Above: Lucky Dog Farm Store in Hamden sells local groceries and serves lunch. Photo by Richard A. Smith.
In many ways, the Catskills region is the land that time forgot. Too rural to attract droves of big-box stores, and too stubborn to change fast, the little mountain towns are still home to many old traditions that have gone the way of the dodo elsewhere in the world. Among them is the old-fashioned general store, where residents and visitors alike can eat a home-cooked meal, pick up a few necessities and catch up on the latest news with friends and neighbors.
There are a few stores that date back to the 19th century sprinkled throughout the Catskills’ villages and hamlets, but Russell’s Store in Bovina Center (2099 County Road 6, 607-832-4242), in operation since 1823, boasts one of the longest pedigrees around. Its floor-to-ceiling shelves showcase an eclectic mix of Catskills crafts and products, vintage bric-a-brac and ordinary grocery items ranging from five-pound bags of sugar to cans of Campbell’s soup. For a little pocket change, you can get penny candy; for a few dollars more, you can pick up one of proprietor Bea Sohni’s beloved breakfast sandwiches.
Above: Catskill Harvest in Liberty cooks up quiche with local veggies. Photo by Richard A. Smith.
The building, which is owned by the local Historical Society, is a piece of history. But the store is worth more to its Delaware County town than its bricks and mortar—or even its delicious egg sandwiches. Like most stores of its ilk, Russell’s is a place for community.
“Saturday morning, it’s a big social scene. Everybody’s going to the dump,” Sohni said. “Sunday, it’s more locals coming from church.”
One of the most recent additions to the general-store scene, Grahamsville’s Eureka Market (7991 Route 55, 845-985-5152), operates with the same old-fashioned community spirit. Proprietor Jennifer Grimes, a real estate agent, bought the building in 2010 because she needed office space. She couldn’t shake the dream of somebody opening a little place to eat in her tiny Sullivan County hamlet. Eventually she decided she’d do it herself.
The market stocks meat, produce and specialty groceries with a focus on local ingredients, as well as a tempting array of fresh baked goods. The bright, cheery café serves homestyle comfort food and pizzas from morning to night, and hosts special-occasion dinners.
“My goal here was to create a place where people could gather and linger and meet one another, in an area where you can really be kind of cut off, especially in the winter,” Grimes said. “It’s like Little House on the Prairie, without that nasty Nellie.”
Food is a common thread among rural general stores, whether it’s organic produce or blueberry muffins. But each has its own special wares, and its own quirky personality. Here are a few other Catskills stores with a place in history—or just an old-fashioned feel.
Masonville General Store
2095 Route 206, Masonville
Formerly Culver's General Store, this cute-as-a-button store has been a fixture on Masonville's Main Street since 1849. The store has a nicely curated selection of home goods, and specialty organic and natural foods with a focus on local. The store's Crescent Wrench Café is a great spot for a snack or a cup of fresh-brewed coffee.
Barlow's General Store
4487 County Route 14
Since new owners Rachael and Glen Gaetano bought it in 2011, Barlow's, another old-time general store from the mid-1840s, has gotten a tasteful upgrade. But they've kept some of the old-school good stuff—even a small selection of hardware. Come for the local arts and crafts, stay for the homemade chili.
Apple Barrel Country Store
115 Route 30A, Schoharie
Since opening in the 1940s as a farmstand for an orchard, the Apple Barrel Country Store has expanded far beyond apples and potatoes, and now sells furniture, clothing, toys, gifts and specialty food items. Its in-house café is a favorite for lunch or weekend dinner. And like other general stores, the Apple Barrel is there for the community: After the Irene floods hit in 2011, the store pitched in big time on flood recovery.
2758 Route 52, Liberty
Liberty’s freshest market is also a garden center, where you can pick up a few perennials along with your morning coffee and scone. The store carries farm produce and an array of specialty groceries, and there’s a little seating area to have a bakery treat, a sandwich or some savory homemade soup.
Big Indian Market and Deli
7 Oliverea Road, Big Indian
Since new owners took over this late-19th-century building in the fall of 2012, they have rebuilt an outdoor deck for dining, installed a pizza oven and secured a license to sell draft beer. (They kept the 1930s Chambers stove, though.) The store carries basic groceries and snacks, while sandwiches, housemade soups, pizza and homemade desserts are available at the deli counter.
Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant
5510 Route 23, Windham
This café/shop combo serves hearty breakfast and lunch dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, including smoked trout and organic eggs and greens. Its bakery has earned the title of Best Pies in the region from Hudson Valley Magazine. Call ahead, and they’ll make you any pie you like from over two dozen varieties. The store carries toys and gifts as well as specialty food items, and there are farm animals for the kids to visit.
3328 Route 23A, Palenville
Housemade soups, panini sandwiches with locally sourced meats, cheeses and vegetables, as well as locally roasted fair-trade coffee and homemade desserts draw loyal customers to the Circle W, which is housed in a general store building that dates back to 1908. The café is sprinkled with retail shelves offering groceries from Catskills purveyors such as Boiceville’s Bread Alone.
Lucky Dog Farm Store
35796 Highway 10, Hamden
Part of a working organic vegetable farm, this 12-year-old store in a circa-1870 building stocks a huge variety of cheeses, condiments and other provisions, as well as meat and produce from more than two dozen nearby farms. Lucky Dog’s café is a sweet spot for lunch, and upstairs there’s a little cache of vintage clothes and antiques.
This article originally appeared in the print version of the 2014 Catskills Food Guide, our annual publication covering local farms, restaurants and food purveyors. Find a copy near you here