Village Common Mercantile

Village Common is a lifestyle shop selling artisanal, handmade, and vintage goods. Established in 2014 as an online shop by Blake Hays and Benjamin Lebel, the Village Common is named after Ben’s grandmother’s antique shop that was opened in Avenel, New Jersey in 1968. The original shop name was chosen to reflect a gathering place where all are welcome, and it is this sense of community that Ben and Blake have successfully adopted transforming their ecommerce platform into a bricks and mortar store that opened this year in Catskill, NY.

Who designed the shop? We designed the shop together and have being for years! It was always a dream of ours to have our own little shop one day and did not expect it to happen so soon! As a team we designed and built every fixture and shelf in the shop. A truly handmade and one of a kind setting!

What are you famous for? We are best known for our candles that are inspired by our travels through the American landscape. Each scent is accompanied with an original poem, penned by owner Blake Hays, to help tell the story of our experiences.

Where are your products sourced & made? We make all of the Village Common products by hand in our studio right in the back of the shop in Catskill! We strive to use local, American businesses to aid in creating our product. We also source all our makers, vintage and antiques throughout our travels. We have so many talented makers represent in the shop and they hail from the west coast to the east coast.

What makes your shop unique? What make us unique is that we are able to tell our layered story through our little shop. Through the products we curate and create we are telling the story of bygone craftsmanship and quality mixed with a modern aesthetic. Faced with the challenge of telling our story in a 200 square foot what makes us unique is how we’ve combined our passions and products in this small space.

Who are your customers? Our customers are limitless. They range from young to old, and everything in between. Most of our clients are those who enjoy something unique, that tells a story. They want something more than just ordinary.

How has the internet impacted your business? The internet launched Village Common. It allowed us to curate a shop and a company before we could have our brick and mortar shop. Now that we have our little shop on Main Street, the internet only helps to grow and expand out presence nationwide.

The Shopkeepers

Benjamin Lebel & Blake Hays, Shopkeepers at Village Common Mercantile

Who inspires you?A large part of our Village Common aesthetic is inspired by both our families coupled with our individual design sense. We pulled many ideas and inspiration from Ben’s Mother’s Village Common when we designed the store, our goal was to create a unique space while paying homage to her once beautiful shop. We are also inspired by the talented makers we work so close with in the shop and the growing community of Catskill!

What inspires you? We are inspired by so many things. We are so inspired by other people (makers, artisans, dancers, entrepreneurs, etc.) who work hard for their vision as we do. We are also very inspired by our families and all we are able to have because of them. Inspiration is big for both of us. We pull inspiration from everywhere. Blake is inspired by all music (plays guitar and sings on the side), vintage fashion (particularly the 60’s and 70’s… he thinks he is Mary Tyler Moore), and nature. Ben pulls inspiration from architecture (it’s what his degrees are in), traveling the globe, and creating new products.

Before we were shopkeepers, we…. We both worked in NYC for Corporate Ralph Lauren, Blake worked with the website and oversaw several of the men’s brands. Ben worked in Store Development designing the locations in South and North America.

The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? Make sure what you’re investing in, in regards to both time and money, is worth your time and efforts. A leap of faith is required, it may be difficult at times, but you need to trust in your business and your passions.

What task do you like to delegate? Our delegations have naturally fallen into place as our business had grown. For the most part we share responsibilities equally but some things such as QuickBooks and wholesale filings fall to one or the other.

The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? Know your community, and get to know your community! They are such a vital part of your shop and are there to help you thrive.

Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Don’t open a shop just to open a shop. Have a purpose and know your reason for having your door open to the community.

Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? Joni Mitchell

If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? Figuring out a way to be a shopkeeper!

What is your perfect day off? A dip in a local swimming hole on a sunny day and spending the afternoon in the sun with good food, music and company.

Do you have 5 favorite shops? We love shopping our fellow artisans we meet while doing different shows and fleas (Hudson River Exchange’s Farm + Flea, Phoenecia Flea, etc). We also love: Midland in Culver City, Ca; Outdated in Kingston, NY; The Captain’s Daughters in Provincetown, MA; Alter in Brooklyn, NY; and Burro Goods in Venice, CA.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood coffee shop or restaurant: Catskill is entering a wonderful time we feel! Recently we got an amazing new Coffee/Wine Bar/cafe right on Main Street and we couldn’t be happier! When you’re in Catskill, definitely stop by HiLo!

I wish I could… Have a perfect little apartment looking at the sea and cute little shop shop on the winding streets of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

On the Future of Retail

“We think the future of retail is one of community. Engaging with your community is a vital part of a retail space and needed to bring customers into your shop. You can’t just open your doors and expect the business. Taking your shop and story out into the community is just as important and bringing customs into your store. With the e-commerce marketplaces growing so rapidly, we feel that people are eager to reconnect with smaller, local shops to find the special pieces that are well made and tell a story.”

Village Common Mercantile

404 Main Street, Catskill, NY

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