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By Tribune business editor Steve Cahalan - June 2003


BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. - Looking for reproductions of a classic Roy Rogers and Trigger wind-up metal toy, a 1937-style toy wagon or enamelware?

Or maybe a Lincoln Logs set, bottled soda pop, old-fashioned candy, specialty food mixes or just some childhood memories?

You can find those and much more at The Merchant General Store, which Darren and Trish Durman opened in March at 216 Main St. in downtown Black River Falls.

durmans2Darren, 31, and Trish, 36, use the theme of an old-fashioned general store, in a building constructed in 1912. It was built as the Locken Shoe Store and remained a shoe store until 1986, Darren said. It later was a comic book, coin and sports card shop, but had been vacant for the past six years, he said.

"Trish and I have always had a love of antiques," Darren said. "Ever since we were married, we've always talked about opening something like this if we came across the right building. We wanted to create the flavor of an old-fashioned general store."

In January, the Durmans leased the former shoe store building and began remodeling it. They removed carpeting and tile to get at the original hardwood floor, which customers see today.

"I think this is so neat," Lynette Overby of Black River Falls said, when she visited the store last week. "I love stores like this. The 1950s (items) bring back memories to me, and I like to collect things" from that period. "This reminds me of happy childhood memories."

Letting people relive happy memories is a major reason why the Durmans started The Merchant General Store. "It's been real rewarding for us," Darren said, as swing music from the 1930s played in the background.

The store's background music is from the 1920s through the 1950s. General stores mostly died out in the 1960s and 1970s, Darren explained. The wooden counter in the Durman's business came from an old general store in the Mondovi area. "It was built with square nails," and probably dates back to about 1850, Darren said. Visitors sometimes sit and visit at two wooden stools at the counter. Old glass jars, stoneware and glass soda pop bottles line shelves above the counter. Just to the right of the counter is a 1952 Frigidaire refrigerator, where customers can get a cold bottle of pop - such as Coca Cola, Grape Crush, IBC cream sodas, Point Root Beer and AriZona iced tea. Frozen ice cream treats also are available. Across from the counter is an upright wooden barrel with a checkers set on top and two wooden chairs, where visitors can play the game and talk about news of the day.

"General stores were a central location in town, where people came to get supplies and catch up on the news in town," Darren said. A potbelly parlor stove is in place near the barrel, but is only for decoration.

inside laxAt a nearby display are glass jars and boxes full of old-fashioned and specialty candy - such as Gold Rocks nugget bubble gum, candy buttons, candy pipes, flavored candy sticks, Lemon Head candy, Boston Baked Beans and Horehound Candy Drops. The store also has some newer specialty candies, such as fudge and cranberry bark.

Classic and novelty toys fill one corner of the general store.

"We have toys from when you were a child but are hard to find today except in stores like this," Darren said. "We have everything from tops to tin wind-up toys," such as a Roy Rogers and Trigger toy that rocks back and forth. Examples of other classic toys at the store include a small Robot X-7 metal toy, jump ropes, hobby horses and Cub Cruisers - reproductions of a 1937-style toy wagon.

The store also sells some antiques. But not everything is old or a reproduction.

The Merchant General store sells fresh bread from the Renaissance Breads & Pastries bakery in Galesville and will carry some fresh produce in the coming months.

It carries many new specialty items - such as seasonings, drink mixes, food mixes, stoneware, home and garden decor and accents, house wares, kitchen wares, bath and body products, candles and gift items.

The Merchant General Store has about 1,600 square feet of space on the ground floor of the one-story, brick building. And the Durmans plan to expand into the basement level - perhaps later this year.

Darren works at the store full time, and Trish works full time as a diagnostic coder at the Krohn Clinic in Black River Falls, where she has been employed for 13 years. She is a lifelong Black River Falls resident, while her husband has lived in the area since his teens.

Darren worked for Pizza Hut for eight years, including five years as a manager, before becoming general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Black River Falls for four years. He left that job to start the general store.

Business of the Week

What: The Merchant General Store, with the theme of an old-fashioned general store. Darren and Trish Durman opened it in March

Where: At 216 Main St. in downtown Black River Falls, Wis.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Contact: For more information, call the store at (715) 284-5700 or check its Web site at www.themerchantgeneralstore.com

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