For more than a half century, The Hayloft Shops in Mossville has charmed customers with a shopping experience all its own
Walking into the gift store at The Hayloft Shops along old Galena Road in Mossville is like stepping into a travelogue.
Visitors can find treasures tucked and displayed in every corner throughout the 1½-story, 2,500-square-foot gift and gourmet shop located in a converted historic barn.
They include Russian woodcarvings, hand-stitched doilies from China, linens from Belgium, German wooden smokers, tea sets and a large variety of teas from across the world, gourmet goods, Wilton Armetale ware, Woodmere china, dinnerware from the White House Collection, personally designed Christmas ornaments and many other items sourced internationally or from contacts owner Becky Schotthofer has made throughout her years traveling abroad.
And most everything has a story behind it that Schotthofer is quick to share.
The gift shop is one of three buildings along a block that make up The Hayloft Shops. The other buildings — just steps outside the gift shop and across a brick parking area — house a women’s apparel shop and an antique shop, both of which also offer visitors unique shopping and browsing experiences.
For nearly 40 years, the women’s apparel shop has carried the Geiger line of clothing from Austria. Schotthofer hosts trunk shows at least twice a year to show off the next season’s line of classic boiled-wool pieces. The apparel shop also carries a selection of mother-of-the-bride — or groom — and special occasion dresses, hats, purses, statement jewelry and many other carefully sourced items.
Some of the bestselling items, Schotthofer said, are from family recipes. A top seller in the gourmet shop has been the family’s formulas for garlic and herb sea salt and their mulling spices that can be mixed with apple juice or cranberry juice.
The mix of homemade items and carefully curated crafts and fashion has earned The Hayloft shops national recognition from gift industry associations. Over the years, The Hayloft has been recognized five times as a national award winner for promotions and displays and customer support.
“We’re very proud of that as we’re up against all the large department stores,” Schotthofer said.
A blossoming business
The Hayloft Shops got its start 53 years ago as a ceramic shop when Schotthofer’s late mother, JoAnn, asked her husband, the late Fred Schotthofer, to create a workspace in the hayloft of a horse barn on the family’s farm on Cedar Hills Drive.
The little ceramic shop in the barn hayloft grew quickly, and Schotthofer, who was off at college studying art, helped her mother keep up with ceramic orders by shipping home finished, painted items. She joined her mother full time in 1974.
“We were partners, and she was my best friend,” Schotthofer said. JoAnn passed in 2019.
For one year, the two women expanded their operation to a dress shop and tearoom on Perry Avenue in Peoria.
A zoning battle involving the ceramic shop on the family farm, however, forced the family in 1978 to find a location to bring all of their creative passions together. That’s when they bought the block in Mossville and repurposed two existing buildings into a tearoom and apparel shop.
“This used to be just an empty lot,” Schotthofer explained of the spot where the gift shop stands today.
For the gift shop, the family wanted to pay homage to the origins of the hayloft in the barn on the family farm, so Fred Schotthofer, who was in construction, supervised the move of an antique barn originally built to house the Roszell Dairy. At more than 100 years old, the barn still houses the gift shop today.
Dedicated customer service
At age 69 and and never married, Schotthofer looks to her longtime customers like family.
“We have customers who have been with us 30 or 40 years,” she said.
Customers such as Deb Owen of Peoria keep coming back because they appreciate the personal attention provided by the shop’s staff — four part-time employees that grows to six during special events. And they enjoy the stories Schotthofer shares about her travels in acquiring the various gift and apparel items.
“They offer superior customer service, and their timeless quality and value have kept me as a loyal Hayloft customer for a quarter of a century,” Owen said. “The Hayloft Shops provide the best shopping experience in the Tri-County area. It is the perfect place to shop for all-occasion gifts. The gourmet shop makes entertaining a breeze.
“There is no place like The Hayloft,” she said. “The enchantment is unforgettable.”
Kim Gaylord of Mapleton and Sylvia Nath of Peoria Heights agree.
“I love the uniqueness of it. I’m not one for big box stores; I like boutiques and specialty shops,” Gaylord said. “Becky — the entire staff — takes time with every customer that comes through the door. I like that, and you don’t get that everywhere.”
The travel stories shared by Schotthofer are a plus.
“I’m a history buff so all of that intrigues me,” Gaylord said. “I love hearing about her travels.”
Nath has been a customer for at least 20 years.
“I like the variety of items they have that are sometimes different than other retail stores,” she said. “And I thoroughly enjoy the people who work there, especially Becky. They go out of their way to be nice and helpful.”
Customers like that are what keep Schotthofer going.
“I love my customers,” she said. “They’re probably the thing that’s kept me doing this for this long. I also love the buying and displaying. That brings out the creative side of me.”