In downtown historic Francesville, a hub of activity promises delicious food, one-of-a-kind home goods, and community-focused purchasables. Montgomery Mercantile was established in 2018 as a fresh incentive for locals and visitors alike, and since then it has proven to be a valuable, essential line of business to the Francesville community and Pulaski County as a whole.
The mercantile was conceived by the Uptown Project, a non-profit, collaborative effort created in 2016 to enhance and revitalize the Francesville business district. Jodie Schlatter was a local school teacher when she joined the Uptown Project board.
“We were concerned about our dwindling population, particularly the effect it had on our school district,” Schlatter said.
One mainstead business made a bittersweet exit before Montgomery Mercantile made its grand entrance. In 2017, Gerald Fagan sold his 45-year-old business, Fagan Pharmacy, to CVS Pharmacy. Of the 20 Fagan Pharmacy locations in Northwest Indiana and the south Chicago suburbs, Francesville’s Fagan Pharmacy was among the 12 locations not to be converted to a CVS Pharmacy, leaving another empty building in the downtown area.
“Our [Uptown Project] president at that time, Darlene Mellon, knew there were several vacant buildings downtown and that something needed to be done,” Schlatter said. “Lo and behold, he ended up gifting the building to Uptown Project.”
Montgomery Mercantile celebrated its grand opening on June 15, 2018. Schlatter herself and several other volunteers with the Uptown Project worked hard to restore the historic building to its original charm.
“We had to gut that building! We pulled the old blue carpet up, a group of us tore it from there. My teammate and I refinished the floor,” Schlatter said. “When people come in, one of the first things they say is how much they love the squeaky wooden floors, which are original. It’s a nostalgic hearkening back to the days of pharmacies with countertops where you could get a soda.”
Also proudly on display are exposed brick walls, photos from years past in the pharmacy, and a few antiques.
At the time of its opening, Montgomery Mercantile had about 18 vendors. The 501(c)(3) is run completely by volunteers who donate their time and efforts; the vendors pay rent for their booths in the storefront.
Many of the original vendors specialized in boutique items such as clothing and home goods. Over time, though, a shift in needs and demand saw an influx of vendors specializing in food items.
“In the last two years, the needs of this community have changed. We no longer have a pharmacy or a grocery store in Francesville. We actually have one grocery store in the county, and it’s in Winamac. Consumables were what people really needed,” Schlatter said.
Today, the majority of the vendors at Montgomery Mercantile offer food items. Such vendors include Miller Beef; Meadow Springs, which boasts decadent homemade casseroles and soups; Coffin Coffee Company; The Homestead, which offers jams, jellies, cheeses, salamis, and more; and Gutwein Popcorn. Boutiques like Aunt Em’s Crafts, Simply Clean Soap Company, Imagine That Design, and more offer unique purchases and gifts. The latest addition to the bunch has been The Farmhouse Kitchen, a full-fledged restaurant located in the back of the mercantile.
The Farmhouse Kitchen was set to have its grand opening on April 2, but with the COVID-19 pandemic shocking businesses around the world plans obviously shifted. Instead, owner Jonnie Schultz immediately started selling carryout meals from its comfort-food inspired menu.
“[The Farmhouse Kitchen] has been one of our lifelines,” Schlatter said. “It’s been a hit, and people in the area need meals to take home now and then.”
In general, Montgomery Mercantile has served as a testament to community-focused projects. People in Francesville have been able to turn to the collection of microbusinesses for a helping hand during this time of crisis.
“One thing we’ve done during this virus is offer homemade masks,” Schlatter said. “We have a local manufacturer of filters, and he’s been giving us spools of elastic, and we’ve been donating them to local seamstresses to make masks. They give masks back to us in return, and locals can come into the mercantile to take masks for free.”
As of May 1, Pulaski County residents must wear a mask any time they’re in the public. “We were one step ahead of the county, and we’ve been able to provide to a lot of people who needed the resource,” Schlatter said.
Montgomery Mercantile is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tues.-Fri. (the Farmhouse Kitchen is open 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Mon.-Fri.). The typical day brings slow but steady foot traffic, Schlatter said, which doesn’t prevent the mercantile from adhering to extra precautions in sanitation and social distancing regulations.
Nevertheless, Schlatter looks forward to the days when Montgomery Mercantile can remain open later and attract new visitors—and perhaps even new and lasting residents in Francesville. She’s since retired from teaching, enjoying the free time she has to devote to the passion project.
“Montgomery Mercantile is more of an upscale experience than other stores offer around here,” Schlatter said. “Francesville is an elderly community now. We do want to draw more young people, and encourage people to stay in town.”
“I love it here,” Schlatter said. “I moved to Francesville 40 years ago, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s a small town with a lot of heart.”
Visit the Montgomery Mercantile Facebook page to explore more.