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Behind Mama's Happy: A conversation with Amanda Ficek (Part 1)

On a dusty Saturday afternoon, I head west. A dot on the map, Independence is full of open spaces, curvy roads and horse farms. And a gem of a shop called Mama’s Happy. I pull up and make my way inside the store. I’m surrounded by upcycled treasures, reclaimed wooden benches, handmade jewelry and lavender-scented candles.

In the middle of the store sits a work station. A handful of women huddle around, chatting about the best place to hang an antique mirror.

I tentatively approach the group.

“I’m looking for Amanda?” I say. They tell me she’s in the back but will be right up. The look on their faces is curious, so I explain myself and my laptop.

“I’m working on a project,” I say. “I’m interviewing entrepreneurs who have taken a risk and gone for their dreams.”

They look at each other. Then one woman says, “That’s our Amanda!”

At that moment, a curly-haired, petite woman in shorts and a flowy t-shirt breezes through the store. She smiles at me. “Maggie?”

She takes me out back to a patio and we sit, surrounded by chickens, their family dog and various passing co-workers and kids.

“So,” I begin, the birds chirping and dog’s tailing thumping at my feet putting me at ease. “My goal is to learn more about you. How did you make this leap from being in corporate sales to stay-at-home-mom to now, store owner of four shops?”

She laughs. Then she begins to tell me her journey.

An urban dweller, Amanda and her husband liked their life in the city. Their Minneapolis bungalow suited their family of five. But Amanda had the itch for more. And less. More space, less traffic. More neighborhood barbecues, less noise. They decided to rent a 10-acre hobby farm 25 miles west of Minneapolis for a year, just to see if they liked it.

“Instantly, we knew it was the best thing we’d ever done,” she says.

As they were getting settled into their new digs, a friend invited Amanda to Buffalo.

“I was like, Buffalo? What’s in Buffalo?” She laughs.

Turns out, a lot. The first weekend of every month, Buffalo opens up its town to hundreds of city dwellers through the avenue of occasional shops. Stores with names like Jute, Twine & Burlap, The Cottage Door, and Artsy Jewel entice shoppers with their vintage and reclaimed finds.

Amanda was intrigued. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

An empty storefront in Mound gave her the courage to inquire — and dream — about her own shop. A few weeks later, Mama’s Happy opened its doors. An occasional shop, open the first weekend of every month, just like the shops in Buffalo.

Only, there weren’t other shops. Amanda hoped that other entrepreneurs and restaurant owners would follow suit and open their own doors, creating a vibrant atmosphere.

But they didn’t. And while the store was successful, the landlord decided to sell to Walgreen’s.

Defeated, Amanda watched her store — and her dream — get torn down.

“Everyone kept telling me about a spot for sale on County Road 6 I should look at,” she says. “But I was set on Mound. I loved that area.”

When Amanda didn’t call the owner, the owner called her. They had an honest conversation. Amanda told her their family couldn’t afford to buy a house (they were still renting the hobby farm in Mound) and a building for her business.

So the Ficeks took a risk. They bought the space and made it into both Mama’s Happy and their home.

“Part of me started thinking, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’” Amanda says. “It wouldn’t work and we’d have to sell it. I guess, I just stopped being afraid.”

Those are the five words that literally take my breath away. At the time, my husband and I were wrestling with our own decision to sell our house and move to the country. But fear kept getting in the way. I smile, nod and continue typing frantically — trying to capture every word.

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