Craftsmanship and community at Ace General Store

Published in March 2018 by Lakeshore Weekly News

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EXCELSIOR — Every morning that Dan Cordell opens up Ace General Store in downtown Excelsior, his ritual is the same: hit the lights, turn on the music, brew coffee, light a stub of Palo Santo incense. The smell is warm and rich and continues to suffuse the room, even after plumes of smoke cease making lazy spirals from the fragrant piece of wood.

“It makes the shop smell like a cinnamon bonfire, which I like,” Cordell said.

And it adds something special to the morning, whether Cordell spends it silently soaking up sunlight, chatting with customers or unpacking products to join the ever-changing array of options at Ace.

The store may be small, but it features a wide selection of items thoughtfully and lovingly curated by Cordell and his wife and business partner, Alex.

There’s furniture and décor items, winter hats and baseball caps, drawing pads and notebooks, knives and lighters, toiletry bags and bottle openers, candles and fragrances, cutting boards and coasters, art prints and cheeky, minimalistic greeting cards.

The collection is distinctly masculine, but anyone can appreciate good craftsmanship and items that are as practical and durable as they are beautiful, he said.

There are even artisan cocktail mixes and bags of coffee beans from Five Watt Coffee in Minneapolis, which the Cordells pick up each week to ensure peak freshness.

Those beans are the same ones brewed up each morning, to keep on hand in an insulated carafe for anyone who wants to stop in for a cup. The idea came from the “the coolest antique stores” he has ever visited, all of which always seemed to have coffee on hand for anyone passing by or stopping in.

“It’s part of the community aspect. You don’t have to buy anything,” Cordell said.

He encourages anyone and everyone to stop in and enjoy the space. He usually keeps a couple of ukuleles around and a small plastic skateboard, just for people to mess with. There’s also a barber’s chair used for haircuts on a pop-up basis that people are free to sit in, as well.

Once, a customer stopped by just to sit in the chair as he texted on his phone, quietly sharing the space, Cordell said.

“We just sat in silence together, as men do sometimes” he said. “We can talk if you like, but it’s not a requirement.”

That feeling of comfort and community is a big part of what Dan and Alex wanted to bring to the Excelsior when they opened the store last November.

“We wanted a place that was a very positive asset to the community. We wanted a store that reflected the people in the community,” Cordell said. “This had been on our minds for years.”

Ace General Store is the Cordell family’s first brick-and-mortar business, though they have been sharing beautiful, handcrafted items with people for years as the creative force behind Solid Manufacturing Co.

Both of the Cordells are woodworkers. Alex studied furniture design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and Dan practically grew up in his father’s woodworking studio, learning to pound in nails at the tender age of 3.

It was natural for the two to go into business together. They started with an Etsy account and a line of 20 items, including the stools with distinctive paint-dipped legs that have become something of a signature item.

The venture was almost instantly successful and soon became a full-time enterprise, with both direct sales online and partnerships with boutiques across the country, including Golden Rule in Excelsior, Cordell said.

The couple loved spending time in the town and would always find time for lunch and shopping downtown whenever they stopped by to make a delivery. Eventually, the couple decided to move to Excelsior from South Minneapolis, he said.

Then the space that is now Ace General became available.

The day that their landlord first called about the space was a memorable one. It was the day the Cordells’ daughter, Elliott, was born. They missed the call — they were understandably busy — but arranged to rent the space soon after.

Since then, their vision for the space has been transformed into a reality, connecting customers of all ages and backgrounds to items for their homes and wardrobes alike.

Their sturdy, neutral-hued Ace General T-shirts have proven especially popular. Cordell’s dad, who was a professional woodworker for most of his career and now works in a hardware store, wears his all the time. A girl in middle-school came in and used her own money to buy one for herself, planning to wear it with the sleeves cuffed.

“It’s a good, durable shirt. I wanted it to be a working shirt with a pocket for your ruler, toothpicks, whatever you want,” Cordell said. “and that’s spanning generations, completely different genders and ages … It’s been really cool to just get this stuff into people’s hands.”