Hillsdale General Store: A 21st Century Country Emporium
The words “general store” function like a Rorschach Test: Everyone conjures up a different image of the quintessential rural retail experience. But let’s face facts: Now that places like CVS and Cumberland Farms sell everything from eggs and milk to shoe polish and work gloves, the general store needs to be more than a convenience store for contemporary life. Enter Matthew White, the Manhattan interior designer with a house in Hillsdale, who felt the Columbia County hamlet where he spends weekends was in dire need of an old-fashioned shop where you could buy penny candy, newspapers, cast-iron skillets, decks of cards, and laundry baskets. “I knew I needed to create someplace that served the community by selling useful things like water glasses, diner dishes, and gifts to bring to a children’s birthday party, but I also knew it had to be a destination that would attract visitors from other towns,” says White, who has mastered the art of being a weekender who’s accepted by locals by serving on the Hillsdale Hamlet Committee and the Hillsdale Historic Preservation committee.
The Hillsdale General Store, which looks like it might have been the background for a Norman Rockwell painting, is an outgrowth of White’s love affair with Hillsdale where he and his partner, Thomas Schumacher, built a spectacular house a few years ago. “I am bullish on Hillsdale,” says White. “If I could buy every old building in town and bring them back to life I would,” he says. He and his local business partner, David Ruede, bought what had been a general store in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on Route 23 (just west of the intersection with Route 22) and gave it a soup-to-nuts renovation. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted David Wurth to open a restaurant in the building, but I wasn’t sure what else we would do.” As construction progressed, White got the idea for a hybrid general store that would be stocked with a cross-section of merchandise that would make it the kind of shop you’d want to visit over and over again. “I’m a decorator so I knew I would be good at selling things related to the house and domestic life,” says White, who’d had an antiques shop in southern California in the 1990s. “I knew that I could not sell only antique and vintage items because you can not re-order them and restock empty shelves quickly after you sell them,” he explains. “But I did not want to only sell new merchandise that you find at the gift shows. I decided I wanted to have great all-American products—whether or not they are still made in the USA—like Mosser glass mixing bowls and Bromwell flour sifters.”
Since opening last October, the Hillsdale General Store has added more than 500 items to its inventory. “We had knitted gloves and scarves for the winter and now we have gardening tools and picnic hampers,” says White, who is especially high on the made-in-the-USA Water Right garden hose he’s selling that is made from drinking-water safe polyurethane. “What could be more wholesome than drinking from a hose on a summer day?”
Like many New Yorkers, White would like to spend more time in the country and less time in the city, so he hopes to expand his interior design business in the Berkshires and Hudson Valley. To showcase his decorating aesthetic, he’s opened the Designer Shops Upstairs at the Hillsdale General Store, a group of high-end boutiques that includes his own White Webb Finds along with Joseph Stabilito Collectibles and Boxwood Linen (left.) “I am crazy about these linens that are all made in Ghent, NY, by Franca Fusco,” he says. “I think her boutique is just beautiful.” There are two other retail spaces for rent in the Hillsdale General Store complex and White hopes to find tenants that will bring more shoppers to fuel Hillsdale’s renaissance. White sees himself as part of a community-wide revival, so it’s no wonder he sells T-shirts that read “It Takes a Hamlet - Hillsdale, NY” —Dan Shaw
Hillsdale General Store
2642 State Route 23, Hillsdale, NY
Thursday - Monday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Closed Tuesday & Wednesday