Let Us Now Praise Rhinebeck’s 5 & 10 Cent Store: A.L. Stickle
Photographs by Emeric Harney
The village of Rhinebeck is surrounded by landmarks like Wilderstein and Montgomery Place, but the only truly living, breathing historic site is the A.L. Stickle variety store on East Market Street. Stickle’s is the last of a breed. It’s the quintessential small town 5 & 10—an indie version of the once ubiquitous Woolworth’s and Kresge’s—and it sells all sorts of useful, everyday things in the same manner they’ve been sold for six decades. “People like that everything here is not packed in plastic and hung on pegboards,” says Matt Stickle, 38, who has been running the store for nearly a dozen years. “They like that we display things in open bins and that they can pick up and touch a suede brush or a single pencil.” And they like that almost everything is something that you actually need, whether it is a new harp for a lamp, fishing line, a shower cap, or a skein of yarn.
Matt worked side by side with his grandparents, the 83-year-old Janice and the late Al, and pretty much runs the store as they did—he doesn’t even use a computer to monitor inventory. “When you work in the store everyday, you know when you need to reorder something,” he says. The only reason he has modern cash register is that he cannot get the old crank-handle model repaired. “The man in New York City who used to fix them had a stroke,” he says sadly. His merchandise includes forgotten brands (LIfebuoy soap and Sandy White shoe polish) antiquated paper goods (Air Mail envelopes and saucer-sized doilies), tried-and-true toys (Slinkies and Silly Putty) and prosaic housewares (a 3-minute egg timer and 53-inch wide rolls of $3.99 a yard oilcloth for your picnic table that is cut to order.) “Notions sell like crazy,” says Matt, explaining that “notions” are sewing supplies like twist pins, hem tape, ricrac, hem tape and Velcro-by-the-yard.
Many people have a visceral, Proustian reaction to the store because of its look and smell. “Mothballs mixed with sixty years of dust,” says Matt. But he worries that younger people prefer the antiseptic rigidity of chain stores. “There are people who walk in, take a quick look around and walk right out,” he admits. “It is mostly the people who remember shopping in stores like this when they were younger who get it. But little kids really like it here because they can touch everything.” They can rifle through a bin of cowbells, a dinner bells and counter bells ($3.99 - $4.99). “Just go into a big box store and try to find a bell today—forget it!” he says. And on a recent rainy Wednesday morning, there was a steady stream of customers and Matt chatted amiably with every one of them. “It’s all familiar faces on weekdays,” he says delightedly.
Besides Matt’s commitment to honor his grandparents’ legacy, there’s only one reason why Stickle’s is still in business. “We own the building,” explains Matt. “Otherwise, we could not afford to be here anymore and luckily the closest Wal-Mart is across the river.” He is aware that he is not only a steward of Rhinebeck’s Main Street history but American retail history as well. “You really cannot find many stores like this anymore, except in Maine or Cape Cod,” he says. “I will do everything in my power to keep it going.”
13 East Market Street, Rhinebeck; 845.876.3206
Monday - Saturday 9 AM - 5 PM (till 6 in summer); Sunday 11 AM - 4 PM