SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) – As you travel down Main Street in Smithfield, you’re surrounded by history, and at Hamtown Mercantile, what’s old is new again.
“What’s interesting about the concept that I really love is the fact that everybody can help each other. So, with social media and marketing, or even by word of mouth in your sphere, you’re able to bring your people in, which then helps the other people sell their items and their inventory in their boutiques. So, I really like the comradery behind all of it, and we’re all kind of like a family, and we’re all helping each other sell our items and grow our businesses. I think that’s a really cool concept,” said Amber Hassell, co-owner of Hamtown Mercantile.
When you walk inside the Merc, you are met by the smell of fresh coffee that can help guide you through more than 30 different boutiques and a salon, all locally owned.
“Our biggest goal is to help these guys have a full functioning, running, brick and mortar on Main Street in Smithfield,” said Amber.
When Amber and Jay Hassell bought the property that originally housed the 1898 George W. Delk Inc. Department Store, they worked to turn it into a place where business owners’ dreams could come true.
“You can have someone who is a working mom, or has another job, and they don’t have to be here full-time,” said Jay.
“When I heard about the Mercantile, I was like that is where I need to be,” said Karen Collier who owns The Main Gourmet inside Hamtown Mercantile.
Collier’s boutique is filled with sauces, gourmet food, candy, and more.
“This is my second small business here in Smithfield, and for the first time, it’s actually enabled me to make a positive financial impact on my household,” said Collier.
That’s thanks in large part to the Hamtown Mercantile business model. Store owners pay for their own space, and bring in their own inventory, but they don’t have to bring in the manpower. Everything is checked out centrally.
When the Hassells decided to create Hamtown Merc, they were hopeful people would understand their vision and want to be a part of their mission of helping business owners succeed.
“Even before we opened, the response was awesome, and we were halfway to almost three-quarters full before we even decided to open up the doors,” said Jay.
Since Hamtown Merc officially opened in September of 2022, there has been a steady stream of shoppers.
“If you take a look around, you can tell they’ve put a lot of their heart and soul into their shops, and they’re ecstatic about it. Our growth’s been really great, especially during Christmastime,” said Jay.
“It’s just been really cool to see. It’s been cool to see our individual boutique owners, and it’s been really cool to see the weekends on the town and even during the weekday, but especially on the weekends, how busy Main Street is, and how people are just walking up and down the street. It’s kind of like Mayberry,” said Amber.
“It’s wonderful for tourism. It’s fantastic, of course, for our local economy. It’s really a gem downtown,” said Jessica Jones-Healy of the Isle of Wight County Chamber of Commerce.
Jones-Healey is so confident in this downtown gem, she even opened her own shop inside. She says Hamtown Mercantile can help business owners at different points in their professional journey.
“This is kind of like an incubator. That’s how I look at it. It has businesses at all different levels. You’ve got ones that are just starting out, right? And they’re like, let me just test the waters and see how this does. Then, you have some that did have their own brick-and-mortar, but then had to downsize for some reason, and now they still have that forward-facing business. Then, you have some that were online that are coming to have in-person shopping for their clientele.”
Amber loves to see the variety every business owner brings to their space in the Merc.
“We have everything from women’s boutiques to children’s boutiques. We have vintage. We have the records, which are doing awesome. Handcrafted jewelry that people are bringing in, and furniture repurposing.”
Store owners say because the Merc is open seven days a week, morning to evening, life downtown feels different.
“One person specifically said Main Street feels like it’s alive again,” said Jay.
It seems like it’s alive with the American Dream.
“It was always my dream to be a business owner, and so here in Smithfield, I love this town. I love the homey feel of this town, and it’s always been my dream to own a small business in a town like this. This is my second try, and I’m actually doing it. I’m actually succeeding here, and I wouldn’t be without this environment,” said Collier.
Follow Hamtown Mercantile on Instagram and Facebook to learn about upcoming events and sales. There is currently a wait list to become a boutique owner at the Merc. If you would like to join that waitlist, click here.