The General Store at Mennonite Heritage Village is the first building you see on the Main Street going through the village. General Stores used to be the center of action in pioneer communities. It was a special place to catch up on news and meet acquaintances as well as to shop. Likewise it is in our General Store. Visitors to our store reminisce about old times and share memories of people they knew long ago. Those of us working in the General Store try to make the place come alive for the visitors. Our store opened to the public on May 1st for the summer season. Earlier that week we set up shop. It was a very busy time of moving cupboards, cleaning floors and shelves and windows; even the artifacts on display needed a good wipe-down after the long winter. Then our crafts were moved in and set up. This year there are thirteen artisans who have spent the winter making crafts to sell throughout the summer.
Carol and Betty Lou explain how well their jams sold last year. “Traffic Jam has come to join our Toe Jam on the shelves this year,” they laughed. Tourists are also instantly drawn to Elmer's Intarsia - beautiful wood craft wall hangings. His wild geese fly across the display wall, while an intricate hummingbird takes nectar from a flower. Eleanore's exquisite greeting cards are delicately embroidered and are lovely for weddings or birthdays.
Guests may shop for wooden doll cradles, cribs, high chairs or toy trucks for a special child. Hand crocheted baby afghans, hand embroidered tea towels, colourful bibs and aprons, as well as handbags, coffee cup holders, ceramic work, jewellery and Christmas decorations are some of the many crafts available. This year we have As Nature Intended Skin Care products made by Joelle, Jolene and Delores, who have just joined our crew of artisans. All the artisans volunteer their time to operate the General Store each month.
Selling crafts is only part of the benefit of working in the General Store. Whether local or from long distances, meeting tourists makes our workdays very interesting. Sometimes language barriers can make explanations about crafts, artifacts and Mennonites rather difficult. I have been able to use my stilted German quite often and instantly a barrier is crossed and we feel like friends. It's too bad I don't know a little French or Japanese.
The General Store lends an old time feeling to our shop. The building itself is not an original, but the old floors and glassed in counters come from some old place in a by-gone era. Antiques line the shelves on the walls. Frequent questions or comments from visitors are ”Do you still use that cash register?” or “we had a toaster like that one at the lake when I was young,” or “so they had baby walkers even in the olden days,” and “is that old scale still accurate?”
The candy counter is a great attraction to children young and old. Do you remember “Thrills gum?” It still tastes like soap, and black jaw breakers - three for a penny? Many school tours come through the General Store, so the “candy store” is a popular stop for them. Two sentences I hear often in the store are “don't touch anything” from school teachers and parents and “may I have some candy?” from the children.
My Grandfather, John C. Reimer, an antique collector for many years as well as a founder of the museum, had a dream. He saw a village street with old buildings where people could see what life was like in the old days when Steinbach was young. He saw a large artifacts building open for visitors to tour and learn about Mennonites including their faith and how, when and why they made their way to Canada. He saw his grandfather's store – the first store in Steinbach, restored to its original look. This building is adjacent to the General Store. We can now reminisce about how things were in 1885 and how they have changed.
The MHV General Store is open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 6 days of the week and noon to 5:00 PM on Sundays, May through September. We look forward to seeing you this summer.