Jenni Avins

Reviving the General Store, for the Wall Street Journal


There’s nothing generic about the new general store.

“We felt like a certain quality, craftsmanship and timeless feel would be more than enough to unify the things we carry,” said Charlotte Bonner, who opened the Trove General Store in Paoli, Pa., with her mother, Molly Brandolini, and fiancé, Foster Zeh, in 2010. “That was more important to us than just saying, ‘We’re a clothing store.’ ”

Trove General is part of a growing resurgence of general stores that combine community spirit with a personal take on merchandising. Trove’s stock ranges from silver filigree earrings and sturdy Filson men’s coats to handcrafted beef jerky. These boutiques are one part country store, one part concept shop—often with a couple sharing the reins.

This renaissance could be traced to California, where husband-and-wife team Kevin and Bo Carney opened the fashion-forward Mohawk General Store in Los Angeles in 2008, when the market was ripe for a more discreet, wholesome brand of luxury. The following year, San Francisco couple Serena Mitnik-Miller and Mason St. Peter opened their General Store, an airy emporium of mostly handmade and vintage clothing, accessories and home goods. Both shops have since expanded to multiple locations, with loyal followers and a smattering of similar stores in their wake. Mr. Carney said that in addition to the merchandising flexibility that came with the general store moniker, he liked its warm familiarity. “We wanted our store to have a comfort level,” said Mr. Carney.

Historically, general stores were not only a small town’s sole provider of sundries and supplies, they were also informal community centers, places where neighbors might gather and gossip over a pickle barrel. The neighborly atmosphere lives on in the contemporary general store. For many of these shopkeepers, online retail is secondary. “I see the value in having an online presence,” said Ms. Mitnik-Miller, whose Web store carries a fraction of her shop’s products, “but it’s not the same experience.” Make a pilgrimage to her General Store in San Francisco, for example, and you may find a backyard seminar in leather-tooling under way, or neighbors sipping lattes from Trouble Coffee Company, the cafe next door.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., the Grand Street Bakery—a shop selling indie beauty products, vintage Levi’s and vinyl records—hosts outdoor concerts (the store’s name came from the location’s former tenant). “The concept is us and what we like,” said Cyd Mullen, who runs the store with her fiancé, Neal Mello. “We’re a mom-and-pop shop.”

The Mom-and-Pop Brigade

A look at six new-generation general stores around the country

Love Adorned | New York City and Amagansett, N.Y.

Jen Pearson Matchstick Bottle

” ‘Needs’ is kind of the word,” Lori Leven said of the merchandise in the back nook of her Manhattan lifestyle store. Although some items—like a Poler two-man tent and an army guide to rigging—certainly fall into the category of the utilitarian, a visitor to the shop may suddenly find she has new “needs,” including an engagement-worthy Conroy & Wilcox pearl ring or a color-blocked Boucherouite rug from Morocco. Above: Jen Pearson Matchstick Bottle, $30.

Broome Street General | Los Angeles

“We often joke that if 7-Eleven and Neiman Marcus had a baby, it might look something like us,” said Sophie Esteban Graham, co-founder of this cafe and store in the city’s Silverlake neighborhood. A full espresso bar serves up Gimme Coffee espresso drinks, scones, sandwiches and—on Fridays—fried chicken. The shop also stocks Ms. Esteban Graham’s favorite finds, from Coyuchi bed sheets and Mauviel cookware to Barbour coats and Hyland’s homeopathic remedies. Broome Street has also expanded; a new location, called Registry & Atelier, that specializes in wedding and baby gifts, has recently opened across the street.

Trove General Store | Paoli, Pa.

Juniper Ridge Bar Soaps

While the rustic Americana that fills Trove General might come across as contrived in an urban setting, the Filson jackets, Faribault blankets and locally-produced honey make perfect sense in this Pennsylvania location, which sits between farm country and Philadelphia. Steven Alan coats and Imogene + Willie jeans hang among the heartier work wear. Visitors will feel welcome regardless of their fashion-interest level. “There’s nothing snobby about the shop,” said co-owner Charlotte Bonner. “There’s always a bottle of wine open after 5 p.m.” Juniper Ridge Bar Soaps, $12 each.

Mohawk General Store | Los Angeles and Pasadena, Calif.

“It’s not so much about fashion,” Mohawk General co-founder Kevin Carney said of his proclivity for easygoing classics. “It’s more about wardrobe-building.” While that sensibility certainly applies to the stylish everyday pieces like Acne jeans, Jenni Kayne flats and Illesteva sunglasses on offer at Mohawk General, it also seems to influence the store’s selection of products for the home. Midcentury modern furniture complements contemporary items like framed prints and ceramic pots by Los Angeles-based artists Hamish Robertson and Victoria Morris, along with Cire Trudon candles and Santa Maria Novella beauty products.

General Store | San Francisco and Venice, Calif.

Stanley & Sons Bandanas

Both sunlit locations of this neo-hippie paradise carry a variety of handmade wearable and utilitarian pieces—think floor-sweeping cardigans and leather cuffs by Lauren Manoogian and triangular wooden cutting boards by Luke Bartels, along with vintage clothing, blankets and rugs. Shoppers inspired by the perfectly tie-dyed Lookout & Wonderland tank might sign up for an outdoor seminar with the designer herself, or take home a Noon Design Studio indigo dyeing kit and Shabd Simon-Alexander’s “Tie Dye” guidebook. Above: Stanley & Sons Bandanas, $28 each.

Grand Street Bakery | Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We always have a pile of 501s,” said Cyd Mullen, who runs what she calls “the Bakery” with her fiancé, Neal Mello. “We always have a pile of flannels, a rack of Woolrich parkas, gray raglans, white T-shirts.” Since 2011, those piles have made the store a magnet for fashion stylists, while an expanded selection of magazines, beauty products and records—along with backyard concerts—attract neighborhood shoppers. Thank Mr. Mello and Ms. Mullen’s almost 2-year-old son, Finn, for the growing section of pint-size vintage picks and new-mom necessities.