MARTINSBURG — Long before there were superstores stocking everything a person could want and far more than they could need, there were “mercantiles,” each a mini-superstore unto itself, in villages and towns around the country.
The West Martinsburg Mercantile, 4815 W. Martinsburg Rd., quietly opened at the end of June, only three months after proprietor Kim Gracey “pondered” the possibilities of the store and rolled up her sleeves to scrape layers of yellow, red, blue and finally black trim paint from the original wooden shelves lining the walls of the space.
Her mini “superstore” has shelves on one side of the room full of the kind of grocery items Mrs. Gracey imagined people needing, but she doesn’t have illusions about competing with the Walmarts of the world.
“My thought was if you’re doing something at home and you need something, you could come here instead of driving into Lowville,” she said. “That’s why I made sure to stock baking supplies. It happens to everyone: you start a recipe and realize you don’t have enough sugar or baking powder,” she said, pointing to where the baking goods are housed.
Artisanal products made throughout Lewis County, from goat milk cheeses and gelato to full-cream flavored cows milk and specialty butter, grass-fed beef to maple and honey, fill the shelves of the opposite wall, refrigerators and freezers.
The best sellers so far are the bread made by Cedar Hedge Farms’ owner Jan Virkler and Tina’s Treats cupcakes. Mrs. Gracey said “they go like hotcakes.”
“A postal carrier from Old Forge had been reading about the cupcakes and found us. They came all the way here to buy some,’ Mrs. Gracey said.
Mrs. Gracey has also created a line of West Martinsburg Mercantile sauces, salsas, jams, dressings and pickles.
“Gourmet Gardens [a ‘gourmet wholesale food’ company, according to its website] makes the products and packages them using our labels,” she said.
The back room, dubbed the “Curiosity Shop,” contains soaps, home decor, artwork, pottery and more made by local artists among other items that embody the balance between old and new Mrs. Gracey has struck with the store’s mood.
Every morning, Mrs. Gracey puts on pots of Tug Hill Roasters coffee, arranges the doughnuts made by Colwell’s Market, Glenfield, and waits to see who the day will bring.
So far, she said, traffic in the store has been very good, especially on the weekends.
It’s often nostalgia that attracts people to her mercantile.
“Many people are bringing their kids around, showing them, ‘This is where I came for candy when I was a kid’” Mrs. Gracey said, “There have been many people bringing their parents in to show them what the place has become. Many of those people remember when it was Foote’s Grocery.”
Mrs. Gracey and her husband David, dairy farmers for 30 years, purchased the property in 2001.
“I grew up here and came to this store when it was Foote’s,” Mrs. Gracey said, “So when it was on the market, I wanted to buy it. I always wanted to re-open it as a store.”
At first, however, she opened it as a bed and breakfast, using the store area as the breakfast nook.
The mercantile brings the property back to its roots.
The larger original structure built in 1824 by J.H. Ralston, was a store from the start, according to Jeremy Perrin, Lewis County Historical Society curator. When it burned down in 1885, Mr. Ralston built the current building.
A number of owners through the decades kept the store going and in 1950, the late Warren and Marie Foote took their turns, operating Foote’s Grocery for almost 45 years until its 1994 closure, according to “The Way We Were,” a book produced by the Martinsburg Historical Society.
With its etched windows filled with summer fun items for kids, and Mrs. Gracey exchanging stories and connections with customers as they stream through, it’s as if the West Martinsburg Mercantile has always been there, with everything anyone could ever need right on the shelves.
The wooden boxes are some of the few things left from the Foote’s Grocery era of what is now the West Martinsburg Mercantile, 4815 W. Martinsburg Road. Proprietor Kim Gracey is constantly adding to the art and artifacts from the 1940s and ‘50s creating an “old meets new” ambiance against the black lacquer trim and pure white walls. Julie Abbass/Watertown Daily Times