Kingston Mercantile & Marine: Much more than bait

KINGSTON — In the few weeks that Kingston Mercantile & Marine has been open, store manager Toni Houck and owner Tania Issa have learned a lot.

The two women, and their marketing manager Megan House, who are familiar with fishing, boating and camping, opened the store in early November to provide for residents’ outdoor needs.

“We’re much more than a marine store,” Houck said. “And we want to stock anything anyone needs.”

An example, she said, was the four-inch Victorinox Knife.

“We had guys come in and ask for that,” she said. “It’s something that fishermen use to cut rope, liners and bait. So we ordered them in.”

That’s the best thing about the store — the inventory is always growing, always changing.

It currently stocks fishing poles, bait, nets, float kits, sleeping bags, rain gear, life jackets, coolers, smokers, even a two-way radio set.

Then, there’s sunglasses, beer, locally roasted peanuts, sea salt popcorn, and pasture-raised heritage pork.

The store has a variety of handmade gifts created by local artists, including jewelry, handmade glass beads, twisted wire and rock sculptures, and knitted socks and hats.

There’s a section of toys, books, puzzles and games.

“One of the things that people really like are our mermaid blankets,” Houck said. “You get in them and wear them and look like a mermaid with a fin.”

The idea for the mercantile was Issa’s. She and Houck had been thinking about it for several years. Issa even bought another location but never got the store going.

Last year, when the old Bank of America building on Highway 104 became available, Issa purchased it and came to Houck.

“She said, ‘Hey, I bought the Bank of America building. Let’s start that store we’ve been talking about,’ ” Houck recalled. “I told her, ‘Heck, yeah.’ ”

They and their significant others put hours of elbow grease into the remodel, tearing up old flooring and replacing it with aged hardwood. They tore out the teller stands and added a chrome and wood checkout counter.

Then they began ordering inventory and setting up shop.

Part of Issa’s motivation for the store is that she sells pork from her farm there. She and her husband own Whimsy Farmstead in Kingston, where they raise pigs and alpacas.

The pork is all organic, is from free-range pigs and is full of flavor, according to Houck.

“There are just a lot of happy pigs there, until the day that they’re not happy anymore,” she said.

In a refrigerated cooler, the packaged pork is vacuum-sealed and available daily at the mercantile. Included are sausage and bacon and other cuts.

Issa said she put her faith in the people of Kingston that they will support the store.

“We had the capital to begin a retail business,” she said. “Kingston really needs more retail in order to attract visitors and so that locals can shop local.”

She is hopeful that her business will spawn more retail in Kingston.

“Our customers are loving what they see,” she said. “They want to spend their money locally. They’re just so excited that they have a place to do that.”

Houck’s domestic partner, Andy Prader, works in the store on weekends. They also employ House as a a part-time marketing manager. She is the one who came up with the store’s logo. She also designed the labels for their soap. Her job also includes working with vendors and keeping the store’s Facebook page up to date.

Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Those hours will be extended in the spring to accommodate early morning fishermen and women.

“But this is a small-town operation,” Houck said. “We live close by. So if somebody really needs something and we’re not open, all they need to do is call us and we’ll meet them here at the store.”

They also market their “brand.” Their logo can be found on T-shirts, ball caps, coffee mugs and tote bags. And they have their own hand soap.

“It’s made by Soap Crate, and it contains anise oil, which takes the icky fish smell off your hands when you are handling fish,” Houck said.

The store’s floor space is about 3,000 square feet; they kept the bank vault.

Recently, a customer asked Houck, “What’s in the vault?”

She replied, “All your money, as soon as you buy your items.”

The storefront is decorated with floats and an old boat displayed vertically, next to the ice machine. Painted windows depict camping, fishing and boating scenes. And there’s plenty of off-street parking.