Jennifer and Don Rick began their renovation of a strip of historic Pocahontas buildings, with a dream and a vision. At the time, the vision might have seemed pretty far-fetched for someone who doesn’t have an eye like Jennifer.
“We accomplished a lot in two years,” Jennifer Rick said..
A little more than two years ago, the couple bought a string of derelict buildings on the village square. Built in the 1800s, the buildings had once been home to The Strand Theater, and a market and ice cream shop owned by the DeLaurenti family.
Refusing to let a piece of Pocahontas history die, the Ricks decided to restore the buildings to what they once were. For the last two years, the couple said they have been at the properties every night, working on the restoration.
In July, the couple reopened The Strand as 1940s themed event venue, and on Sept. 13 the Delaurenti market will reopen its doors as Pocahontas Mercantile & Sweet Shoppe, located at 105 Academy St. The opening marks the end of one labor of love and the beginning of another.
Rick has a knack for authenticity.
“I just love, love the nostalgia from the 30s and 40s,” Rick said.
Walking into the sweet side of the shop, customers are greeted with bright red walls, accented by green cabinets and wood trim, reminiscent of a 20th century soda shop. A small table sits to the right of the entrance with four heart-shape-backed chairs.
Nearby a vintage Coca Cola cooler is filled with ice, holding a variety of retro sodas to refresh thirsty shoppers. Patrons are able to buy single sodas or mix and match six of the 24 offered flavors.
Ceiling-high shelves hold jars and jars of novelty candies, making this the place to find sweets that left the shelves of other shops long ago. Shoppers can choose from old-time favorites like Chick-O-Sticks, candy cigarettes, Cherryheads, Boston Baked Beans, Razzles, and Bottlecaps, just to name a few.
“We’re sitting at a little over 100 varieties,” Rick said.
Nuzzled sweetly in the corner is an ice cream freezer with 19 different novelty ice creams. However, when Christmas comes around, the novelties will be rivaled by hand-dipped cones, which Rick plans to serve in the same double-sided cones that were served by the Delaurenti family.
The old time mercantile
Traveling across the original wood-paneled floors, shoppers will find the Mercantile section.
The wares and fares that fill these shelves are essential goods that would be found in an authentic Mercantile, or old-time general store. Nothing is imported, and everything is either an antique or made by hand. Rick handpicked each of the craftsmen, who each have their own unique trade.
“It’s just quite exciting,” Rick said.
From antique enamel ware to baskets made from antlers, there is something for practically every taste.
A blacksmith stall holds jewelery and other metal trinkets, a textile booth with fall-themed decor is stocked with fabric flowers, and stuffed pumpkins that are the colors of autumn. A cast iron specialist refurbished and re-seasoned cast iron pans, molds and skillets, alongside a stand with antique enamelware.
Barbecuing enthusiasts who want to try a hand in smoking meats have their pick of specialty cooking woods like cherry, pecan, and sassafras for smoking meats. An old sink stands surrounded by different types of soap, and d. Rick said she is especially excited about her vendor who makes her own brooms, using homegrown broom corn.
But as Rick said, she hopes this is just the beginning.
“We want old fashioned artisans,” Rick said.
The Ricks will continue seeking those with unique trades and crafts to to fill their mercantile.
As for shoppers, Pocahontas Mercantile & Sweet Shoppe will be open Thursday through Sunday starting at 10 a.m. Rick said at this point she is unsure how late the hours will range, though she anticipates it being later on the weekend for anyone looking to get their nightly ice cream fix.
For some time, Rick has been working to help drive tourism in Pocahontas. Other efforts include helping to get the town on the Illinois Barn Quilt Trail map, through hosting multiple barn quilt painting sessions. Rick said she hopes the mercantile will be the final piece to help make Pocahontas a stoppable tourist attraction.
“I think it’s going to be a hit,” Rick said