There’s a new type of shop on the rise and it’s being referred to affectionately as ‘the general store’.
This retro trend is gaining more and more traction. Inspired by ‘old-time general stores’ this new kid on the retail block puts retro character, vintage charm and a nostalgic ambience at the forefront of the customer experience. The general store is a place where you might find an organic candle, a vintage sofa or a trendy new piece of urban jewellery, all under the same roof. Rather than the product range itself, it’s the quality, the artistry and the agelessness of the items on offer that unifies the classic general store’s inventory. This cohesion means more than a one-dimensional store, e.g. a ‘clothing’ shop or a ‘furniture’ studio. A single store becomes a treasure-trove, an Aladdin’s cave of interesting items rather than rows upon rows of the same type of goods.
Rehab² is part of an increasing collective of general stores that fuses neighbourhood heart with a personal spin on retail offering. The history of the general store is given more weight to its roots when we look at some classic and new-wave general stores in America. A road trip through the Deep South in the Summer of 2016 was instrumental in inspiring the birth of Rehab². 'Two Old Hippies' in Nashville, Tennessee is a fantastically well thought out and hugely inspiring contemporary general store. The range and uniqueness of the items in their store is second-to-none. All visitors are compelled to meander, all items are individually beautiful and the vibe is welcoming and warm. The owners of 'Two Old Hippies' continue this idea in their company motto: "Old enough to have been around when the concept of peace, love and rock n’ roll inspired a generation of free spirits. Young enough to embrace a world community, where generosity, compassion and equality are a way of life." The owners of the store say that they "want guests to arrive and say wow, spend a little time in the store with [our] amazing team of co-hippies, and leave as one of our friends. Walking into our store is really an experience. If you visit our store, you will have a great time, experience, and be welcomed. We encourage people to have fun. There is something in everyone’s price point, not only high priced items, so there are opportunities to shop."
Rehab² has also made it a priority to offer a range of items to suit all budgets therefore welcoming everybody to the party. The general store ‘A Schwab’ on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee is an original surviving general store that has moved with the times and retains all the hallmarks of the the classic general store yet is still hugely successful as a modern retailer. It was established in 1876 by Abraham Joseph Schwab, a jewish immigrant; the store is a now a local tourist attraction with two floors of shopping and also housing a collection of Beale Street memorabilia along with several items and records of the Schwab family, which has run the store throughout its lifetime. The store began as a men’s haberdashery, transitioned to a dry goods store, and later evolved into a seller of quirky merchandise. Products include various hoodoo items, assorted dry goods, and tourist memorabilia.
Rehab² at 9-11 Duke Street on the Isle of Man seems to have more than a few interesting things common with the world-famous 'A Schwab' general store and 'Two Old Hippies'; since 1868, the new home of Rehab² - 9-11 Duke Street - was known as ‘George Lay – Tailor and Haberdasher’ Up until 2016 (when Rehab² moved in) the ground floor of the building was still a popular clothing store. It also has its own fair share of quirky hoodoo for sale including a wonderful range of Victorian Lowbrow hand-drawn pen and ink sketches printed on an old-school off-set letter press by Madame Talbot. These prints are available framed or as a rolled print and the various sketches feature wonderfully intricate renderings of times gone by, such as curio exhibits, gothic signs, victorian mottos and spiritual blessings. The mix of part local store / part concept retail is a heady and attractive mix for the millennial shopper due to the pleasant familiarity of [the] ‘place’.
At Rehab², there is an approachable friendly vibe, helped along by a varying yet always stylish musical soundtrack of Rhythm & Blues, Doo-wop, Motown, Jazz and on occasion some Orchestral Dance music. Visitors to Rehab² are encouraged to browse at their leisure and are never hassled or given an ounce of unwanted sales patter. The folks at Rehab² believe that if you want to buy something from the store, you’ll buy because you want to, because you covet the item or simply just having to have it – but never out of a sense of obligation. Visitors at Rehab² are also encouraged to pop back again in the future as the items in the shop are constantly changing and evolving; it’s more about the experience of visiting Rehab² than it is about the business of selling.
On a small island like the Isle of Man, where the sense of community is strong and integral, the idea of the general store appeals on a fundamental and wholesome level. Historically, general stores were the small town’s main provider of sundries and supplies but they were also informal community hot-spots; spaces where people congregated, making idle chit-chat next to tall mahogany and glass display counters. The same communal atmosphere exists at the new wave general store and as it certainly does at Rehab². Local people gather by the original rickety metal 1950s elevator and gossip while they wait to be vertically transported to the cafe on the top floor of the building. If they don’t fancy using the lift, they can use the central staircase – made of the original mahogany wood installed in the early 1920s. Ladies in the store, coming and going to their yoga class on the 2nd floor or their beauty appointment on the 1st, often wander through the displays of candles, jewellery and gifts indulging in a spot of buying or browsing.
For contemporary general store keepers, having an online retail shop is merely an accessory. It’s important, but it fails to offer customers the same experience. A single visit to the general store Rehab², might find you discovering an ‘upcycling’ workshop underway – demonstrating the brilliance of a range of new mineral furniture paint that is for sale at the store, or a locally sourced fruit juice being sampled at the original Art Deco 1920s bar, which is an antique for sale as well as a fully functioning drink-slinger. The modern-day general store is a concept made authentic by the simple fact that the it is the items chosen by the store owners that are key; the stores are an extension of the people choosing the varied items on offer. "We choose what we like" says Gemma Wasley, owner of Rehab². "We have a passion for the items we source and sell, and we think people can see and feel that."