When The General Store & Co. first opened, more than one passer-by wandered in hoping to find milk, bread or juice. But once drawn into the Overland Park gift shop, they often became a return customer, says owner Michael Cole.
Before opening the store in 2011, Cole worked in commercial interior design.
“Initially, I wanted a retail front and I hoped that it would help me move into residential interior design, but then the retail shop really took off,” says Cole, who lives in Brookside with his partner.
“Since I’ve been here in downtown Overland Park, this area has really picked up,” he says, pointing to the popularity of several of the shops and restaurants in the area that help bring traffic his way.
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A hand-written sign on a sandwich board reads “Free Laughs This Way” with an arrow pointing to the door.
And indeed, many of the irreverent gift cards have visitors laughing aloud. While they might elicit more grins than laughs, those looking for whimsical gifts or stocking stuffers for children should head to the tables filled with treasures at the back of the store.
“These toys are nostalgic,” Cole says, pointing out whoopee cushions and paddle balls. “I’m a sucker for great packaging, too.”
A sticker on the front door reads “certified local.” And in fact, many of the products in the store are home-grown. Hammerpress and Sandlot Goods are two popular locally sourced gift lines. He tries to work with local wholesalers when possible, but a white pillow that reads “Kansas City” alongside the city’s latitude and longitude was actually made in Fargo, N.D. It’s a top-seller, he says.
A few other collections reflect Cole’s passions.
“I have an obsession with Charley Harper,” he says, pointing out the art books, note cards and sketchbooks that reflect the work of the late modernist artist known for his wildlife prints.
Cole points out some of the best-sellers in the store, which is decked out for the holidays. Camp David T-shirts and Mer-Sea & Co lotions are hits, he says.
And his longtime customer, Janet Martin, points out another of Cole’s best-sellers.
“I love the Pickwick Candles, and we almost always end up buying a new one when we go in,” she says. “I love to visit because there’s something new every time you come in. You can get something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a gift for a baby or for a friend.”
It’s a great addition to the downtown Overland Park shopping district, she says.
The 2013 Downtown Overland Park Partnership Business of the Year award near the checkout indicates that the area has been a great fit for Cole.
“The best thing about this area is that they (the Partnership) draw people in, between the Friday night events and the farmers market in season.”
The Kansas City native says he feels lucky his career path carried him in this direction.
“We’ve grown about 20 percent each year,” he says, standing under a chandelier made of wine glasses. The two chandeliers are, he says with a grin, a royal pain to clean, but they’re worthwhile conversation pieces.
“Three or four years ago, people were asking me why I was considering a retail shop in such a bad economy,” he says. “I just kind of ran with my passion, and here I am.”
The General Store & Co.
7922 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park
Contact: 913-385-0231; Facebook: generalstorekc
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday
Nearby shops: Harper’s Fabric and Quilt Co.: 7918 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, 913-648-2739. Ten Thousand Villages: 7947 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park; 913-642-8368.
Nearby eateries: The Upper Crust, 7943 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park; 913-642-2999. Mi Ranchito, 7144 W. 80th St.; 913-642-7500