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General store offers a stroll down memory lane

By Casey Marstaller
July, 2005 
The Country Today Staff Reporter

BLACK RIVER FALLS - Downtown Black River Falls is buzzing. Traffic moves quickly through stoplights. People chat on cell phones. But The Merchant General Store slows the world down and gives people a chance to step back in time.

Trish and Darren Durman have restored the store with an old-fashioned look, which the couple hopes will help savor an era when general stores were the center of the rural lifestyle.

"The old general store was at one time the only store for basic needs. The whole family would come and it was a place of entertainment. We wanted to give people that opportunity with a more modern flair," Mr. Durman said.

The building in downtown Black River Falls once served as a shoe store. When the shoe store was moved in 1986, a cards, coins and comics store used the place. The Durmans bought the building and started fulfilling their dreams after the structure stood empty for six years.

The couple's collecting for the store's décor began long before they opened shop. They collect as a hobby, decorating their home and dealing in antiques, Mr. Durman said.

"We had a lot of things before and we scouted a lot more when we decided to have the store. We tried to find historical pieces and use some that were local," Mr. Durman said.

The store's shelving came from the original shoe store, which opened in 1912.

The Merchant General Store opened almost three years ago, after the Durmans found all the pieces necessary to start. With music from the roaring '20s, Coke ready to be served in glass bottles and a checkers game waiting to be played, visitors could look into generations past.

Business has been good. They're pleased with local residents' support and the tourism draw from being near the Interstate, Mr. Durman said.

Although the store captures yesteryear, the Durmans have added a modern style to their store's look.

"We wanted a store that looked like it had been here for different generations," Mr. Durman said. "That's how a lot of stores were. It captures from th '20s to the '40s primarily. We never really picked a time; we just mixed things to have a collection from different eras. There are things here from the 1800s to 1950s."

Through companies that supply toys, candy and items from yesterday and today, they have been successful in blending different generations, Mr. Durman said.

The idea for the shop was originally more about antiques, but the addition of candy and toys has reached greater audiences. Bottled Coke also has been a visitors' favorite.

"Bottled soda is a big hit. People want to experience it out of a (glass) bottle," he said.

The Durmans' inventory has consisted of more than local discoveries. The couple has traveled up to hundreds of miles to find their store's treasures. But they feature products by local people - including hand-shaved wood baskets made by members of the Ho-chunk Nation. They also sell wreaths crafted by local designers and promote Wisconsin-grown foods.

The store's owners have continued to add and change the displays and items in their country store, but have cherished the age-old atmosphere.

"(The store) brings back flavor of the downtown and city. It gives people an opportunity to reminisce or let a younger generation learn something about how stores used to be," Mr. Durman said.

Casey Marstaller can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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