the team rallied, and everyone got busy preparing the interior.
“For three days my husband and I went to the thrift store with our bus. We went to Vine. We went to Again Thrift Store and then my mother-in-law took us to Pond Road Market. Everything came from my house and the thrift stores,” she said.
After that, it was time to stock the products. “Now you have to help me put it together or put the products … so it took a little less than 10 days to get everything in there and open,” she said.
In addition to husband, Ethan, friend Gustavo (Gus) DeJesus, and full-time employee Clare Carroll, Schnitker is grateful for a long list of people who have come to help since Lakota Made has been in business.
“Right now, we have a new volunteer, Sabrina Mercedes. We also have Victoria Neuville, we call her Tori, who has been a teenage volunteer every Wednesday for over a year now,” she said.
I’m extremely thankful for the support from the Mankato community. I have never felt more welcome in a community, and I absolutely love Mankato.Megan Schnitker
“We have had a host of volunteers from MSU, especially from the American Indian Studies Department. Dr. Chelsea Mead has been a huge help finding students to help out. Megan Heutmaker from MSU sends us students all the time. Caleb, Nicole, and Emily, all from MSU have helped out with anything from looking up grants, washing dishes, or putting PowerPoint presentations together.”
“My daughter, Kaylee Knight, works for us. My other daughters help, down to the three-year-old. She loves to label, and she says, ‘Work? Mom, I come to work with you?’”
To the eye of most people, the fact that there was a hard rain on the first day the store was open was unfortunate. But that’s not at all how Schnitker saw it. “I was just like, oh my gosh, this is perfect because we’re in this huge drought and the day that I opened the store, it rains. I am absolutely loving this. It’s beautiful. This is awesome. In Lakota culture, it’s a blessing to have the rain.”
The new space is also going to make it much easier for Schnitker to offer her many classes.
In addition to the new retail space, “there is a second space that we are going to use as a classroom. It will be plant medicine … and we’re pretty excited about it because I do cultural teachings in the community and now, I’ll have a set space instead of trying to always find a space,” she said.
Besides the physical classroom space, Lakota Made will continue to offer a virtual option for all Schnitker’s classes.
Schnitker is aware of the impact the community has had on her ventures, “I’m extremely thankful for the support from the Mankato community. I have never felt more welcome in a community, and I absolutely love Mankato. I love the business district. I love Old Town and our family is going to stay in Mankato forever just because of the amount of support and help and friendliness.”