AMHERST – On her first visit to the Mill District General Store and local art gallery, Hannah Staiger marveled at the range of items for sale at the 91 Cowls Road business.
âIt goes on and on, it’s stylishly laid out and there is so much to choose from for a local general store,â Staiger said as she sat on a bench outside the North Amherst store, while her son, Matteo, 6, was enjoying a lollipop one recent afternoon. âIf I needed anything, I could find it.
Describing the store as “unsuspecting,” Staiger said she bought some flying pig magnets from an artist and a small balloon toy car for Matteo – who also had a bag of free popcorn while they roamed the interior.
That any imaginable product can be found somewhere in the store is management’s goal. The store is located inside part of the commercial space, overseen by WD Cowls. Inc., which is surrounded by the North Square Apartments complex.
âWe want to have something for everyone,â explains manager Stacey Theriault, explaining that the store will carry essentials for nearby residents, such as toilet paper and paper towels, but also items that the community larger expects from a general store.
âTypically, we’ll have everything you need, from the unique to the useful and useful, affordable as well as upscale,â said ThÃ©riault.
The product selection includes food, pasta sauces, pickles and jams, penny candy and even freshly ground Esselon coffee. There are toys, games, books and health and beauty supplies, pet food, pet toys, and electronics. Wind chimes and hats can be found on other stands, and near the cash register are wooden signs pointing to local landmarks such as Puffer’s Pond, Lake Wyola, and the famous Salamander Crossing.
Seasonal items include seeds and gardening supplies, as well as beach items, though these are being put aside in favor of the supplies people need to prepare Thanksgiving dinner.
At one end of the store is the local art gallery, where local artists can display their works for sale. Hannah Rechtschaffen, who oversees the store and is Venue Creative Director for WD Cowls, said 22 artists from 14 cities are currently exhibiting.
âWe are excited to create a hub for people here,â Rechsthaffen said.
Two new artists this month include Orlando Santos of Holyoke, which has an exhibition of acrylic paintings, and Zahava Friedman of Leverett’s Inner Light Pottery. Each artist rents a space on a monthly basis and the store also takes a 20% commission. Rechtschaffen said this hybrid model gives artists a sense of belonging.
She anticipates that more artists will give classes during the winter months and other programs both in the store and outside, such as a celebration of the winter solstice.
Near the entrance to the gallery, an art supplies section gives people what they need if they’re feeling creative, like acrylic and oil paints, brushes and canvases.
ThÃ©riault said the general store emphasizes the local. âWe make sure that the neighbors have the opportunity to bring their products with us, their art with us,â said ThÃ©riault.
The general store will also support nearby businesses. As an example, with the recently opened Balanced Birch Pilates studio a few doors down, Theriault said the general store will offer items that customers can use in their instruction.
Minnie, a German shepherd basset owned by ThÃ©riault, serves as reception when the store is open, weekdays except Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The two bathrooms are also unique to the store, one with a jungle theme, featuring a prominent giraffe, created by artist Ivy J. Mabius, and the other featuring a one-way glass that allows the user to look around and has a sign at the entrance, read “novelty bathroom for thrill seekers”.
The bathrooms are part of the theme of a place that, for those who live nearby, may want to come regularly, and that visitors will revisit.
âWe want to keep people on their toes,â said ThÃ©riault. “It can be a new adventure every time they come here.”
Scott Merzbach can be reached at [email protected]