WLA Features: Downtown New London
By Bailey Hovland
The charm of small-town America is alluring. We see it romanticized on TV shows like Gilmore Girls and in almost every holiday Hallmark movie—the staple local restaurants and familiar faces everywhere you go. Yet in the Willmar Lakes Area, that small-town fantasy is a reality. The close-knit community, local stores, and specialty eats are all too real in the heart of Downtown New London.
While Rory and Lorelai depended on Luke’s Diner for their (excessive) coffee needs, visitors can try New London’s Lake Affect Coffee. From various roasts of black coffee to specialty drinks of the week, this local café has everything you need to get your daily fix of caffeine. I usually opt for a cup of plain black coffee but have developed a certain affinity for their amaretto latte. And while I’m there, I always look through the books that line the coffee shop’s walls (courtesy of Flyleaf Bookshop). Flyleaf is a bookstore that sells gently used books, keeping up with the latest reading trends and stocking the classics. They share the space with Lake Affect Coffee, giving you a café and a bookstore in one space. With coffee in hand and a new book tucked away in your purse, you can settle in on the banks of Mill Pond for a peaceful afternoon of literature and lattes.
The Gilmore gals also made Luke’s Diner their favorite breakfast spot, which reminds me of Middle Fork Café in Downtown New London. They have food for every occasion—and when I say every, I mean EVERY occasion. Their specialty cakes are perfect for throwing a birthday party or celebrating an anniversary, while their drinks are ideal for a ladies’ night out. Their breakfast dishes are hearty and fulfilling, with quiches and omelets and French toast. And their lunch specials keep it fresh, with a wide variety of salads and sandwiches that are sure to please the whole family. With this much variety combined with the small-town charm, even Lorelai and Rory might be tempted to make Middle Fork their go-to eatery.
Of course, this small town doesn’t just have good food and coffee to offer: there’s also an impressive array of local boutiques for everyone in your life. The Rugged Sun has quality clothes for men, featuring brands like Kuhl, Marmot, and Patagonia. And The Happy Sol offers that same quality to women, stocking Hudson jeans and Free People tops. Mill Pond Mercantile is the perfect place to buy gifts, like candles and Nordic Ware kitchen items, and was voted the Best Gift Shop in MN by WCCO’s viewers. Ali J Boutique is a fresh store who knows the upcoming trends, while Camille’s Closet is a thrift store with all the classic trends. And Finley Florence Bridal is there to help you shop for your special day, with Mill Pond Salon across the street to make your entire wedding party look ready for a magazine.
And the local businesses don’t stop at café’s and boutiques: there’s also an incredible local brewery just down Central Avenue. Goat Ridge Brewing Company has a unique selection of beers, ranging from spiced porters to milk stouts to seasonal lagers. Their patio area is the ideal spot to spend an evening with family or friends, sipping on craft beer and sharing stories.
Downtown New London is truly a hidden gem in Minnesota, melding unique boutiques, incredible restaurants, and natural beauty into one community. So make sure this small town is on your “To Do” list when you come visit the Willmar Lakes Area.
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