The Mercantile: Preserving Harrington’s Heritage

by Dallas Jade Graves

Dallas Jade GravesIn the small town of Harrington, Washington, an ambitious spirit named Julia Jacobsen has opened doors to a unique space that intertwines her love for agriculture, community, and entrepreneurship. Far more than just a retail space, this charming shop has become a focal point for connection and collaboration.

The Mercantile is housed in the historic, luxury Hotel Lincoln, which opened its doors in 1902 and has been undergoing meticulous restoration since 2008. At the turn of the 20th century, the Harrington Improvement Society had big plans to turn the small town into a destination of the new West. Although this initial vision did not come to fruition, Harrington’s historic allure has stood the test of time. With a modest population of just under 500 residents, Harrington has witnessed the establishment of seven new businesses in its downtown area over the past seven years. This transformation has turned Harrington into a thriving community, committed to preserving its historical heritage while embracing the necessary developments for a prosperous future.

Julia Jacobsen

Julia Jacobsen, photo by Lindsey Smith of Lindsey Kay Photo

After devoting 19 years to local government service at the county clerk’s office, Jacobsen courageously chose to depart from the confines of her desk job, beginning a new chapter of her life. Eager to break free from the constraints of her former role, Jacobsen envisioned a future where she could steer her professional journey, tap into creative freedom, and align her work more closely with her needs and priorities. Capitalizing on the opportunity to work from home and devote time to their growing family, Jacobsen initiated AgSwag, a web-based business specializing in agricultural merchandise. This endeavor not only resonated with her family’s deep-rooted passion for agriculture and cattle ranching, but also provided an engaging, positive voice that she felt the industry desperately needed at the time. AgSwag’s success led to the establishment of her current brick-and-mortar presence within The Mercantile, where Jacobsen continues to nurture connections with local businesses and patrons.

With AgSwag in its sixth year and The Mercantile approaching its first year, Jacobsen reflects on the overwhelming support of both locals and visitors. “This is not competition,” she notes. “This is collaboration.” Jacobsen recognizes that these partnerships with local vendors and businesses are an opportunity to join forces and enhance the collective benefit. Jacobsen beams with pride as she recalls the pleasantly surprised faces of former residents of Harrington when visiting The Mercantile, having created an atmosphere that rivals even big-city establishments.

Harrington Mercantile

photo by Lindsey Smith of Lindsey Kay Photo

The shift from AgSwag being solely web-based to establishing a physical store marked a crucial moment for Jacobsen. One of the hotel’s owners approached her, offering a retail space within the restoration. Initially hesitant and with a keen eye for financial sustainability, Jacobsen began to crunch numbers and evaluate revenue, and found reassurance that the current sales could cover the rent. Opting for a three-year lease, Jacobsen took the plunge, driven by a desire to provide more sustainable resources to her community. “What [the community] did for me, I wanna do for others,” Jacobsen says in regard to her alliance with Harrington townsfolk.

What exactly is The Mercantile? “It’s kind of this old-timey word,” Jacobsen explains. “Every town had a mercantile…I’m trying to mimic that idea.” The Mercantile embodies this vision by offering a curated array of sustainable products, such as work apparel, housewares, and domestically-sourced beef, as well as consigning items from a handful of local vendors. Beyond merchandise, The Mercantile offers a straightforward yet sublime rotational menu, featuring fresh sandwiches, salads, and amazing lemonades from Wednesday to Saturday, nourishing working neighbors and travelers alike. Jacobsen also notes the importance of small, yet meaningful moments created and witnessed within their store. Without the minutiae of everyday life, “it can feel isolating in a rural community,” she notes. A quick chat over the counter or an impromptu conversation between two cattle men-turned-Christmas-shoppers provides these precious glimpses of serendipitous socialization.

Looking forward and in the spirit of continuous improvement, Jacobsen’s plans include expanding The Mercantile’s offerings with outdoor cooking classes during the warmer months, private dinners, and tasting parties. Despite a modest interior, The Mercantile has made great use of its outdoor space, already playing host to local events, including a successful music event during the Fall Festival and ticketed holiday shopping functions. Jacobsen plans to continue multiplying and diversifying their offerings. With a focus on providing a communal experience, Jacobsen aims to make The Mercantile a dynamic space, positioning the site to evolve into a cornerstone of Harrington’s social life and a key player in the town’s resurgence.

“You can actually drive by the [cattle] herd, and see where your food is coming from,” she explains, enthused at the interconnectedness of the small town and its resources. “You’ll see my husband out there. It’s truly a family farm.” The Mercantile is closed for the months of January and February, so Jacobsen and her family can focus on calving season and find an intermission from retail during the post-holiday lull.

As the seasonal break comes to an end, Jacobsen eagerly invites residents and visitors of the greater Inland region to come experience the unique charm of historic Harrington. Mark your calendars, and be sure to follow their pages on social media to stay up-to-date on all their newest offerings and upcoming events. The doors of The Mercantile will swing back open on March 1st, welcoming all to this community-centric establishment.

Dallas Jade Graves lives in the Silver Valley of Northern Idaho. She is an investigative student of the past, philosophy, and psychology. You can often find her exploring historic sites in the PNW.