Small Batch, Big Space: A Hipster’s Mecca in Great Barrington
By Nichole Dupont
At first glance, Abby Webster and Andrew Pruhenski are the typical hipster couple. They are young. They raise chickens. He is mousy-haired and sports vintage jeans and canvas shoes. She is uber-creative, only slightly adorned with a gray t-shirt and asymmetrical bead necklace (which she made, of course). Their friends are foodies and farmers with thick-rimmed glasses. But what these two Berkshire natives have is much more than a “look.” On the busy Independence Day weekend, the couple opened the doors of One Mercantile, to the delight of passersby and vintage seekers who haunt the boutique streets of Great Barrington. The interior space — with its raw brick walls, high ceilings, infinite wood floor — is appropriately Brooklynesque and industrial. Every wall, every shelf, and even the window displays are busting at the seams with gifty items and home goods. Authentic vintage pieces, including a long “parts” shelf (once used in a ship mechanic’s shop) chock full of goodies, anchor the entire store in a time when things were built to last… and, well, are really cool to look at.
“Anything vintage or vintage looking, those are hot items,” Webster says while arranging fresh-cut fuchsia daisies in a vase. “The vintage look is very popular with all demographics.”
“The enamelware is definitely one of our best sellers,” Pruhenski pipes in, pointing to a six-piece Falcon Enamelware prep set (red or blue rimmed; $105). “This company is out of England, and it’s over 90 years old. It’s the same stuff we all remember our grandmothers baking with, but now it’s food safe. And really sturdy. Nothing has suffered in terms of the quality of these pieces.”
Actually, quality is part of the mission of One Mercantile, which, unlike other big name gift/goods stores (you know who I’m talking about), does not seek out cheap repros in order to cut retail corners. All of the items in the store are painstakingly researched, and the result is an impressive collection of what Webster calls “small batch goods.”
“We really tried to start on the right foot and that meant small production items,” she says. “A lot of it is local; like the cutting boards by Ben Downing and pottery from Wheel and Loom, both out of Housatonic. There are also some really cool artists from Canada and the West Coast who are upcycling everything they can get their hands on.”
As is the (sustainable) hipster way, recycling is a necessary (and charming) component to the merchandise at One. Snazzy Jetsam wallets ($46) boast neat textiles — made from vintage menswear — straight out of the Mad Men set. Cut from the same cloth are Sparetime Bowties ($45) designed by local seamstress extraordinaire Nicole Campanale. Also in the textile arena are vibrant, silk screened tea towels ($58 for a set of four) that evoke memories of the 1950’s kitchen.
It’s hard to imagine that this airy, industrial space filled with light and glassware and curiosities was once a dank, low ceiling-ed, wood-paneled thrift shop whose style harkened back to the 1970’s. When Webster and Pruhenski began the quick yet aggressive renovation process they were amazed at how big the space was. And that it had never realized its full potential.
“There were marks in the floor, under the carpet, that had been here for at least 20 years, where a clothing rack had stood in the same spot,” Webster says. “And there was also a food pantry in the back [the former location of the Berkshire Community Action Council] so a lot of good went on in here. We wanted to keep that inviting atmosphere.”
Pruhenski is a little less marveling, pointing to the shop’s floor-to-ceiling windows, in which an aqua bike is poised (for sale for the right price) for a picnic.
“They filmed a scene for The Cider House Rules here and made a false storefront,” he says. “But then they never took it down. From the outside it looked great but from this angle, there was duct tape all over the glass. It was kind of a mess.”
But not for long. Between Webster’s design background — she studied photography at MassArt in Boston — and Pruhenski’s retail savvy as a longtime manager at Domaney’s liquors and one-time owner of the now vacant Threads, also on Main Street, the two have put something together that has a solid foundation. And, they have a place to sell their stuff. The two design glassware of all sizes using uniquely labeled bear and wine bottles. Also on tap are run-of-the-mill Mason jars (some blue, some clear) complete with tops and secured glass straws. Perfect for a no-spill lemonade vessel. The glasses, as well as nearly everything else in One Mercantile (like gorgeous Kantha quilts made from recycled saris; $65-$85) are a collective “a-ha” moment where simple ideas are churned into functional, quirky, and beautiful pieces. Webster is even hinting at stocking handmade terrariums, courtesy of her eldest sister, at some point in the near future.
“The main idea is to keep it small and consistently stock a variety of items,” Webster says. “And to get some online sales set up. And, of course, we’re always looking for new designers.”
8 Castle Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Open 7 days: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.