A Treasure of the Past:
Hub City General Store
by Jennifer LB Leese
General stores began to appear in the 1850s in rural areas that experienced small, notable increases in population. In most parts of the United States where communities had transpired, general stores were blessings for the small town farmer. The farmer quickly became the most important customer of the general store. Farmers bartered his crops and goods such as fur and clothing for the things he needed and for a few comforts that he normally could not afford.
Supermarkets were unheard of. The general store was the principal means of trade and marketing among rural communities of the 1920s and 1930s.
In appearance, general stores were comparable to the other. The outside of a general store was usually a one or two level house with a door in the center and two windows on each side with steps leading up to a porch. The merchant and his family usually lived on the second floor.
The interior itself generally consisted of a large room with a wide open area where a wood-burning stove surrounded by chairs and/or stools welcomed customers and passerby.
As for the merchandise-it sat displayed on shelves behind a giant wooden counter where the shopkeeper could help the customer with what they wanted.
General stores sold a large assortment of goods, including household items, hardware, farm equipment, and even coffins. Coffee, tea, spices, grains, milk, butter, cheese, molasses and produce were often best sellers and were locally grown. Children knew they could always find jars of candy and long licorice whips by the front counter.
That wasn't the only thing general stores sold; they also sold dry goods, rolls of fabrics in various colors, textures, and designs, thread, lace, ribbon, and other supplies needed to tailor the latest fashions and shoes. Household items often included blankets, furs, lumbers, tobacco products, books, kerosene, washboards, and rat traps and poisons.
The general store was the place to go whenever you needed something-anything! The store also served as a tavern; a place where one could get a marriage license, postal office, and it offered usually the only telephone in the small town.
The general store also was the place to go for news and gossip. The friendly atmosphere of the general store made people feel like part of one big family where everybody knew everybody else in town. If it was notable news-it was surely discussed at the store.
Hub City General Store, 27 W. Washington Street in downtown Hagerstown, has the same ambiance as a 1800 general store. Established in 2003 by Steve Kendall and Shannon Monninger, the idea of a community store came about when Steve Kendall realized that the economy of Hagerstown was on a downturn and after 6 months of searching for a job, decided it would be easier to create his own. Steve and Shannon discussed many times what it would be like to work for themselves. "Both of us wanted a store that offered many different types of merchandise, but offered us the flexibility to change with the market place without compromising our identity," says Kendall. "That's when Hub city General Store was born."
Kendall and Monninger knew there would be many sacrifices, but were both ready to do what was necessary to make their dream happen.
Trying to get a fill on what types of merchandise to offer, Kendall and Monninger visited the City Farmer's Market. "I walked up to several vendors, introduced myself, then proceeded to explain this endeavor we were about to embark on and how I believed they could fit in."
One of the vendors Kendall spoke with was Susan Rauth. Susan stocked the Hub City General Store with fresh baked goods, candy, and several types of teas. After several months of doing this, Steve Kendall and Shannon Monninger, asked Susan to become a business partner. She soon accepted and has been "an indispensable asset to the company because of her vision, commitment, and determination."
The Hub City General Store carries a wide assortment of canned goods, local crafts, confections, and coffees and teas. "Your taste buds will dance for joy when you treat yourself to our delicious homemade chocolates and candies. Made with only the finest ingredients and many with recipes passed down through the generations." Preserves and specialty jams, coffee and tea accessories, and snacks, gourmet and specialty foods such as fruit and garden salsas, seafood dips, hard to find hot sauces, herbs and spices, chocolate-covered espresso beans, cordials, soups and much more fill the shelves. A "collection of handmade soaps and candles will have you washing your cares away while luxuriating in the scent of lavender, herbs, and spices." Visitors will find old-fashioned service with modern convenience.
These are just a few of the items the general store offers. Upon entering the store, designed as an old-fashioned general store with large wooden shelves, display racks and quaint decor, patrons will find local art and photography; stained glass, baskets, and pottery made by regional artisans; jelly cabinets, benches, vintage furniture, handmade clocks from an area craftsman; and nostalgic plaques that'll take you back to yesteryear.
By the end of June 2005, The Hub City General Store will relocate to 201 North Burhans Boulevard. When asked why they were moving from downtown, Kendall said, "First and foremost was the ability to provide our customers with the convenience and expanded services they desired. With the addition of an onsite kitchen, we will be able to stock a larger variety of our handmade confections as well as providing customers with fresh baked pastries, pies, Gelato (the most incredible ice cream around) and tea room. For your convenience parking is also available onsite as well as the addition of a drive-thru."
The shopkeepers hope this move will allow many people who have not yet visited the store before to take notice and see exactly what they are all about. With the new location, the store can expand its inventory.
Steve has received his certification in tea and plans to offer tea tasting, tea cuppings, as well as shared seminars with others in the field. Susan is in the process of obtaining her chocolate certification, which will allow her to continue providing delicious confections while educating their customers and refining their pallets.
The staff at Hub City General Store are firm believers in supporting the local community. They provide complementary space in their store for nonprofits raising money for their organizations as well as donating time, money, and merchandise for the many important needs of the community. "This commitment will not stop because of our relocation, in fact, we hope to increase our participation to these agencies. We invite you to visit us at our new location and look forward to serving you in the future."
Hub City General Store, 27 W. Washington St., Hagerstown (relocating to 201 North Burhans Blvd., Hagerstown), 301-733-2336. Visit their website at www.hubcitygeneralstore.com for store information and products.
Mention this article when you visit the new Hub City General Store on N. Burhans, and receive a free Gelato ice cream.