The prairie region contains some of the more peculiar and wondrous sights and attractions that anyone could hope to find, but sometimes those very peculiar “only in —” kinds of places aren’t out in the countryside or hidden away in remote fields, but can be found right on Central Avenue in downtown! Case in point: The Vault, Valley City’s own oddity which any visitor to the area will surely want to sample.
The Vault bills itself as a “self-serve” coffee/snack shop, bookstore, and center for the arts. It’s located on the main floor of the old Stavenger Building which originally housed the Bank of Valley City back in the 1920s. It went through a few incarnations over the decades, housing another bank, etc., until finally being shuttered. However, the present owners came upon the place about 10 years ago, and with a vision for a small venture, renovated the property and opened shop in 2012!
I visited the Vault recently, and was impressed by the open atmosphere and peaceful vibes. Outside, a few friends sat around visiting and playing on the piano which is situated on the sidewalk, while inside, patrons sipped coffee and told stories.
When you enter, there is a counter directly to the left which features simple snacks and baked goods, in addition to coffee and tea.
Now, this is where the peculiarity comes in: the entire little shop is unmanned and
“self-serve”! Any item which you wish to have can simply be taken, with a spot at the end of the counter designed to receive your payment.
The whole thing is based on the honor system, although there are a couple screens positioned to remind customers that they’re on camera. Cash and checks can be slipped into the slot on the right, while credit cards can be processed in the Candy Emporium located in the entry-way to the building.
Travel Tip: Although the Candy Emporium keeps regular hours, I found it to be closed on my visit, as the owners were participating in the local “Crazy Daze” celebrations. Thankfully, on my visit to the Vault, I’d brought along a little cash!
Once you have your coffee and muffin in hand, there are very nice tables situated nearby which remind one of the 1920s heritage of the building.
For me, the main draw to the Vault was its book selection. All along the back wall and snaking around the sides are many shelves with old and classic books. There’s almost nothing I love more than old, used bookstores! Just like the coffee, the books were for sale on a self-serve basis, with these little signs positioned around the room:
I bought two books in the end, and was sure to slip my two dollars into the slot at the counter. Although there was no entertainment within the Vault on my visit, there was a small stage set aside for performances of various kinds. I’d love to imagine 1960s-style bongo/poetry readings taking place in the evenings, but I’m not sure that’s really Valley City’s scene.
If you go, just take I-94 from Fargo or Bismarck and then exit at 294 for Valley City. The Vault is located at 223 Central Ave. North, right by the Wells Fargo. There isn’t much in the way of parking, but you an park nearby and enjoy a stroll down Valley City’s old downtown on your way. I’d particularly recommend stopping by the Veterans Memorial.
What’s your favorite spot to visit friends and enjoy a cup of coffee? Do you think a self-serve model would work in your town? What kind of “only in—” spots can be found near you? Share your thoughts below!