The New England (New Orleans) Country Store
I love seeing businesses and spaces reinvented - hence the subject and focus of the pieces on this blog. While many of the things I write about here are technical in nature, revolving around blockchain or implementations of other new tech to reinvent business, I decided I want to start writing about reinvention in general. Not just in tech, but where ever I see it. This is one of those cases.
I grew up in Massachusetts, in the hill towns. Once or twice a week, I would go down the hill with my mom or dad and as most young kids did, I would be looking forward to the eventual stop where I got some sugar. For me, this was a little store we just called 'the country store' in Charlemont, Mass. Its real name was Wells Corner Country Store, and Mr. Wells, and sometimes his daughter, were always behind the counter. And my prized goal of the day - the penny candy, was as well. It was literally penny candy, getting me 100 Swedish fish or Sour Bears for $1. I feel like my grandfather now saying this, but I have to say - you can't find real Penny Candy anymore. To be fair, I haven't been looking - but for the most part, the idea of getting anything for a penny is long gone.
Anyhow, the point here is that it was a cornerstone of the community. Corner Stone/Corner Store - one letter difference - interesting! Well, they had a little bit of everything. The things one needed to cook a meal or bake some bread, clean the kitchen, make some cocktails, fix or patch a minor leak, and so on. The coverage was wide, but not very deep – but that is the idea behind a 'country corner store' - it had what you needed, maybe - and you stopped just in case they did. In my case, it always had what I needed - Swedish Fish.
But alas, one sad day the Wells Corner Store closed. Why, I'm not sure - but probably because people just weren't shopping there enough, due to big box stores and of course the internet. Even before the days of Amazon prime, it started to be easier and cheaper to get things elsewhere, and little stores who relied on premium markups of little widgets really started to get sad dusty shelves. That combined with other life factors, the state of the building, and so on - and just like that - it closed. Decades past - and the lively corner store that was a regular stop for anyone heading up the hill instead became this invisible building like any other that you passed on your way home each day. I found my penny candy elsewhere, so I didn't put up much of a fight to find a new proprietor. Plus, I think I was 15, so I wasn't really a candidate to open it myself.
Now, twenty some odd years later - I'm driving up that same hill in my own truck, a full grown man not thinking about candy, but instead about good coffee, a good IPA, and high quality breakfast if I can find it. And to my great surprise, what do I see - but a polished and beautiful sign out front reading 'Wells Provisions'. The mapping the Swedish Fish created in my brain snapped in and I yipped out loud to my friend Sally in the car with me "Wells Corner store is back - no way! Awesome!". I couldn't wait to see what was inside and I'm pretty sure I wanted some sugar.
We turned around, parked, and went to check it out - no dice - still closed, renovations in process. So, the sign was done, but the store itself wasn't opened yet. Smart strategy to do the sign first. Fair enough, it's been closed all these years, I can wait a few more months. Fast forward to the fall, and about four months later, and once again I am driving by, and see a line outside. People waiting to get ice cream. An ice cream window, I think to myself, brilliant. Why didn't they always have that? This is great - the corner store is alive again. I stopped, and went inside.
Wow - it was like that old dusty corner store was magically spun around, polished, and rearranged by magic elves. Everything shined - the floors, the coolers, the ceiling, the shelves, the liquor, the wine, the espresso machine - and yes - the penny candy. They kept it - or maybe I should say - intentionally made sure it was brought back. The silver lids polished atop the clear crystal jars, the candy scoop waiting to be grabbed, and the little fresh brown paper bags ready to be filled. It was perfect - and even though it was now sold by the pound - it didn't matter - It's been reinvented. The fish taste the same and I was back to being ten again in that moment.
Now, not only is it a corner store with a little bit of everything, but a 'bomb' breakfast spot with a wonderful New Orleans inspired menu (For me - farm fresh eggs, real New Orleans grits (!), home made sausage, granola with local yogurt - wow..) with solid coffee, extensive and well thought out wine and beer selection, a bit of stuff for the kitchen and house - local gifts and sundries - and all beautifully displayed and ready for perusing. A few nice tables inside, and out - and a couple AirBnb's upstairs and this place was fully alive (again). And most importantly - a great new local family with strong roots in New Orleans who took it upon themselves to reinvent this spot, while keeping its original roots in place. I loved that - it wasn't just a new name, it was the old name, revived.
Wells Provisions - I love that word, provisions - it just sounds cozy and important - and it is. It is important to provision reinvention in our communities, and in our lives. Things are not stale when we do this - life is anew always, and there are new moments to be made with new flairs, new tastes, new friendships, and new chances to bring back what we had before, in new ways. And, of course - penny candy - don't forget the importance of those little things in life.
Next time you are on the Mohawk Trail heading west towards North Adams, or east towards Boston - keep an eye out in Charlemont for this magical little spot. If they are open, stop in - you won't regret it; and I'm guessing you will find some provisions you and your family will enjoy.