By J.D. Kettle
DEL NORTE, CO
PASSERSBY, most of them locals to Del Norte, convened for a night of conversation and cocktails at one of Del Norte’s newest businesses on May 22. While the sight of such a night might seem like a far-gone past for some, perhaps it implied the turning of the tide for social life in the San Luis Valley. The smiles on friendly faces were certainly a sight for sore eyes in the year and some change since COVID-19 forced many of us into our own hibernations of sorts, and what better a place to kickstart the summer – and everyone’s eagerness to get out of the house – than the new General Specific Store on Del Norte’s Main Street.
Since its opening, the General Specific Store, owned by Corey Hubbard and Ryan Methfessel, has infused zest and a dash of panache to Del Norte. Hubbard has amassed a fine collection of goods and trinkets that captivate shoppers, and the brick-and-mortar “vintage emporium,” as she calls it, offers locals and tourists a space to shop for curated antique goods and vintage clothing, as well as art and home goods, honing in on “unique and eclectic offerings of color, design, and a sense of history and humor.”
Visitors will experience a cozy atmosphere that invites them to do more than just shop around. They’ll find comfort in the homestyle layout and decor, perhaps grab a book, and reminisce about the former days in this modern diorama, or visit an adjacent event space that can host small gatherings and art galleries.
INSPIRED by old-West general stores, it’s the aura of the General Specific Store and its connection with the typical function of general stores in rural communities that should allure anyone stopping by.
Many generational members of the San Luis Valley may know fully well the history of general stores specifically here in the Valley. At one point in time, general stores served, well, everyone’s general needs, and storekeepers were renowned in their communities and even started some of the Valley’s early townships as they began to supply the surrounding settlements.
William Garrison, founder of what’s now Hooper, partnered with Herbert Howard around 1891, and the two Texans brought money and much-needed experience to the town. Bill Albert, from Coleman and Albert’s in Moffat, was respected for his real estate know-how and financial advice
Photos by Ryan Michelle Scavo
(Visit the Alamosa Library’s “Local History” room and find The San Luis Valley Historian, Vol. XII, No.3, 1980). So much so that Coleman and Albert’s provided money and equipment loans to struggling families and farms.
These storekeepers were more than simple merchants; they became caretakers for their communities. They intended their business to be a reflection of the community they served. It was often the case that the food available at the stores indicated whether the town was eating well, and the supplies stocked on the shelves hinted at what the locals were working on. If the town was doing well, the store reflected that.
IN a modern era, where online shopping dominates most markets, it would seem that opening a store such as this would be foolhardy. But the General Specific Store still has a purpose. “We are happy and humbled to breathe life into the precious memories and historic items shared between generations,” says Hubbard. “Often people come in and remark that the place is full of nostalgia.”
What’s not readily apparent is that the general stores of the West were once popular social grounds for locals and travelers in addition to supplying practical needs. Their main function was to inventory basic household goods and hardware supplies, but customers were just as likely to pick up the local news and politics of their region as they would anything else. From births, deaths, illness, marriages, the general store would have been the place to check in on what happened around the town. And, for more than just typical news, customers used the space to gossip and gab about feuds and infidelities, causing storekeepers to do their best to keep their ears closed and themselves impartial… as best as they could.
The typical hubbub around town would have been the more informal social gathering, but general stores often served as larger community spaces as well. It wasn’t uncommon for storekeepers to host town dances, suppers, and meetings inside the store, which were often two stories and could accommodate most of the town.
General stores throughout the Valley supplied rural communities and often gave glimpses of the more populated urban world. It was a much different time then, but rural residents didn’t venture far from home, so any news or updates happening in the bigger cities were few and far between. Once the telephone became popular throughout the United States, general stores were the first to open phone lines for communication to bigger towns and cities. Traveling salesmen were also a source of news, as they would visit storekeepers to check in on sales and catch up with customers and their needs, bringing with them news of the big cities.
Storekeepers were adaptable to the times, and they found new ways to keep people coming in. Even as electricity found its way to the Valley, general stores adopted new technologies in order to maintain their social function to their communities. Electricity brought along with it refrigeration, inspiring shopkeepers to serve ice cream. Radios were still a novelty in many rural towns, so storekeepers invested in those to attract visitors. These technologies were too expensive to be staple household items just yet, so locals would convene at the general store to get a taste.
Times have certainly changed, and some of the regular roles of these general stores might just be a fargone, nostalgic past: news travels much faster to more remote places, online ordering dominates the shopping markets, and large wholesale corporations stifle competition and small business. Perhaps all most of us can do is attempt to envision what these places used to be.
“To be a steward of historic items is a privilege,” Hubbard says, and “we want to stay open to whatever creative ideas take shape, in communion with the town and with the Valley.” Curating memories of the past is a huge responsibility, especially so in the Valley, but after the year we’ve all had, most of us certainly appreciate a decent place to visit that reminds us a bit of the old days.