These beloved country stores offer gifts and goodies, and make for friendly gathering spots
Scouting a variety of country and general stores on the Cape and Islands made me happier than a kid in a candy shop. Not only did research entail filling a penny candy basket with childhood favorites, I also met the hardest working business owners I have ever known, all motivated by a deep love of community. Nurturing nostalgia while maintaining a viable business requires a delicate balance achievable only through long-term commitment and a grueling daily schedule. But to a man, woman, and couple, these owners wouldn’t have it any other way.
As Chris Scott, president of Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, which owns Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, puts it, “We value where we came from, and we don’t necessarily aspire to the sameness that’s taken over so much of America.”
The creativity on display at each of the seven stores profiled on the following pages brims with unusual gifts, specialty foods, and one-of-a-kind items that drove up my “research” costs a bit, but I’m not complaining. I returned home with locally crafted wedding presents, antique prints, new clothes, new friends, and a smile on my face as I savored my red licorice and candy buttons.
A Sweet Spot for Antiques & Treats
Uncle Bill’s Country Store
Sweet greetings and treats await visitors to Uncle Bill’s Country Store annexed to the Silver Lounge Restaurant in North Falmouth. While regular diners know the country store as a place to browse before or after a meal, generations of local children know it as a favorite destination for spearmint leaves, gumdrops, Tootsie Rolls, fireballs, and peppermint patties doled out by kind cashiers.
Richard Haupt, who owns both the store and the restaurant, points to the mountain of cartons behind the front candy counter and marvels that it will be gone by the end of a summer’s day. Parents often call the store to order 20 bags at a time for birthday parties.
As popular as it is, candy occupies a mere corner of this structure, which began as an antique store run by Haupt’s predecessor and first boss, Bill Weaner, a keen-eyed collector. In both the store and the restaurant, Cape memorabilia—such as a storm warning light from Falmouth’s Nobska Lighthouse downed during a hurricane—share wall and rafter space with vintage items including a Route 66 road sign and an ad for Ted Williams root beer. The store also carries a range of present-day, regional creations from aerial photos of Cape Cod neighborhoods to Pocasset Pretzels frosted with chocolate shells, stripes, and starfish.
Haupt seems to thrive on the challenge of maintaining both a bustling restaurant and a store bursting with merchandise. “It’s fun,” he says. “When you get tired of the restaurant you can come over here [to the country store] or you can unload trucks. If you have repair work to do, you can work on the building. There’s always something to do.”
Sara’s favorite purchases: A painted refrigerator magnet captioned “Cape Cod makes me happier than a seagull with a French fry”; Cranberry Bog Frogs (chocolate-covered cashews and cranberries).
412 North Falmouth Highway, North Falmouth • Silverloungerestaurant.com • 508-564-4355
One Might Call this the “Heart” of Cotuit
Cotuit Fresh Market
With its white, steepled church, Fourth of July parade, and residents deeply loyal to their quiet outpost, Cotuit is the quintessential Cape Cod village by the sea—and some consider Cotuit Fresh Market its heart. The bustling entrance of this century-old general store reverberates with the rhythm and spirit of small-town neighborliness as chatty children fresh from sailing class, thirsty construction workers, and Cape Cod League baseball players share snacks, lunch, and news.
Lori Pimental, who with her husband, Rich, bought the business in 2009, confirms it is as much a community center as it is a grocery store/coffee shop/deli. “We get phone calls asking when things are happening . . . or people asking for directions…. We are an information center.”
On a day when the power had gone out in town, customers dashed in, relieved to find the store’s large kitchen fully operational and dishing out Italian subs, pizza slices, and chicken Parmesan sandwiches. They swapped stories about stoplight outages and how the animal hospital was dealing without electricity. Amid the cheerful chaos, manager Megan Burdick greeted customers by name, while still managing to answer questions about the store’s most popular sandwich, the Cotuit Special. Bulging with roast beef, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, lettuce, and tomatoes, and spread with honey mustard and mayo, this king-size sub is the favorite late lunch of the Cotuit Kettleers baseball team, Burdick reports. The players also depend on her to stock a range of exotic licorice flavors from mango to green apple as well as dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds to chew during a game.
Sara’s favorite purchase: a clothing hook rack fashioned by Cotuit artisan Steve Cook from vintage boat cleats and mounted on reclaimed wood from Provincetown.
737 Main Street, Cotuit • cotuitfreshmarket.com • 508-428-6936
Rope Bracelets and Family Ties
The 1856 Country Store
The picture-perfect, candy-red 1856 Country Store set among antique ship captains’ homes is a must-see for visitors in search of Cape Cod charm. Nothing says summer like rope bracelets plucked from the front counter basket and penny candy savored on the way home. Shoppers will also find an assortment of hostess gifts, cookies, greeting cards, and beach games.
The store’s homey atmosphere reflects the warmth of its owner, who welcomes returning generations each year. Lorraine O’Connor and her late husband, Dick, fell in love with the Cape and moved here with their five daughters in 1972. They bought the country store five years later because, as O’Connor says, “I just loved the people.” At 84, she still works full time on summer days and has lost neither her sweetness nor her enthusiasm.
In 1994 the O’Connors’ oldest daughter, Joanne Uchman, took over the day-to-day operation of the store. Uchman has maintained the quaint atmosphere while adding a diverse array of gift items, carefully balancing nostalgia and newness. Popular Facebook contests and constantly rotating merchandise also help draw customers to the store, she says.
One of the store’s most popular attractions—which might also be the village’s most-photographed spot—is strictly low tech: Two benches on the front porch labeled “Republican” and “Democrat” attract a constant stream of families and friends posing opposite one another. “When people ask where the Independents sit,” O’Connor says, pointing to the front yard, “I tell them, ‘The fence is right out there!’”
Sara’s favorite purchases: fragrant Cape Shore soaps with a colorful “soap lift pad” to keep the soap bar above water; Spikeball game.
555 Main Street, Centerville • 1856countrystore.com • 508-775-1856
All that is Cape Cod—and more
The Brewster General Store
Missy and George Boyd have committed their careers to preserving the Cape’s precious past while maintaining the modern marvel that is the Brewster General Store, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2016. In addition to two stories full of creative toys, household goods, and novelty items, the well known store on Route 6A boasts a working peanut roaster and an old-fashioned coal stove where folks gather to play checkers during the winter months.
A coin-operated nickelodeon near the entrance inspires customers of all ages to swing and sway to ragtime tunes. “It lights people’s souls,” says Missy. “Some people dance to it.” Before they were owners, the Boyds enjoyed the magical response the nickelodeon inspired from patrons, and in 1986 they bought the store.
A visit here is a return to a simpler time when Cape cottages were filled with families playing board games, piecing together puzzles, and assembling kites. Maintaining a quaint atmosphere while remaining current with the purchase of hundreds of new items each year requires a level of attention and dedication that may be incomprehensible to anyone working less than an 80-hour week. The store is open daily throughout the year, and the Boyds are always on hand.
George, who is retired from a finance job on Wall Street, calls the store “a work of living art.” The couple spends each winter selecting as wide a variety of creative gifts as possible. Their eye for the original is evident throughout the store as shelves are stocked with vintage 1960s lunch boxes, balloon-powered bathtub boats, lobster claw potholders and other items, all geared to a family audience. “It’s a family show,” Missy says. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Sara’s favorite purchase: a framed illustration of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Land of Counterpane” from an antique edition of A Child’s Garden of Verses.
1935 Main Street (Route 6A), Brewster • brewsterstore.com • 508-896-3744
Sandwiches, Snacks & S’mores in Summer
Like the town it serves, Wellfleet Marketplace bustles during pre-beach and post-beach hours in summer and embraces a stalwart community of year-rounders in winter. “I always joke that nine months out of the year we’re a convenience store. The other three months, we’re a full-blown grocery store,” says manager Bob Medeiros.
The store is an oasis for picnickers seeking fresh sandwiches crafted by a chef who fills the deli cases each day with everything from homemade red bliss potato salad to cod cakes to the Marconi Beach Italian sub. Medeiros especially likes the fresh chicken sal-ad delicately flavored with pesto. A large grab-and-go coffee section offers breakfast goodies and drinks throughout the day. A hot food case provides ready-to-go meals made from scratch featuring the chef’s special antipasto, fresh vegetables, and meat entrees.
What sets the store apart from other gourmet deli/grocery stores is a book and gift section tucked into the grocery aisles. Owner Marshall Smith, a longtime Wellfleet vacationer, also owns Brookline Booksmith outside Boston. An aisle labeled “Wellfleet Booksmith” shines with the newest children’s books, best-selling beach reads, Cape nature guides, and local classics like The Outermost House by Henry Beston.
Medeiros says “nostalgia items” fly off the shelves because returning vacationers always “buy the things they had when they were kids.” For example, he sells 5,000 packages of marshmallows and Hershey bars every summer for s’mores.
Sara’s favorite purchase: a Chicken Caesar wrap with crisp lettuce, a touch of fennel, ripe cherry tomatoes, tender white meat, and a dab of pesto and mayonnaise.
295 Main Street, Wellfleet • 508-349-3156
Pick up Some Goodies, & Drop off your Mail
Alley’s General Store, Martha’s Vineyard
One of 25 historic properties owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, Alley’s General Store shows just how exuberantly general a general store can be. Thanks to the vision of the Trust and the multi-tasking talents of manager/buyer Rhonda Backus, this up-island outpost is a marvel of ingenuity, creativity, and utility. The store lives up to its motto, “Dealers in Almost Everything,” with a floor-to-ceiling mash-up of food, gifts, and tools.
Anyone willing to mine the mounds of merchandise will discover among the hardware and groceries gems such as a stapler in the shape of a hot dog, an adult-size Big Foot costume, a cellphone protective cover that looks like a cracked screen, and a talking pen featuring Star Trek’s George Takei repeating, “Oh myyy.” A crafts section boasts rock collection starters and a paper lantern animal-making kit. Wasabi candy, gravy candy, bacon mints, and popcorn jellybeans blast the boundaries of the average penny candy collection.
The historical heart of the store is the 100-box post office still in use. Grooves in the floorboards show where postmasters paced during the last century, says Chris Scott, the Trust president, whose mother once rented a box here. As he contemplates his upcoming retirement after 25 years on the job, Scott is grateful that island landmarks like Alley’s have been preserved not as museums but as living entities. “I’m happiest that it’s open and doing what it’s supposed to be doing . . . that in the off-season dusk, I drive up and I see the lights on at Alley’s.”
Sara’s favorite purchase: a unicorn squirrel feeder (a dangling unicorn head filled with nuts that provides YouTube-worthy video opportunities).
1045 State Road, West Tisbury • mvpreservation.org
(click on “About,” “Historic Properties,” & “Alley’s General Store”) • 508-693-0088
Read all about this Buzzing Coffee Shop
The Hub, Nantucket
What happens to a Main Street hub known for decades as the morning newspaper stand when newspaper readership plummets? If it’s lucky enough to be bought by the original owner’s business-savvy daughter, it morphs into a newsstand cafe and remains a Main Street hub.
Scott and Debby Anderson owned The Hub until the late 1980s as well as Anderson’s gift shop next door until 2010. Their daughter Tess Anderson now owns both (she bought The Hub when she was just 22) and says she is dedicated to making sure both businesses continue to meet the needs of Nantucket. Her strategy of adding a specialty coffee bar that also offers smoothies and fresh-baked pastries has been rewarded with long lines. Outside, men in baseball caps still fill the benches with their newspapers and coffee in hand. Inside, locals and tourists from all over the world wend their way through magazine racks, card displays, and Nantucket-themed gifts. A congenial, attentive coffee crew fills orders in rapid succession.
“The Hub has always been known as an in-and-out spot,” says Anderson. “When I incorporated [the coffee bar] into the business, it was really important to make sure that was maintained.”
Goodies like the flakey, caramelized sugar and cinnamon Morning Bun are prepared in the store’s own kitchen. Breakfast has proved so popular that Anderson recently added a lunch takeout menu featuring hot paninis and tempting sandwiches and salads, such as ham and Boursin baguettes; turkey, bacon, and avocado wraps; and Asian noodle and Caprese pasta salads. Four Seas ice cream is available throughout the day and evening.
Sara’s favorite purchases: a slate serving board decorated with Nantucket Island stencil; an iced mocha with almond milk.
31 Main Street, Nantucket • thehubofnantucket.com • 508-325-0200
Children’s book writer Sara Hoagland Hunter lives in Centerville. Her latest book, Every Turtle Counts, about the rescue of a rare sea turtle
on Cape Cod, won a Ben Franklin Gold Award and was named a National Science Teachers Outstanding Trade Book of 2015.
More to love
Here are some details on 14 more popular Cape and Islands country and general stores
Gray Gables Market
185 Shore Road, Bourne • 508-743-5587
This shop is a great spot to stop in for lunch. The store has a fully stocked deli and sells prepared foods, groceries, cookies, magazines, t-shirts, wine, beer, and coffee. A great stop to visit after a walk or cycle along the canal or a visit to the Aptucxet Trading Post—or if you’re headed out to lovely Mashnee Island.
Woods Hole Market & Provisions
87 Water Street, Woods Hole (Falmouth) • 508-540-4792
Located in downtown Woods Hole, this general store is a great stop if you’re waiting for the next ferry or simply exploring the village. The shop features a deli, prepared meals, groceries, sundries, and more.
3220 Main Street, Barnstable • 508-362-4457 • barnstablemarket.com
Open daily, this popular stop on Route 6A in Barnstable Village offers a variety of groceries, snacks, wine, cheese, and gift baskets for all occasions. The staff also makes its own pizza, and in the deli one can order from a menu of savory sandwiches including The Old Jail, which features ham, Swiss, and honey mustard.
Craigville General Store
628 Craigville Beach Road, Centerville • 508-775-2900 • craigvillegeneralstore.com
Once a home, the Craigville General Store is a historic shop with many old-timey touches such as an old player piano that customers can try and a cracker barrel loaded with peanuts. The store also sells lawn games, beach toys, hardware, candy, coffee, and Katie’s Ice Cream.
LaBelle’s General Store
662 Main Street, Dennisport • 508-394-3953 • dennisportgeneralstore.com
This serene shop offers a variety of clothing and souvenirs celebrating the village of Dennisport from hats, t-shirts, and sweatshirts to postcards and more. Customers will also find a wide selection of cookware and cutlery products from soupspoons and strainers, to cherry pitters and lobster crackers. Additional items sold include Irish pottery, candy, and locally made beach plum jelly. They even have lobster claw shaped oven mitts!
Old Village Store of West Barnstable
2455 Meetinghouse Way, West Barnstable • 508-362-3701
Visitors to this historic (1880) store will find a variety of sandwiches, souvenirs, and four-wheeling gear for Sandy Neck Beach.
Brewster Village Marketplace
1760 Main Street, Brewster • 508-896-2905 • brewstervillagemarketplace.com
Open daily, this store is known for the sandwiches in its deli, which offers Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Some local favorites include the Rock Harbor sandwich with buffalo chicken salad, lettuce and blue cheese dressing, the Brewster BLT, and the Old King’s Highway featuring liverwurst, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, and Dijon mustard. The market also sells beer, wine, and groceries.
Local Flavor at the Pleasant Lake General Store
403 Pleasant Lake Avenue, Harwich • 508-430-0200
Located along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, this historic store is a great spot for bikers to stop at for sandwiches, snacks, and provisions. New owners Elaine Pekarcik and Heather Gaskill make homemade pot pies from scratch! Open daily, except for major holidays.
Yankee Doodle Shop
181 Route 28, West Harwich • 508-432-0579 • yankeedoodleshop.com
The Yankee Doodle Shop sells a variety of Americana productssuch as shorebirds and model ships. Customers can also browse unique furniture and decor pieces. Open daily from June to October, and on weekends from Columbus Day through May.
South Wellfleet General Store
1446 State Highway (Route 6), S. Wellfleet • 508-349-1100 • todd-lebart.squarespace.com
A South Wellfleet gathering place for more than 60 years, the South Wellfleet General Store retains its charming, old-fashioned style. Recently renovated, the store offers a full-service deli and a selection of locally made meats, cheese, and produce. Bonus—they sell breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and coffee! Located on Route 6, the general store is a popular stop for beachgoers and cyclists.
Far Land Provisions
150 Bradford Street, Provincetown • 508-487-0045 • farlandprovisions.com
Just a block from Commercial Street, Far Land Provisions offers a variety of quality foods. For breakfast one can enjoy bagels, breakfast sandwiches, and homemade granola with yogurt. For lunch, the menu features several sandwiches named after Outer Cape beaches; the Ballston comes with rosemary ham, apple, bacon, cheddar, and honey mustard, while the Wood End features grilled marinated veggies and sprouts with homemade hummus. The staff also makes cookies, cupcakes, brownies and other baked goods from scratch—as well as prepared meals and gift baskets.
Rosewater Market & Take Away
20 South Summer Street, Edgartown • 508-627-1270 • rosewatermv.com
In the morning, Rosewater’s patrons can order egg sandwiches or pastries made from scratch, or try the chia pudding with house-made granola. Lunch options include—in a sandwich or a bowl—buttermilk fried chicken, house-smoked barbeque, a classic PB&J, and more. The market also sells coffee, cookware, beach blankets, and books. Open year-round & daily from April to mid-October.
4 Main Street, Nantucket • 508-257-9915 • sconsetmarket.com
Located in scenic Siasconset village, the Sconset Market sells a selection of baked goods including homemade cookies and muffins. They also offer private label goods including jams, sauces, salsas, and dressings. Currently closed until May of 2017.