June 4, 2011

General store to emphasize community

WHITEFIELD -- The old-time general store could be found in every community in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

click image to enlarge

CREATIVE FLAIR: Artist Natasha Mayers hangs her work at the Sheepscot General at Uncas Farms store that is scheduled to be open in June. Ben Marcus and Taryn Hammer hope to sell locally grown items, exchange books and display artwork at the store. The art depicts landscapes in Whitefield, Mayers said.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Ben Marcus and Taryn Hammer discuss the layout of a room at the Whitefield store they plan to open in June. The couple is renovating space in a milking parlor to make way for Sheepscot General at Uncas Farms.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

In this commissary, you would find locally grown, fresh produce; food in bulk; meats; dairy products; hardware items; pots and pans and dozens of other necessities.

Taryn Hammer and Ben Marcus want to bring back the experience of simpler days gone by with Sheepscot General, their new store in a remolded milking parlor at Uncas Farms on Townhouse Road in Whitefield.

They want to bring back the experience, but also impress people with the quality and uniqueness of the merchandise they will be selling at affordable prices.

"The whole idea behind this is that we were farming and it was hard getting into the good farmers' markets. They were all filled up," Hammer said Thursday. "This seemed like the next step in producing food, to have a store. There's enough people who want access to local food. And hopefully, we'll be able to support local growers."

In addition to the store, the space will be open to community events including classes, art shows, movies and meetings. The store will even have a small lending library, a cafe and commercial kitchen.

Hammer said they will hold a "soft opening" of Sheepscot General from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday with a grand opening to follow on June 25.

They're in the process of putting the final touches on the bright, airy space, along with filling shelves, refrigerators and freezers. Above the front door is a simple wooden sign that says STORE.

"We're not doing a natural food store, but a general store with an emphasis on homesteading supplies," she said. "There's a lot of do-it-your-selfers out there, people who have gardens, cook from scratch and make their own soap."

Hammer said they love Hussey's store in Windsor, which sells everything from groceries to guns and wedding dresses, but couldn't begin to compete with it. Instead, they want to find their own niche.

"Every store has its own personality," Marcus said. "This store hasn't been born yet. It will develop it's own personality. We've got ideas of what we want it to be, but I think it will reflect what the community of shoppers will want."

She said the store will carry bulk sauerkraut and feta, pickles, seeds that people can exchange, potatoes stored in bins, cut flowers, refreshments, fresh vegetables, raw milk, gluten-free products and frozen food like Jyang-Lee's Authentic Chinese Treats based in Coopers Mills and West Gardiner Beef Inc.

The store will also carry crafts and leather goods, art supplies, canning jars, salt licks for cattle, postcards and baked goods.

"We're going to be selling potted plants; a lot of people here grow for Fedco and we'll have those surplus plants to sell," she said. "We'll also have vegetable starters, fertilizer and tree guards."

Robin Chase of Chase Farm Bakery on Townhouse Road in Whitefield will supply some of the baked goods.

"There's a lot of entrepreneurs in this town, and it's giving them an opportunity to sell their products," Chase said. "I've been in business quite a few years, but there's always a chance of picking up one more person or one more account. This is great for us."

Marcus and Hammer said they see their venture as both a collaboration of people interested in promoting the uniqueness of Whitefield, the Sheepscot region and the state of Maine wrapped into a country-style store carrying everything a general store ought to carry.

Hammer said they are trying to keep prices down by selling in bulk and dealing directly with farmers and suppliers.

Alice Percy of the Treble Ridge Farm in Whitefield will be supplying the store with pork products, broccoli and melons and wheat for whole wheat flour.

Percy said Sheepscot General is a real boom for the community. She said it's part of a grassroots movement in Maine and across the country to develop centrally located food hubs to support small farms and be more convenient for families.

"We've been in business since 2005, and the first several years we didn't even do farmers' markets but preferred accounts like this to give us time to do the farming and growing of food rather than putting our energy towards marketing and selling," Percy said. "The store will do the job of reaching out to consumers and has the infrastructure and staff to maintain the store. Their whole point is to be dealing with the local growers and be committed to it from a philosophical point of view."


Mechele Cooper -- 621-5663



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