Pine Cone Place, a Caledonia institution will be changing hands

Soon-to-be new owner of the Pine Cone Place in downtown Caledonia Polly Heberlein, is flanked by current owners PJ Johnson, at left and Sharon Schoeberl. Photo by Charlie Warner

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

A Caledonia business, which has been a downtown institution for more than 30 years, will be changing hands at the end of the month. Sharon Schoeberl and PJ Johnson recently announced the sale of  Pine Cone Place to Polly Heberlein.

Schoeberl and Johnson are currently gearing up for a farewell sale, which will be held Jan. 25 through Jan. 28 to liquidate much of their inventory.

The very popular gift store will be closed from Jan. 30 until Feb. 8, as the change in ownership will take place. Heberlein has scheduled a grand re-opening event from Feb. 9 through Feb. 11.

What started out as a hobby for two young ladies in Caledonia more than 40 years ago developed into one of the larger and more popular gift stores in the Tri-State area.

Schoeberl, who was a home economics teacher at Caledonia Area High School, and Caledonia resident Shirley Morey learned the art of making wreaths and table centerpieces out of pine cones from Grace Staggemeyer. After doing a little experimenting, the two ladies started selling the pine cone items.

It didn’t take long before Schoeberl and Morey’s handiwork became so popular that they went on the road…to area craft shows. People bought up everything the two ladies could produce. Soon they expanded to silk flower arrangements.

They set up a workshop in the Schoeberl basement and would hold open houses, where they would display their wares at the Morey house.

The business continued to grow. They decided to open up a small gift shop on Second Street, which was open in the spring from March 1 to Mother’s Day weekend and from Sept. 1 until Christmas. Both ladies were rasing families at the time and the summer and winter breaks gave them enough time to still tend to their families.

In the late 1980s, Schoeberl and Morey decided to take the next step. Tom DeWitz had a storefront open up in the building he owned on South Kingston Street in downtown Caledonia. They moved all of their craft and gift items into the store, got everything set up and were ready for business. But they needed a name. Pine Cone Place was the natural answer.

The two entrepreneurs remained in the DeWitt building for 10 years. In the mid-1990s, the Ben Franklin Store, just three doors down, closed. The building was home to Ever’s Variety Store for a short time and then sat empty. Schoeberl and Morey decided it was time to expand into a larger venue.

The massive 6,000 square foot building was purchased, with the help of an EDA loan, in late 1998 and after quite a bit of remodeling, Pine Cone Place opened for business at 120 South Kingston.

“It took us most of the winter to remodel the interior,” Schoeberl said, as she scanned the expansive gift store. “Shirley and I splurged when we bought those curio cabinets,” she added, pointing to some lighted, glass-front showcases that were home to glass figurines.

“We’d go to market and see all these lovely items and get so excited, planning how we would display them,” Schoeberl continued.

Over the years the two ladies saw many fads come and go, including Beanie Babies, Precious Moments and the always-popular Hummel figurines. They continued to increase the inventory in the store and also to delve into new lines.

About 20 years ago Johnson and her husband Louie moved to the Caledonia area.

“The first time I walked into this store, I fell in love with it,” Johnson recalled. “There were so many different displays. There was so much to look at. I told Sharon and Shirley if they ever wanted to sell the business, I wanted it.”

Johnson started working at Pine Cone Place on a part-time basis about 12 years ago.

When Morey’s health failed her in 2007, Johnson bought Morey out. Schoeberl’s original partner passed away several months later.

“Sharon and Shirley developed such a wonderful gift store,” Johnson noted. “And with that, a large and very loyal trade area. We have customers coming from all over the Tri-State area. It’s at least a 60 to 70-mile radius. And we have a lot of folks, who used to live here and return to visit relatives and must make a stop at Pine Cone Place. It’s become a tradition for many people.”

Johnson said one of the biggest drawing cards at Pine Cone Place is the massive inventory and how everything is displayed.

“Sharon and Shirley had a real passion for coming up with such attractive displays. They were able to make things look good together,” Johnson added.

For a first time visitor to Pine Cone Place, it is impossible to take it all in, unless you’ve got an entire day. The 6,000 square-foot building is filled top to bottom with a myriad of attractive displays.

And for Schoeberl and Johnson, changing the many displays to reflect the upcoming seasons is a full-time job in itself.

This time of year, they are preparing for Valentine’s Day and a touch of spring. As soon as Valentine’s Day has passed, it’s Easter and the spring season. Then comes Mother’s Day, graduations and wedding registries. Schoeberl noted that the summer wedding season really keeps them on their toes.

Once the kids are back in school, Pine Cone Place takes on the colors of fall. Then it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We try not to push the Christmas season too early,” Schoeberl said. “We don’t want to offend anyone by pushing the season. Although in the middle of winter, they do like to see us getting out the spring stuff..

“We employ a lot of part-time people to help us, especially high school girls,” Schoeberl stated. “Over the years, we’ve had a lot of wonderful employees.”

When asked what she has enjoyed the most about being a part of Pine Cone Place, Johnson said it was working with the customers. “I really have enjoyed getting to know the people and visiting with them.”

Schoeberl replied that there was never a day that she didn’t look forward to going to work. “I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed going to market, finding out about new things and then figuring out how we could display the new items and lines. There was always something new.”

And what are the two ladies planning to do to occupy their time once Feb. 1 rolls around?

“I’m just going to let it ride,” Schoeberl said with a smile. “We’ll do some traveling and I may help Polly out.”

Johnson said her husband retired about four years ago and now with her getting out of the retail business, they plan to do some traveling as well.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]