A Long-Standing Presence in South Yarmouth
If you’ve ever spent much time in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, you’ve probably seen the building. Or maybe you’ve missed sight of it, but have driven by countless times, leaving it peripherally in the rearview as you gauge the queue of cars on the Bass River Bridge and count your lucky stars, (or shake your fists to the sky, respectively), at the visual oracle of impending traffic and time. If you are generationally local to Yarmouth, chances are your grandparents, great-grandparents and even great-great-grandparents had memories of the beautiful old building, as it has resided in that spot for 230 years. Making its way through time as a rope factory in the 1790s, a general store, a post office, a gathering place for whispers of Victorian-era ghost stories, and eventually an established spot for local goods, crafts, and treats. By the existence of steam-powered cars, the timeworn building had already been settling its bones for nearly a century, presiding over the metamorphosis from the dusty, horse-cloven streets of Olde Cape Cod, to the pavements bustling with the honking horns and fleeting pop songs of vehicles passing by.
Although it overlooks one of Yarmouth’s most notoriously busy traffic stops, intersecting Rt 28 and the North and Old Main Streets at the bridge, once inside the goldenrod building with its front porch trimmed in scalloped forest green, the door closes behind you and the roadside din of Cape Cod summer fades into a comfortable hum. Your eyes adjust from the brightness of the mid-afternoon sun, and you take in the warmly worn wooden floors, the nickelodeon, shelves of old-timey candies, clove gum, and glass bottles of moxie, walls adorned with hand-carved silhouettes of mermaids, ships, and captain’s wheels, and the heavy beams still proudly holding it all together strong and steady for hundreds of years. The longer you look the more you realize that you are standing in the belly of a historical monument to Yarmouth. If you linger in the room off to the right, (and it’s hard not to), where it’s adorned year-round for Christmas with decorations and ornaments, you can imagine its layers of time ago when it was still a post office and general store, and families would walk in after church for penny candies and brown paper parcels tied up with twine.
Equally as intriguing as Bass River Mercantile’s historical influence in Yarmouth, is the seemingly endless array of things to look at. Most of what they carry is locally sourced, discovered at farmers’ markets and fairs, or brought in by Cape Cod entrepreneurs, but each item has a unique draw with its story, be it the connections to the Cape or its altruistic causes, from saving the turtles with The Turtleman Foundation to cleaning up coastlines with 4 Ocean. Every shopper will find something to take home here, whether it’s your first visit to the Cape or you’re a long-time year-rounder who likes to support local artists and businesses. Among the ample shelves of specially branded soaps, ornaments, and sodas, are lines of vintage model cars. Organic, lotions and lip balms, and scented candles are presented with a nautical backsplash of fishnets and glass floats.
Here you will discover local treasures you won’t easily find in the typical beachside tourist shack. Shoppers who enjoy the thrill of an exceptional find will be elated with the racks of Cape Cod-inspired jewelry of silver and sea glass and pearls. The Original Cape Cod Chokers is a small family-owned, woman-founded business based in Barnstable, best known for its simple beach-inspired leather and pearl pieces. In the front of the shop is a small stack of copies of Dead Tide, the debut novel of young Orleans author Jane Marks. A handwritten sign welcoming local soap maker, Michele Montalvo is displayed over generously cut artisan soaps in scents of Cranberry Pomegranate and Cherry Almond, gift-wrapped in tulle bags and silky ribbon. The Lighthouse Keepers jams, jellies, and mustards are in the back room with jars of honey and jerky and coastal-themed woven trivets. Lovely individually crafted pottery, mugs, and bowls made by a Chatham artist are laid out on tables and shelves amongst an assortment of hydrangea.
The Bass River Mercantile manages to combine the unassuming charm of an old-fashioned general store, with what patrons are looking for in 2023: Quality craftsmanship with community roots that won’t break the bank. Stop in from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm any day of the week. From the ubiquitous to the unique, you’ll find just what you didn’t know you were missing from your Cape Cod Shopping experience.
The Bass River Mercantile:
2 North Main Street
South Yarmouth, MA 02664
(Britt Skinner is a freelance writer.)
Photo Credit: Britt Skinner
This blog is funded through the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.