General Stores are Making a Comeback, and Smithville General Store’s a World of Wonder All Its Own
All throughout the Round Top region, these sometimes quirky, comforting vestiges of the past are charming a new generation.
General stores are having a moment. All throughout the Round Top region, these sometimes quirky, comforting vestiges of the past are charming a new generation of small town dwellers, road trippers and hunting fanatics.
General stores first appeared in the postbellum south to serve communities that had been hard hit by the ravages of the Civil War. They served as a community hub — providing anything and everything needed or requested by locals to aid in the recovery of the American South during Reconstruction. The need for general stores began to wane, however, as big cities and big highways wrought by the Industrial Revolution drew the population away from small town America. Later, the savings provided by big box stores made it worthwhile for rural residents to skip the general store and travel to the nearest larger town to gather necessities.
More recently, however, the pendulum has begun to swing back to small towns. The ability to do work and attend school from virtually anywhere via the Internet has no doubt influenced the influx of city slickers into the outskirts. When it’s no longer necessary to be near a formal office, a desk (or sofa, or bed) with a view of rolling green hills can be a welcome respite from a cityscape. The popularity of owning second homes that moonlight as rental properties has also drawn folks back to the Texas countryside, and may be helping to drive the general store revival. The pandemic seems to have sunk a spur into this movement.
The Smithville General Store is owner Beth Neely’s modern take on the old fashioned general store concept. Housed in a historic building in downtown Smithville, it boasts a coffee shop, hand poured candles and store branded goods, as well as books, gifts and kitchen sundries. Many of the retail items are made or sourced locally.
Smithville is known for its natural beauty, and served as the bucolic backdrop for the 1998 big screen drama Hope Floats, starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. More recently, it was the setting for a Amazon’s Panic series, based on the book by Lauren Oliver.
“The general store was (the movie character) Dot’s employment agency in Hope Floats,” notes Neely, a Houston native who left a 25-year career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles to realize her dream of a small-town life in 2018. “The building has been a number of different types of businesses from an automotive repair shop to a furniture maker’s workshop.
“It underwent a major renovation. We opened it up and added a new bathroom, air conditioning and the coffee bar.”
The coffee shop at the back of the store has become a popular gathering place for locals and family. Both of Neely’s grown children hang out there when they are in town, and their grandfather is one of the store’s many loyal daily customers. Neely’s brother Kevin manages the coffee bar, which makes all of its caffeinated concoctions with coffee beans roasted by Mazama Coffee in Dripping Springs.
The most popular drinks in the coffee bar are the Sassy Cowgirl and the Smithville Cowboy. The Sassy Cowgirl is made with espresso, dark chocolate, steamed milk and a house-made small batch Mexican chili syrup. The Smithville Cowboy is a combination of espresso, steamed milk and the coffee bar’s handcrafted, small batch brown sugar cinnamon syrup. The shop also sells baked goods and pastries from a variety of local bakeries.
The smell of brewing coffee, burning candles and the promise of sweet treats add to the already welcoming feel of the store. Neely has outfitted the shop with many of her vintage and antique finds, most of which have been sourced nearby.
Some of her favorite spots to treasure hunt are at Paul and Suzanne Whitmire, LooLoo Design and Round Top Ranch. She’s also a fan of the Blue Hills venue during antiques week. Neely’s go-to for antique doors is Old World Antieks in La Grange, and her favorite hidden gem is The Vintage Rose Market on the square in Fayetteville.
Neely’s love of vintage and antiques has lead to the opening of a second retail store in Smithville. Located in another historic building that originally served as a hardware store in the 1890s (and as the fictional store front Snappy Snaps in Hope Floats) Smithville General Store Home offers architectural salvage, leather goods, vintage barware, bamboo bedding and other unique finds. The home store is managed by former film producer and director Shawna Bridgman, who also offers interior design services.
After all, what’s better than one charming small town Texas store? Two.
Fall Antique & Design Show October 14-31