In General: 10 Country Stores in the Rural Intelligence Region
By Nichole Dupont
If there is one thing the RI region takes pride in…great pride, actually…it’s the plethora of truly charming general stores that dot the back roads and villages of historic, sometimes sleepy towns. In these gems, visitors can find wonderful baked goods and fresh food, unique (even odd) gifts, specialty groceries and loyal locals. These stores are community touchstones that are as timeless as the towns they inhabit.
Monterey General Store This creaky-floored historic building in the tiny town center of Monterey, Mass. has changed hands a few times, but its charm (and coffee) has not suffered in the transition. Now under the stewardship of Scott Edward Cole, the store/café — right on the Konkapot River — offers pantry staples, baked goods, delicious breakfast plates and sandwiches, and unexpected items like a full array of shaving products for men, intoxicating scented candles and curated wines. All within the walls of a mercantile building that dates back to 1780.
Becket General Store & Café
Right in the heart of the Berkshires’ remotest rabbit hole, this Main Street store is round-the-clock food heaven, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chef Heather Anello and Kerry Willig cook up home fries, rodeo burgers and enchiladas all day to appreciative customers who no longer have to brave a 40-minute sojourn to get a pizza or a bottle of wine.
Hillsdale General Store
This big, airy space is home to just about everything, except a full kitchen. (But don’t worry, if you’re hungry, just walk around back to Cross Roads Food Shop for some serious and simple, farm-y fare.) The Hillsdale General Store is a mercantile museum, complete with sparkly barware and other house items, hefty aprons and gloves for serious builders and gardeners, vintage-style games for children and antique collectibles behind a glass case. Upstairs, an emporium of furniture, art and stationery draws shoppers into an old-timey world ruled by fine linen and total nostalgia.
Old Chatham Country Store and Café
A village landmark in the Hudson Valley, this charming “OC” destination is an art gallery, grocery store, and breakfast, lunch and take-out (on the weekends) hotspot. On Friday evenings, it transforms into a romantic bistro serving a simple menu. OC offers a great atmosphere, not to mention specialty cheeses and pints of Jeni’s ice cream.
Berkshire General Store
Located on Pittsfield’s main drag, the Berkshire General Store, while still relatively new to the North Street scene, has already become a staple in the urban shuffle. This store has everything, including coveted daily soup and sandwich specials (including a famous clam chowder and a killer chili), ridiculous sweet treats, 99-cent coffee, T-shirts and memorabilia, toys and every other imaginable thing.
The Southfield Store
You could almost miss this place if it weren’t for the fact that there are often cars lined up here for Sunday brunch. Specifically for the irresistible eggs Benedict, fluffy crème fraiche stuffed omelets and fantastic coffee. Not to mention a dedicated dinner crowd drawn to savory pork belly and grilled octopus. The Southfield Store is an extension of The Old Inn on the Green, and offers the same attention to food detail and memorable palate experience. The high-ceilinged store contains whole cases and shelves of homemade pastries and sweet things — thick cookies, lemon pound cake, croissants — and on any given Sunday, is inhabited by folks in their Sunday best, as well as sod-spackled farmers and outdoor folks ready for a Bloody Mary.
Salisbury General Store & Pharmacy
This chock-full mercantile and full-service pharmacy has been in business since 1935. Plan on spending a good 45 minutes, at least, perusing the shelves of fragrant soaps and toiletries — including some favorites from France — and quirky retro-style linens and homeopathic remedies. This store in Connecticut’s quiet Northwest Corner is worth the long stop and, between party favors, artisan pottery and hilarious greeting cards, you will not leave empty-handed.
Blue Door Market & Café
One word: Pie. Another word: Also pie. The Blue Door is a hidden gem in farm country (i.e. Sheffield, Mass.) that serves up great sandwiches, including a famous breakfast sandwich, and generous baked goods for the local work crowd as well as for folks just passing through. In addition to the hearty deli menu, the little-market-that-can also offers fresh produce, craft wine and beer, ice cream, the daily news from many outlets, and indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a quiet hangout, mostly because customers are too busy gawking and or eating to make much noise.
Charles H. Baldwin & Sons
The overwhelming aroma of baking extracts like vanilla and almond saturate the air and the plank floors of this 125-year-old West Stockbridge, Mass. institution. In addition to the vast offerings of extracts, in amber apothecary bottles of all shapes and sizes, Baldwin’s carries snarky Blue Q gifts for every occasion, 10-cent candies, fine chocolate, flavored table syrups, retro toys and seasonal gifts. It’s an authentic trip down memory lane, and one worth taking.
Store at the Five Corners
At the junction of Routes 7 and 43, right in the heart of Berkshire County’s “North Country,” sits this literal oasis of gourmand treats and truly beautiful gifts (not to mention specialty foods). The French influence is undeniable, with chambray-linen aprons, rustic cheeseboards, crusty breads served with butter and jam, and delicate macarons and meringues. A long farm table with two benches on either side encourages total strangers to sidle up next to one another and enjoy the smells of high-quality teas and coffee, handmade soaps, and one-of-a-kind cheeses.