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Profane socks and saucy tea towels: The General Store isn’t all about nostalgia

General Store + Co. owner Mike Cole says his store is in the vein of old-fashioned general stores with useful everyday items. Customers will also find his personal sense of design and quirky sense of humor in items the store sells.
General Store + Co. owner Mike Cole says his store is in the vein of old-fashioned general stores with useful everyday items. Customers will also find his personal sense of design and quirky sense of humor in items the store sells. Special to The Star

Imagine an old-fashioned mercantile displaying the humor and taste of a modern proprietor, and you might come close to conjuring up what to expect at the General Store + Co. in downtown Overland Park and Hawthorne Plaza.

However, the store is unexpected. One passing customer described it as the “only place you can come to buy gifts for certain family members.”

The store features the odd, the unusual and the beautiful. Inexpensive toys and cheeky gum packages are sold alongside throw pillows that might cost hundreds of dollars. There’s a nostalgic feel to the store, but if you look closely at the tea towels, you are likely to find a bad word or two.

Owner Mike Cole explains the store opened in 2011 with merchandise that was simply the stuff he liked, and it has evolved from there.

Q: How do you describe your store?

A: I say it’s a modern mercantile store. It’s definitely in the vein of old-fashioned general stores. I am drawn to old-fashioned, nostalgic, low-tech kinds of things.

I try to curate it so we have a little bit of everything like a true general store, but we have things that are thoughtful and imaginative. I have different traditional categories like apothecary, gourmet specialty, gifts, cards, stationary and amusements. I have a lot of quirky things and hopefully a lot of useful everyday items. I try to steer toward things with a good eye for design.

Q: How has it evolved over eight years?

A: It has definitely evolved. I try to support a lot of local and regional folks.

At first, I brought in everything I loved. We had some pretty high-end product. We had $350 Jonathan Adler pillows.

Products that show off Kansas City and practical but unique socks are part of the variety of merchandise at the General Store + Co. Karen Ridder Special to The Star

Then we kind of realized that not everyone has that taste. The socks or tea towels are something I would not have looked at, but I tested it out, and people loved the stuff. But we only carry tea towels that have our sense of humor.

Q: Tell me about those tea towels and socks …

A: I try to carry useful everyday things, but companies that I like.

We have these socks that also might have a horrible word on them, but the company gives money to Doctors Without Borders and hires people who are developmentally challenged.

Our tea towels and oven mitts support food pantries. I have a lip balm that is made by a mother and daughter, the name is horrible, but they work with charities that support domestic abuse and sexual assault programs.

Soaps made to look like rubber ducks and goldfish in baggies are one of Cole’s personal favorites in the store right now. Karen Ridder Special to The Star

Q: Do you have a personal favorite in the store right now?

A: Yes. They are just these little bagged goldfish soaps, but they are so stinkin’ cute.

We also have these coasters that I love. They are so useful. They are made of felt and just really work well.

I am also drawn to a particular artist: Charley Harper. He worked for the National Park Service. His wildlife images are really midcentury modern.

more harper
Prints and products featuring the midcentury modern wildlife prints of Charley Harper are on sale at the General Store + Co. in downtown Overland Park. The store has been open since 2011 and added a second location in Hawthorn Plaza in 2017. Karen Ridder Special to The Star

I live in this place every day. So when the new stuff shows up, I get excited.

Q: You opened a second location at Hawthorne Plaza about a year ago. Are the two stores the same?

A: The concept is the same. We opened the store because we have a lot of customers who don’t live here necessarily but come to downtown Overland Park as a destination. A lot of our customers live out that direction. We wanted to be more convenient for them.

At Hawthorne Plaza, we have been able to bring in a few lines that are a little more refined. We’re a little more whimsical in downtown Overland Park. We tone it down a bit out south, but our personality is still there. We didn’t want to take it away.

Here, people come in and they die laughing the whole time. People really love the store. We keep our personality. I have people who come in a lot, who didn’t even know the store was here, but people who get what we’re doing usually are so happy that it exists. We go out of our way to try to provide something unique and different.

Where to find them

The General Store + Co. has two locations: 7922 Santa Fe Drive in downtown Overland Park and in Hawthorne Plaza, 4817 W. 119th St., Overland Park. Go to generalstorekc.com for more information.