Last modified: Wednesday, August 06, 2014
AMHERST — An eclectic gift store that has anchored the northern end of downtown Amherst’s retail scene for more than 40 years will be moving closer to town center — and away from an area that is at the beginning stages of significant redevelopment.

The Mercantile, located in the Summerlin Building at 11 East Pleasant St., will move to the former Food for Thought Books site at 106 North Pleasant St., next month.

Elizabeth Neville, who co-owns the Mercantile stores in both Amherst and Northampton with husband Daniel Neville, said Friday, from the Northampton store, that the intent is to have the Amherst relocation completed before any further deterioration of that section of town.

“That area, in our opinion, is dying,” Neville said. “It’s not the location we want to be in anymore.”

Though not part of the Amherst Carriage Shops at 233 North Pleasant St., which is expected to be purchased by Archipelago Investments and redeveloped, the Nevilles are worried about the “upheaval” that extends along the east side of East Pleasant Street from its intersections with North Pleasant and Triangle streets.

“We’ve been in our spot next to the Carriage Shops for more than 40 years now, but the whole area is undergoing such upheaval that we’ve decided that moving is our only option at this point,” the Nevilles wrote in a post on Facebook.

The current location, where a variety of products such as incense, simple toys, housewares, greeting cards and inexpensive jewelry are sold, is also set back from the road, which is not ideal for a retail store. “We’ve stayed for nostalgic reasons,” Neville said.

While there has been no sale yet of the Carriage Shops property, many of the tenants have left and those that remain are searching for new sites.

Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said she will reach out to affected businesses, understanding that construction causes disruptions.

“We will help to market anybody and everybody right now,” la Cour said.

No plan for a project is yet in place and no projects have come before town planners. “Right now, unfortunately, we’re in that time period of the unknown.” she said,

But la Cour is confident that construction won’t be detrimental to the businesses nearby. Another Archipelago project, the five-story mixed-use building at 57 East Pleasant St. known as Kendrick Place, is already underway.

“I do feel strongly that the end result will make a huge positive impactive impact for the downtown,” la Cour said. “My gut is it will be good for everybody’s business.”

Coincidentally, the Amherst BID on Thursday launched its four-week concert series at Kendrick Park, at the northern end of downtown. La Cour said this is part of ensuring that all parts of the downtown business community benefit from events, not just those located across from the Town Common.

Barry Roberts, who owns the building where the Mercantile is relocating, said he appreciates that the spot of one-long time Amherst business will be filled by another that has been in business for even longer.

“It’s good news to have another long-term Amherst retailer,” Roberts said.

Keeping the Mercantile in town is important to demonstrate that Amherst is more than just a place to eat. “I’m a firm believer that we need more retailers,” Roberts said.

Though the current Mercantile site has free parking, Neville said the parking lot is often filled during the day. She is confident that customers who need to park near the new location will find plenty of available spaces in the municipal lot behind the CVS Pharmacy.

“It’s going to be a good thing. Plus it’s next to our favorite restaurant, Miss Saigon,” Neville said.

Prior to reopening, which the Nevilles hope to do before Labor Day, the store will have 25 to 75 percent markdowns on about one-quarter of its inventory.

Neville also hopes that being on the sidewalk will help the store pick up some of the vibe of the Northampton store, which has been more successful in recent years, “We feel like the move will shake everything up a bit,” Neville said.

La Cour said even though the Mercantile is not part of Carriage Shops, she appreciates that it, like many of those being forced to move, have found spots either in downtown, including Glazed Doughnut Shop, Kay Baker Antiques and Casimir Kocot Salon, or elsewhere in Amherst, such as Amherst Wines & Spirits.

Meantime, the former site of D.P. Dough restaurant, located at 96 North Pleasant St. behind the new Mercantile space, will be filled by Exscape Smoke Shop.

Roberts said Exscape is part of a chain of shops that sell smoking accessories, such as pipes and blunt wraps.