HOLLAND, Iowa --- It's Saturday --- open season for shopping --- and the big red Little Prairie Girl barn is filled to capacity.

Shoppers flood the crowded barn in rural Holland, browsing the eclectic and charming displays of new and upcycled antiques and vintage items for home and garden decor, reclaimed junk, uncommon goods and collectibles. LPG's signature fragrance --- buttery maple syrup --- stimulates the appetite for browsing and buying.

Patrons mill about, oohing-and-ahhing and perhaps mentally filing away ideas for their own projects and decorating schemes. They climb the broad, sturdy staircase into the old hay loft, packed with vendors selling a charming mix of vintage and just plain old stuff for sprucing up a ho-hum homefront. In one corner of the loft, shoppers can lunch on soups and sandwiches or replenish their energy with Scotcheroos, banana and pumpkin bars, hot chocolate and coffee at the Sisters Cafe from Grundy Center.

More shoppers troop through the Hen House, Corn Crib and Machine Shed, stopping to sample handcrafted wines from Empy Nest Winery in Waukon and making purchases from various vendors.

There are 20 to 27 vendors at any given barn sale with goods that appeal to anyone who loves vintage, quaint, cottage, reclaimed, industrial, retro or farm fresh looks.

"It's a wonderful event, and we just love the venue. It's beautiful," said Karen Brandt of Kalona Junction, whose booth is at the top of the stairs in the red barn. "The traffic is always good."

Little Prairie Girl is Natalie Meester, former owner of A Touch of Country in Grundy Center, a popular shopping destination offering home decor and gifts. On weekends, she's in constant motion answering vendors' questions, assisting customers, "fluffing" merchandise, sweeping up glass from a candle jar that smashed on the floor, smiling and laughing all the while.

She transformed the red hay barn into a successful sales haven in 2012. Two barn sales have already taken place this year, with additional dates this fall. Barn Sales are large events with vendors in the barn and outbuildings, although Meester also opens the barn only for weekend hours now through Dec. 1.

"I wanted an old-fashioned kind of feeling, more like an open air market, but with that characteristic Iowa feeling. The red barn and other buildings definitely have that," she said, laughing. "I've collected things all my life and love decorating and upcycling and finding fun ways to use things I've found at tag sales, auctions and flea markets.

She closed A Touch of Country to devote herself to her family. Now that Zach,19, Tajden, 13, and Anna, 9, are older, the time seemed ideal to plunge back into her passion for home decor.

The Little Prairie Girl moniker comes from her love for the "Little House on the Prairie" series of books and TV shows by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When her sons were young, they'd join her on the couch to watch the shows on DVD and munch popcorn. Now she shares that time with daughter Anna.

She has plans to add a level to the corn crib for more vendors or possibly transform into a rustic bed-and-breakfast space. Her mind never stops looking for possibilities, she confessed.

"Doing these barns sales is my form of hospitality. It feeds my soul. I want everyone who comes to our farm to feel welcome and warm and have a good time."

Little Prairie Girl Barn Sales

WHEN: Sept. 13-15, Oct. 11-13 and Nov. 8-10

WHERE: Little Prairie Girl, 20428 160th St., Holland, (319) 240-5060. Take exit 208 from Highway 20, turn on 160th Street just past the convenience store. Hours are 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

The Barn only is open every weekend during the same hours now through Dec. 1. Barn exhibitors don't have to be in their booths on these weekends, and there are no other exhibitors in outbuildings.

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Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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