My America: Matt Trotter's Princeton, Wisconsin

by Nina Myers McCammon

Sailing Wisconsin's nearby Green Lake

I can't think of anyone better-suited to share all the hidden gems and goings-on in his small (pop. 1,200!) but culturally-abundant central Wisconsin town than Matt Trotter, a part-time, fourth-generation Princeton resident who runs the design and found object shop Teak & Soxy (444 W. Water St.) every weekend from May thru October in his great-grandfather's old factory building. "It was originally a hotel—we actually found an intact hotel register from 1892 in the basement wall," says Matt, who also runs a guest room above the store that's brimming with antiques and vintage accessories from local merchants like Johnny Crow's (103 W. Water St.) and Huser Daddy Antiques (800 Highway 23/73). Princeton is just under a two hour drive from Green Bay and Milwaukee, and 90 minutes north of Madison, making for a perfect day or weekend trip filled with shopping and antiquing, biking, hiking, hunting, or boating and fishing on the nearby Fox and Mecan Rivers or Green Lake. Saturdays from mid-April thru mid-October in City Park, you can find the largest outdoor flea market in the entire state of Wisconsin! Matt shares much more of his Princeton after the jump.

Where do you recommend overnight guests stay in Princeton?
I book The Merchant Room (above)—one of the old hotel rooms over my store—for most of the summer. All the other spaces in the building are now apartments, but I turned one room into a vacation rental stocked with vintage and antique furniture from local antique merchants Johnny Crow's and Huser Daddy, hence the room's name. Most of the furnishings in the room are for sale. There are also rentals above storefronts downtown, campgrounds, bed & breakfasts, and motels. (Find them here.)

Photo courtesy of Once in a Blue Moon

Let's talk food! Who makes the best breakfast in town?
I love the Crab Cake Benedict at Once in A Blue Moon (538 W. Water St.). They've been serving a California-style breakfast and lunch since before I could drive. Anyone visiting the area makes a point of having at least one meal there—it's become a landmark after 18 years. Twister (602 Water St.) makes a mean cappuccino just a few doors down.

What's the single best thing to eat in Princeton?
Renard's Bakeshop makes European breads and pastries from scratch right out of his country bake shop on the river. He sells at markets throughout the area, including All in Good Taste (725 W. Main St.) and at The Famous Princeton Flea Market (City Park on the east side of town on Hwy 23). He makes this gorgonzola butter that can be smeared on any one his loaves for an indulgent snack. That, or his semi-sweet pain au chocolat.

Julian Velard performs, Princeton, 2013

What do you order at your favorite bar?
CC & soda at The Buckhorn (531 W. Water St.) which is an excellent bar overlooking the Fox River.

Are there any good shows going on this summer?
Yes, I'm really looking forward to The Shops of Water Street's pop-up music venue downtown in The Fox Note (518 W Water St.), a former jazz club. A bunch of up-and-coming musicians are playing, including The Guilty Wanted, B.B. King's nephew singer/songwriter Briar Rabbit, Julian Velard, and Julian's friend Alex Dezen of The Damnwells.

Can you share your favorite art gallery and museum?
My family has been in the area for four generations, beginning with my great-grandparents who started a textile business out of their home in the late 1930's. The business grew quickly, and they started producing knitted slipper shoes that became a cult hit known as Muk Luks. They later sold the brand to a company in Milwaukee, which is still producing footwear and other accessories. After discovering vast amounts of memorabilia and original samples, the Shops of Water Street decided we should open the Muk Luks Museum in their exhibition space (602 W. Water St.), featuring styles from the times, great photographs, and period advertisements with the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Coca-Cola. Also, Plout Gallery has a great collection of art, and if you ask nicely, they'll let you see the modern loft residence upstairs. I also recommend seeking out some work by local artist Lauren Paradise.

What's the best outdoor weekend market in the area?
The Famous Princeton Flea Market (City Park on the east side of town on Hwy 23) which is the largest outdoor market in Wisconsin! They're celebrating 40 years this year. You can score great vintage items, breads from Renard's, fried cheese curds, Amish pies, toys, nuts, tools, jewelry, vegetables, plants and many other things you may not have been looking for.

Water Street, Princeton's main drag

Aside from Teak & Soxy, what's your favorite store?
I worked at Twister (602 Water St.), a cafe, home goods and clothing store in high school, and learned a lot about everything from espresso to design, to keeping an opportunistic, humorous approach to life. After 15 years, they've become their own destination and they sell a little bit of everything. Also, Bonnie at Johnny Crow's Antiques (444 W. Waster St.) never ceases to surprise me with something completely unexpected that I must have.

What's the last thing you bought in Princeton?
I believe it was a vintage Miller High Life neon sign and six steel bar stools ($2 bucks a piece!) from the "flea" basement that I didn't know existed at The Amish House (607 W. Water St.). They have beautiful furniture and Amish snacks upstairs, but the basement totally took me by surprise. I'm also crazy for the black bear watercolor tee I recently bought at Daiseye's Green 3 Shop (525 W. Water St.) and the Essential Love candles I'm constantly stocking up on from Twigs Fine Goods (604 W. Water St.).

If someone had just two hours to spend in Princeton with a friend, what would you suggest they do?
Definitely hit up the flea market and antique shops in the morning, then head downtown for some shopping and lunch at Blue Moon or the Buckhorn, followed by ice cream at All in Good Taste (725 W. Main St.). They serve the same flavor that I've pretty much been married to since I was a kid: Elephant Tracks (chocolate ice cream with peanut butter cups). Alternatively, you could bring a bike and hit the roads in and out of town or venture into the vast Amish Country, which is just a short drive away.

Downtown Princeton

Where would you recommend grabbing dinner later that evening?
There's a woodsy lodge just outside town called Mecan River Outfitters (W720 State Rd. 23). They have a big stone fireplace, lots of taxidermy, and good Wisconsin food.

What's the most impressive thing about Princeton?
All the creativity and originality that has stemmed from here: Glass artist Wes Hunting, Collectible Folk Art by Williraye Studio, Cartoonist Dennis Kitchen, designer Tracy Porter, and many more.

The weirdest? 
Princeton is a rare spawning location for prehistoric sturgeon that run the banks of the Fox River every spring (watch them here) They draw crowds for their exotic features and splashing along the shore, but be careful because they're a protected species.

The most surprising? 
That we once made the Guinness Book of World records for most bars per capita; literally every other storefront was a bar.

What's the most touristy but "worth it" thing to do?
Princeton is a destination for bird enthusiasts and it's home to "Operation Migration," an effort to reintroduce endangered Whooping Cranes into eastern North America. There's actually a Whooping Crane Festival that will be held right in Princeton this year (September 11-14, 2014).

Turn on the radio. What song is playing?
Julian Velard just released his new album, "If You Don't Like it You Can Leave," that I can't stop listening to. His songs have a tendency to get stuck in your head, which is okay as long as he agrees to play Princeton at least once a year.

Can you share one spot that even locals might not know about?
The old railroad bed (shown) is a peaceful spot for running or walking my dog, Jett. It's situated right in the middle of town, but it feels completely removed at the same time.

The old railroad bed

If you had to leave tomorrow, what would you miss the most?
The people. You develop such a strong relationship with other shop owners, customers, and local visitors that they become regular fixtures in your day-to-day life. Being able to pop out in front of the shop and wave or catch a quick conversation with a neighbor is priceless.

Necessary souvenir?
A key chain from the Muk Luks Museum!

It's Sunday, 3pm, and beautiful outside. This is where you want to be:
The state's deepest—and very large—body of water, Green Lake, is just minutes away. By the end of the weekend, the lake gets quiet and calm and it's such a nice place to unwind and let all your worries drift away.