Currently: Long Story Short
As it sits present day, S.C. Mercantile has become known as that little corner shop with the big windows and creaky wood floors that envelops you immediately upon walking through its old front door. Clean white tones, natural elements, and the sweet, warm aroma of candles being poured behind the counter welcome you into a space that you want to linger in a while, and we are happy to let you do just that. Inside our walls you will find everything from handmade kitchen pottery, soaps from France, our hand-poured candles and paper wrapped bundles of dried flowers, to the most lovely hardcover books, handwoven blankets, vintage European wares, and an ever growing selection of sustainable products for the home. Every item we have brought into our little shop, whether it was made with our own hands or carefully selected from other talented makers, has been chosen to not only work together to create a light and lovely aesthetic, but to be useful, beautiful, and above all, make you fall in love all over with the comfort of being home.
The Evolution of a Little Shop: Long Story Long
In December of 2009, at 5 months pregnant and just 2 hours from hopping on a plane with my husband to visit my mother in California for Christmas, I was fired from my desk job of six years. The reason, I promise, is entirely lackluster and unimportant. The outcome however, is spectacular.
By the beginning of fall in 2010, that day was nine months in the past. The shock from it had been quickly replaced with the one million emotions and moods that being in the throes of parenthood will rain down upon a new mom. I was in the presence of the sweetest, easiest baby girl in the world and our days were filled with the usual routines. Feeding, making funny faces, taking short walks, napping, repeat. It was blissful and exhausting, hard and wonderful, but one thing that hung above the rest, was that it was lonely. My husband worked all day and I stayed home with our daughter. Our house was a small, very old two-story that had been in my husband’s family for years. It seems that every member of his family had lived in that house at one point or another, sometimes twice. Despite the occasional attempted improvement, it had definitely done its time. When I first met my husband, it was his turn in the house, and he lived there with two other roommates. A bachelor pad in every sense of the word. After we were married, the roommates vacated, and the old house was on to its next chapter as a place for newlyweds. A few months later we found out we were expecting, so we saved our pennies and replaced the old, stained carpet with a new baby-friendly kind, and covered the walls with fresh paint. Despite the updates to the house, our new baby, and the new life overall, my quiet days at home with our daughter left me feeling a desperate urge for something not just new, but new to me and to us. Something that was all ours. This house was fine for some, but it just wasn't for me, and I was the one inside of it all day and all night. It didn't give me that feeling that home is supposed to give you. That cozy, comforting, this is home, feel. So, I started the search.
One late evening, I was pacing our small living room, bobbing and swaying while I tiptoed through baby swings and baskets of toys, trying to lull the colicky baby in my arms to sleep. When she had finally calmed, I laid her down gently. Knowing it wouldn't last long, I stayed close by and logged into our computer to check and see if any new land listings had been added to the real estate websites since I had last checked earlier that day. We had daydreamed together about an old farmhouse with a lot of space, projects to complete, and just enough land to feel like we had our own little piece of Earth all to ourselves. I scrolled and scrolled, only seeing new builds in town and available lots in one of the more expensive neighborhoods in its outskirts. I admitted defeat, and about shut the computer off when there it was.
Foreclosure: Old house and multiple outbuildings, as is. 10 acres.
Price was right.
I whispered loudly to my husband asking if he recognized the area. He said he did and that it was just a few miles outside of the opposite edge of town. We bundled up baby, and close to midnight, we hopped in our old pickup and went to go check it out. After all, babies who desperately need sleep love a moonlit drive.
We pulled up in the dark and positioned the truck in the middle of the gravel road to illuminate as much of the property as we could with the headlights. The house was clearly uninhabitable. The outbuildings consisted of a poorly assembled shed, two trailers that looked like they'd lost a fight with a tornado, and enough trash laying around to make it clear that the work was cut out for whatever poor sap decided to buy this place. Despite the mess, we were really drawn to the property, but to make sure, we drove back out the next morning to see what we were really dealing with. Everything was worse than we thought. The house and buildings had to go, there were trash and metal scraps everywhere, sticking out of the ground and growing into the trees, and there were so many bones. Clearly it had been a hunter’s playground which made the animal-lover in me cringe. But, it had an established tree line with a defined corner perfect for nestling a house into, the area was just a little bit hilly which made for potentially lovely views, and best of all, it had a creek running right through it.
We put in an offer the next morning, and after a short but stressful bidding war, we gave every penny we responsibly could as our best offer, crossed our fingers, and found out the next day that we had won it.
We spent the next three years saving our money to build our own farmhouse. After days spent cleaning up trash, we huddled together on the couch and looked at every house plan the internet could show us. Buildings came down, trash was taken to the dump, and the future of this neglected little haven was planned out. During those three years, we watched our baby grow into a toddler, welcomed baby girl number two, and my husband started his own electrical business. The desire to work and create something of my own had also been building inside of me, and the thought of owning a tiny bakery had been a glimmer of a thought in the back of my mind for a while. When the FOR RENT sign showed up in the window of a tiny little space in downtown Ashland, I jumped on it, and in December of 2011, just two months after our second daughter was born, I opened Bittersweet Bakery.
By early April of 2014, the house was nearly complete. My husband had spent his 1000th day working on it, and when he came home that night, he proclaimed that we were moving in the next morning, unfinished baseboards be damned. I was over the moon. Raising two little girls in the old house was becoming increasingly stressful and we were more than ready to start fresh. We had no room, the house was feeling older than ever, and on top of it all, after two years, I had made the decision to close my bakery. I had great customers and everyone seemed to love everything I made, but running a bakery alone is hard. Despite selling everything in the bakery case often, the slow traffic of a quiet town made the afternoons unprofitable, and I was missing too much of our daughters' early years. In the beginning days, I would hardly sleep between late-night nursing and then waking up when it was still dark to go open the bakery. By the time that two year mark hit, I was just exhausted. Despite knowing it was the right choice, the decision to close was hard, and my spirits were definitely down during a time they should have been soaring. Needless to say, hearing we were moving in less than 24 hours was a welcome announcement. All that next day we threw toys and clothes into the backs of vehicles and made trip after trip to the new house. The feeling was amazing. We were home. We had done it. The next chapter was beginning and it was all because of love and dreaming and hard work. That night we tucked our little ladies into their new rooms, and we laid our exhausted selves down in our own bed in our new room. Our bedroom at the old house had been on the main floor, and the window was small and looked out towards a highway. Our new view was from the second floor and I still remember that feeling of being incredibly high up, like I was in a tower. All I could see was our lovely land, the huge sycamore tree that guarded the edge of the property, and the biggest moon I had ever seen. I’m not sure if it was because we hadn’t installed curtains yet and the moon was so bright or if it was because of the happiness coursing my veins, but I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and it didn’t bother me a bit. We were home, and a new-found sense of purpose and possibility was taking over me.
Our first few months in the new house were wonderful. Everything you would expect from a young family in a new home. Times were good and hearts were full, but rooms were fairly empty, so one thing I had become rather good at was browsing local Craigslist ads to see what kind of cheap furniture I could find to furnish our new home. I’d have conversations and negotiate prices on lovely vintage pieces, then surprise my husband when he came home from work with the news that we had to drive into the city to pick up a dresser, or a bench, or dining table. I would spend my days sanding off old finish and and painting drawer fronts in the yard while our little girls played close by. My impatience rarely allowed for proper drying times, and often enough when my husband came home at the end of the day, I’d be standing proudly by one of the pieces that had been untouched and in the garage when he left that morning, but that was now freshly painted and fully decorated with lamps and picture frames in our living room.
This went on for months. Buy cheap, refinish, done. It was great fun and I felt that I had finally found my place. Something I was really good at, and that brought me real joy. During this time I still satisfied my love of baking by taking orders for the occasional batch of cinnamon rolls or scones for customers that missed the bakery, and while dough rose and scones came to a golden brown in the oven, I painted. These days remain a great memory for me and it’s during this time that I feel my creativity was really blossoming. After a while, the house was furnished. We didn’t really need any more pieces and we didn’t have the kind of money to just keep going for fun. So, I decided I would sell one of the pieces I had made in order to earn the money to create another. I decided to let go of a bench that I had made out of a small piece of new plywood and some old parts of Jenny Lind style bed frame I had found in a nearby barn. I had painted it yellow and propped a single striped pillow against the back for a little pattern. I really loved the bench, but had decided of all the pieces I had made, the bench was the easiest to part with since it was outside and not used as often. I opened my own Craigslist account, took a couple of flattering photos of the bench, and listed it for $200. I thought for sure anyone who saw the listing would laugh themselves right off their chairs. $200 felt like a huge amount of money, and I was clearly out of my mind. To my utter bewilderment, I had a message that same day, and sold it that night. We helped load the Jenny Lind bench into the new owner’s car, and off it went. I reinvested the $200 into a vintage desk someone was selling for $35 that was desperately in need of some new paint and a touch of wood filler. A week later, that desk was sanded, primed, and painted a lovely shade of ivory. History repeated itself that night. I listed the desk for $250 (a small part of me hoping it wouldn’t sell because I really loved it and felt that my Craigslist adventures deserved proper seating), and the new owner was picking it up by that evening. The desk reminded her of one that her grandmother had when she was a little girl, and she felt it was the perfect desk for her own children to do their homework at. Before I had just enjoyed the admiration of the pieces I repurposed and the money I was making from them had me feeling like a real contributor to our family, but this transaction brought me a new feeling. I had received real feedback from someone I didn’t know, and who had appreciated me and what I had created. I made her happy and helped her relive, in a way, a fond memory. This feeling quickly became the driving factor for continuing to buy and repurpose old pieces. It made me happy to make others happy. And of course, helping to support my family felt wonderful. I loved my bakery and missed it terribly, but my hard work had rarely produced a profitable dime. This was different and fulfilling in a unique way. I was proud of my new venture, and proud of myself.
In the early fall of 2014, we had been in the farmhouse for nearly six months. Grass had just started growing back in before it became too cold to keep going, my front door had changed color three times, and projects inside the house were in full swing. We were loving life. On top of it all, our youngest had a birthday coming up at the end of October, and of all the rooms in our house had been completed except our living room, which was still without a coffee table. I had plans for a nice, cozy family gathering for her party, where we could have dinner and eat cake in our dining room, complete with its new board and batten wainscoting. Then we would move into the living room where she could open gifts around a new coffee table. I had been putting off finishing the room because I couldn’t find anything I liked on Craigslist and I didn’t want to settle. But now I had a real event coming up that required that handy little piece of furniture, so I needed to get creative and figure it out. I decided to take a brief pause from thrifting, do the normal thing, and hop online to peruse the internet for new tables to see what I could find. It only took a minute for me to realize that every table I found that I truly loved was not only out of our price range, but wasn’t even within sight of it. The next day or two was spent feeling sorry for myself after I had quickly realized I didn’t have enough time to refurbish and resell enough pieces to make the money I needed to afford the table I really loved. I quickly realized that was getting me nowhere, so I switched gears and asked myself a new question. “Could I build a new table on my own?” I found a DIY table design that I thought would match our style beautifully, shoved the plans in my husband’s face, and he confirmed we had all the tools needed to do it. The majority of the materials needed were inexpensive lumber from any home improvement store, but this table design had turned legs, and not only did we not have a lathe, we wouldn’t have known how to operate if we did. So, I set back out onto the internet to find a set of ready made legs. It only took me a minute to find the exact legs shown in the DIY plans, but again, even though this whole table was substantially less expensive than buying a ready-made table, the legs were just a bit out of our price range. I had spoken with my mom one afternoon about how I wanted to try my hand with making this table, but that saving the money for the legs would delay the project for a bit. A week later, as if by magic, the legs arrived on our doorstep. (Let’s all take a moment to call and thank our mothers for their love, support, and sneaky little surprises.) We set to work, following the plans step-by-step, and within a day, the table was complete. I stained it, sealed it, and per the norm, moved it inside sooner than it should have been, just in time for our daughter’s party. My husband assured me the smell of fresh wood stain wasn’t that noticeable, and her party went off without a hitch.
I was so proud of that table that in the weeks following, while I continued repurposing vintage pieces, we also made a new console table for our living room, a small bench for our bedroom, and a new dining table. I honestly can’t say what specific moment prompted me to open an Etsy shop, but I did, and in late 2014, Bushel and Peck joined the millions of other small online shops with just three listings available for custom order. The photos were all of pieces in our home, and I gave customers a few choices on size and stain color, with only one paint option: white. Three days after opening the shop, while waiting on the Kindergarten playground for my daughter to come out of the school, I heard the “cha-ching” sound on my phone. I had never heard that sound before and didn’t even know it was coming from my phone until I realized no one was standing close enough to me for to hear theirs, so I glanced down. I had made my first sale. It was a 44 inch square version of the coffee table we had made for our home in a medium wood stain that I had named “Weathered Provincial”. I couldn’t believe it. The buyer lived in Connecticut and decided to take a chance on a shop that was only three days old and had zero reviews to support it. I didn’t stop sweating for a week while I built the table, sanded it, stained it, carefully applied the finish, and packaged it. I shipped it off at a cost much higher than I had estimated, and it arrived on time. She left me a five-star review raving about the craftsmanship and that her home now felt complete, and in that moment I knew what I was meant to do. Everything felt right.
From the day I sold that first table, I was hooked. With every order that came in, I grew more in love with building tables and making people happy. I have always been an introvert, but this kind of interaction was just right for me. Creating has always been the root of my happiness. I have to create. And I did just that. I created more and more and kept on selling. I kept selling right up to the point where I had to hire help. I found two local men, one stay-at-home dad and one retired business owner who had carpentry skills and wanted to help. The situation worked great. I would take them the materials, and once the table was complete I would pick it up, apply the finish, package it up and ship it off. After the first two carpenters came on board, I hired two more. I was driving materials to and picking up tables from every week while also continuing to build tables myself in between pre-school classes and nap times. A couple years of this routine brought a clear realization that this tiny growing business would greatly benefit from a proper shop that all the carpenters could operate from. Shortly after, we built a lovely workshop that complimented our farmhouse right on our front yard, and once it was complete in the winter of 2017, all the carpenters began operating from that space. At first, the space had everyone feeling like the possibilities were endless. It felt spacious, new and shiny, and we were eager to build inside its walls. As time went on, the demand for our tables grew exponentially and part-time schedules became full-time schedules. I added two more enthusiastic carpenters and more tools, and we picked up the pace. At one point in 2018, we had 115 furniture orders in our queue at one time. To think of that now, I can’t believe we weren’t all in a full-on panic, but we weren’t. We kept our cool, kept our heads up, and kept moving along.
At that same time in early 2018, when orders were prevalent and the future was bright, I expressed to my husband that I had been daydreaming about opening a store in town. I had missed having a physical brick and mortar space in our little historic downtown ever since the bakery, and I thought that a shop would be the perfect way to showcase our original table designs alongside a collection of home decor that I would personally research and curate to compliment the furniture pieces. He was leery. Up until that point, downtown Ashland, Nebraska had been rather quiet. It consisted of just over one block of brick-paved main street and it seemed that there were just as many vacant spots for rent as there were those occupied. Despite his doubts, I was feeling full of confidence that it would work and that our little town could use another shop to help boost traffic. I kept my eyes open for a month or two, and none of the available spaces were quite right. I needed to display dining tables, which had become our top-sellers, and that requires a good amount of space. Anything available was either much too small, the owners wouldn’t return calls, or just didn’t have that special feel I was hoping for. I had a vision and wasn’t willing to settle on anything less than what I was daydreaming about.
In April of 2018, after looking at every available space in town, I took a chance and emailed the owners of the most lovely space in town. A corner location that had large windows, high ceilings, original wood floors, and an abundance of charm and character. At that time, the space was an art gallery that was only open on weekends and was owned by the couple that lived in the loft space above it. Since the gallery wasn’t open often, I wondered if perhaps it wouldn’t be too crazy to contact them and express my interest in the space, should they ever decide to let go of the business below. To my complete astonishment, I received an email back the next day stating that they had just printed up special FOR RENT signs to hang in the window, and that my timing couldn’t have been more ideal. They would hold off on hanging the signs until we met that next week after the Easter weekend, and if I decided to rent, the space was mine. The weekend was full of hundreds of colorful eggs, squealing little girls in pastel dresses, and me radiating with happiness and anticipation as I watched them and thought about my upcoming meeting.
In a nutshell, the meeting went better than I could have asked. I was given a tour of the space in more detail than I had seen it before, and during that time my vision for the pretty little shop full of handmade tables, lovely linens, bath soaps, and candles was forming effortlessly in my head. We sat down at the end of the tour to discuss rent cost, and I braced myself for disappointment. Surely a space this lovely, truly the prettiest in town, was going to be triple what I was comfortable with. Then they said the number, and it was $50 less than my ideal cost. Fireworks went off in my head, my heart swelled, and although I hadn’t left my chair yet, I was well on my way to creating my dream shop.
The next four months were a blur. We built shelves that would hold pretty, handmade soaps, hardwood tables to show off our carpenters’ talents, and simpler pine tables to hold bowls, flowers, vases and more. The space was a blank slate when we got it, and we only had to build one wall that would have shelves for products on the store-facing side and would show eye-catching seasonal displays on the street-facing side that people driving by could enjoy on their way to and from work. Our real pride and joy, and by far the biggest labor of love in the store, was the 16-foot counter that we built out of pine. Since the building itself was over 100 years old, I really wanted a front counter that looked like it had been there from the beginning, complete with ornate corbels, shaker style trim and lots of counter space to carefully wrap and bag products for our customers. When we weren’t working to build out the inside of the space, I was attending markets and scouring social media and all corners of the internet to find brands that I loved, and that would work together to create the light, natural aesthetic I was trying to achieve. Those four months brought late nights, a fair amount of exhaustion-induced arguments, and countless cheese pizzas that our little girls dined upon picnic style on drywall dust-covered drop clothes as they watched us work toward our deadline. I was shooting for an early-June grand opening, but construction rarely goes as planned, and by mid-August, the day was finally upon us. Early on in construction, we had taped up huge sheets of paper to cover the massive windows that lined the exterior walls of the store. That Saturday morning, as our small town farmers market was bustling outside the windows, the first ten-foot strip of paper was pulled back to let in the natural light we had been without during the whole construction process. People began peeking in from the outside and my nerves started losing their cool. Would the people come in? Would they like it? Were my prices right? Would they hate my style? When the last strip of paper was pulled down, it was opening time. I turned on the lights, lit one of our hand-poured candles that I had spent that whole summer perfecting, hit play on the carefully compiled playlist comprised of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and other French-jazz-style tunes, and unlocked the door. The eight hours that followed went better than I could have asked for. We saw what felt like hundreds of people come through the door, and everyone had such kind things to say about the store. I was overjoyed, proud, and excited for the future of my little corner shop.
Since that day, the store has continued to grow and delight. A few minor renovations inside took place within the first few years as we added some new products, took away others, and tracked which items our customers gravitated toward most. We added vintage European wares when we could, enhanced our kitchen section more, and have developed dozens of relationships with other small businesses and makers across the country. Brainstorming and designing custom products with these amazing creators has been one of the highlights of this whole journey. As those relationships have developed, the store has become more of a home for the handmade than anything else. We still go to the occasional market to see whats new out there, but the smaller orders from tiny shops is really where our heart lies.
Throughout this time, our workshop received another upgrade and was moved into an even bigger space in town, just around the corner from the storefront. Our carpenters were really able to spread out, and continued to operate in full swing, building tables for online orders and shipping them off to all corners of the country. However, in the winter of 2020, issues we had been frequently experiencing from shipping such large pieces became more than we were willing to handle anymore, and we made the decision to pause the Etsy shop, finish up the current list of orders, and take a breath to regroup. By early spring, the last table was built and shipped out, and our carpenters took some much needed time to slow down and enjoy their families. By summer, our beautiful tables were being made again for local pickups only, the pressure of shipping had been removed, and the joy of building had been restored to our wood shop. Being able to see the look on our customers’ faces when they arrived to pick up their custom piece was something we had not had before with shipping the tables, and it was a very welcome and fulfilling addition to the process of creating them.
To this day, the store has my heart and the hearts of many adoring and extraordinarily kind customers. We continue to focus on and develop our handmade offerings while sharing our love of home with our customers. The window display that gazes out over main street still wakes up each season with a new look, ready to catch the eye of passersby, and inside the store continues to maintain its cozy and inviting atmosphere. French cafe-style music still hums along in the background, and the scent of warm candle wax being carefully poured into little amber jars behind the counter gets swirled around the air with each opening of the old wooden front door. It is such a wonderful place, and whether or not you plan to shop or just browse, we wholeheartedly invite you in.
And to my employer that Christmas back in 2009…every chance taken, skill learned, opportunity created, relationship developed, and happy memory made, would not have come together to create this spectacular little story, without you. Thank you.