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Courtesy of Eau Claire Press Co.
By Chris Vetter
Chippewa Falls News Bureau

storefrontBLACK RIVER FALLS, April 2003 – Jazz and swing tunes from the 1930s greet visitors as they walk through the doors at the Merchant General Store in downtown Black River Falls.Shelves packed with old-fashioned candy and toys, throwback glass jars and dishes dot the walls.And at the restored dining counter, co-owner Darren Durman is greeting customers to his new business in the heart of Black River Falls’ shopping district.

“We wanted to create this atmosphere, from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s,” Durman said. “It’s the idea of the old general store, where people came in and played checkers, got news about town, and had their bank. It became the central locator in town.”

Darren and his wife, Trish, wanted to recreate the old-fashioned general store vibe, and they needed a building that fit the era. They found it in a former shoe shop on Main Street, which later operated as a sports card store.The building, constructed in 1912, had been closed for about six years when the Durmans leased it in January and began overhauling the inside.

“We talked about doing something in this concept,” Darren Durman said. “But we wanted the right building with old-fashioned charm.”First, the Durmans had to strip away an old rug and remove a tile floor to get at the original hardwood floor.

The Durmans, both in their early 30s, profess a long love of antiques and old-fashioned goods.

“I started going to auctions at age 15,” Trish Durman said. “It’s something I always liked.”

The Durmans believe there is a market for their nostalgia-soaked store.

durmans“It’s capturing that simpler time gone by,” Darren Durman said. “For the older generation, it’s a chance for them to come in and reminisce.” “We wanted a relaxed atmosphere,” Trish Durman said. “I wanted to have a variety of things for everybody.” Carol Williamson, executive director of the Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce, said she is pleased to see the Durmans’ business open in a previously unused building.“They’ve done a beautiful job with it,” Williamson said. “We’re really excited. It will bring more life to that end of the street. The business community is excited about this new life, and we wish them the very best.”

Two other antique/collectible stores also are opening in Black River Falls, which should bring tourists into the city, she said.While the General Store carries numerous antiques, Williamson said the business is wise to carry lines of fresh breads and other food items to keep customers coming through the doors on a regular basis.

“(Darren Durman) has a keen sense of tourism,” Williamson said. “His marketing skills will be a benefit to him and surrounding businesses.”

Not everything in the store is generations old. The toys come from specialty shops that make the old-fashioned appearing pieces.

Darren Durman said the biggest challenge he has is running out of room in the 1,600-square-foot shop. He said it will be important to rotate stock so customers always find something new.

Customers who walked through the store said they were amazed at how the Durmans refurbished the inside and captured the feeling of the era.

The General Merchandise Store opened at the end of March, and is among three new antique stores in the Black River Falls shopping district. Only a few blocks away, stores dubbed “Now and Forever” and “Time and Again” also sell antique goods. Williamson said the trio of new stores fills a niche in the Black River Falls market and will help tourism for the city.

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