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Getting there
Directions: Take U.S. 30 west through Warsaw. Turn left on East Center Street and right on Argonne Road. It will turn into Park Avenue as you pull into the main drag of Winona Lake.
Roundtrip mileage from downtown Fort Wayne to Winona Lake: 79 miles
Estimated population of Winona Lake: Less than 5,000 (The Census Bureau does not have an exact population on some towns with fewer than 5,000 residents.)
Jaclyn Youhana | The Journal Gazette
Visitors can rent bikes from the Trailhouse Village Outdoor Store in Winona Lake.

WINONA LAKE A close stop for midweek relaxation

Jaclyn Youhana | The Journal Gazette
Hayleigh Danner rides a paddle board from The Lake House where she works in Winona Lake.

Thursdays on Winona Lake are one of the least busy days of the week. That’s probably why it proved to be one of the most relaxing weekdays I’ve had in a long time.

There’s just something about “lake time” that makes everything seem calmer. This, coupled with the fact that the business owners are friendly and just as charming as their businesses, makes Winona Lake a day-trip worth making.

Winona Lake is a small town with a population of less than 5,000 situated around the lake, just east of Warsaw. People drive through the intersection at the edge of town, and it’s like coming into a different world, Nancy Gast says.

Gast owns the Trailhouse Village Outdoor Store with her husband, Rob Gast.

“The reason to come here is to roll and relax and kind of soften your edges a little bit,” Rob Gast says.

And there are plenty of ways to do that.

Ride a bike

Trailhouse Village Outdoor Store (1001 E. Canal St.; 574-267-2223) is a bike shop. Whether you want to buy or rent, there are dozens of bicycles set up on the small store floor, such as a cruiser (a single-speed model) or a 10-speed or a mountain bike ideal for the 10 miles of mountain bike trails winding through Winona Lake.

The attitude of the owners and employees at Trailhouse are pretty indicative of the day you can spend in Winona Lake. Want to rent a bike from Trailhouse? Rob Gast says it’s free.

“Don’t listen to him,” Nancy Gast says, and she quotes prices between $5 and $20, depending which type of bike you’d like. There’s no time limit on the rental, either.

Nancy Gast figures Trailhouse rents about 50 bikes a week in its peak season, often to local business people who want to unwind from work.

In the middle of her work day, about 2 p.m., Nancy Gast gets up to make a quick ice cream run.

“Anyone want any?”

Rent a boat

One of the most popular rentals at The Lake House (720 E. Canal St.; 574-265-6945) are paddle boards. Similar in shape and size to a surf board, a paddle board is kind of like canoeing.

Except you stand up.

The Lake House is a clothing and boat rental store with a definite “surfer” vibe. There are copies of magazines lined up along the front counter with titles such as “Surfer,” “Water Ski” and “Surfing.” But most of the business comes from boat and board rentals, says Hayleigh Danner, who spent the summer working at The Lake House.

Most people take the boards out for about an hour, Danner says – enough time to leisurely paddle around the expanse of the lake while taking some time to jump into the water when it gets too warm.

Dylan Stillman, of Winona Lake, comes into the store with family members that Thursday afternoon. It will be his second time paddle boarding that week, he says.

“It’s fun,” he says. “It’s cool when you’re going over the waves.”

He demonstrates how to get on the board, and it appears much easier than it sounds.

Stillman lines the board up parallel with the dock out back from The Lake House. He steps onto it, using his paddle to back away from the dock, and takes off with a friend.

Go shopping

The first thing that hits you about SACS & Co. (801 E. Canal St.; 574-268-9575) is the scent. The air inside the tiny shop is perfumed with deliciousness, a concoction of the handcrafted soaps and candles lining the shelves and table tops. It’s hard to distinguish one scent from another, but somehow, the mixture is delightful.

SACS & Co. is one of four bath and body stores in Indiana to carry the “Indiana Artesian” logo, co-owner Lauri Isle says. The program recognizes Hoosier bath and body shops that are juried, pass the application process and follow the guidelines put in place by the state.

“It’s trying to bring Indiana handcrafted arts and food to a forefront,” Isle says.

Two of the store’s bestselling items might be responsible for that scent. Isle pulls a bar of Key West Soap from a nearby table. It is the color of pale mint to lime green and has a unique smell.

“It’s coconut and lime,” she says.

But it doesn’t smell like traditional coconut and lime. The bars of soap are made with sand and salt water from Key West, and the salt water changes the smell, Isle says, creating this unusual and lovely scent – something fresh and outdoorsy, reminiscent of summertime and cool beverages.

The smallest shop in Winona Lake isn’t located in a shop at all. It’s in the garage of the town barber. MudLove (804 G Park Ave.; 574-453-1575) is, at its heart, a pottery studio. The clay band bracelets, necklaces, magnets – and soon beads – are first and foremost fundraisers (20 percent of each sale goes to Integrated Community Development International, a Winona Lake-based group with three locations in the Central African Republic that aims to get the country clean drinking water).

When I buy a small clay piece with a heart on it, Kyle Garberson, who does production for MudLove, tells me, “You’ve just provided clean drinking water for an African (village) for seven months.” Not bad for a $3 magnet.

The shop’s bestsellers are its bracelets. Each features a small clay rectangle with a bulk or custom word stamped on it – anything from “love” or “grace” to “gymnast” or “bookworm.” Each focal is attached to a stretchy piece of cord in any color. Garberson estimates MudLove makes about 1,000 bands a week, which are sold through its garage store or online (MudLove.com).

Eat something

The most well-known spot in Winona Lake might be Cerulean (1101 E. Canal St.; 574-269-1226), a Mediterranean and Asian fusion restaurant with an extensive sushi list. And while it may provide an ideal night out, some of the smaller bistro-style stops are perfect for a quick bite before jumping on a paddle boat or mountain bike.

Kelainey’s Coffees & Creams (904 Park Ave.; 574-267-2860) offers hand-dipped ice cream, sandwiches, smoothies, coffee and salads. Upstairs is The Shop Upstairs, a tiny space crammed full of interesting home décor. Each way you turn your head, there’s a wooden frame, an unusual lamp, old-fashioned inspired tea towels, saucers and wall art and wreaths.

1000 Park Bãkafé (1000 Park Ave.; 574-269-1000) boasts salads, pizza, sandwiches and cookies. It carries drinks such as GuS (Grown-up Soda) and homemade soups like a flavorful chicken and wild rice – which is only served on Thursdays, another reason to take a midweek break to Winona Lake.

“Thursday, are the best day to come because it’s slow,” says Isle, the co-owner of SACS & Co. “If you have a day you want to get in and walk through the shops and not have any hassles, it’s Thursdays.”

jyouhana@jg.net

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