Meet the Merchants of Thornes
Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Story created 4/15/2019
Share this New England travel article with your friends.
Walk down Main Street in Northampton, Massachusetts, toward Thornes Marketplace, and you’ll find a wonderful collection of nearly 30 merchants. Thornes’ 19th-century streetscape architecture warms the nostalgic soul while satisfying 21st-century needs and wants in the form of boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and coffee houses.
Arriving at Thornes is like entering a retail castle of sorts as you pass under the grand, green-tiled facade and awning and grand, two-story windows. It harkens back to small-town, Main Street USA in every interior corridor, stairway, and storefront.
If you took all the small businesses out of Thornes and spread them across a downtown, you would have one of the greatest Main Streets on the planet. How convenient, though, that they are all located in one community gathering place that is lively and authentic.
Thornes appears to have everything one needs in a small town (or city, in this case), and then some. Businesses include women and men’s clothing stores, a bookshop, ice cream parlor, chocolate store, old-fashioned candy shop, health food store with local organic produce, places to eat and drink including a wine cellar, a Woolworth’s-like discount shop, and storefronts for gifts, home decor, stationery, antiques, jewelry, and accessories.
For modern wellness, Thornes also houses yoga, spa, physical therapy, massage, and neurofeedback services.
It’s not just the shops, food, and services that make Thornes a popular destination, though, but the history. The nooks and crannies, the unique vibe, and the-one-of-kind look creates an enormous appeal. The vintage footprint is still quite evident.
Each of the four stories has a story to tell through the wooden staircases, pressed tin ceilings, large palladium windows, sometimes creaky and uneven floors, and exposed ductwork. The continuous, effective restoration projects, however, would make the most finicky HGTV restoration host proud, however.
There’s even a working Dip and Dunk Photobooth, one of only 10 remaining in Massachusetts! The cost for taking a photo is more than back in the day at $4, but the experience is still priceless.
One of the last functioning Dip and Dunk Photobooths in Massachusetts can be found at Thornes.
Breathtaking stained glass windows, recently created by Easthampton artist Heather McLean, carry on the historic look of the original windows and add an artistic flair in an artist’s town.
When did it all begin?
Thornes Marketplace opened in 1979, but the building has a history of its own that goes back another century.
McCallum’s Dry Goods claimed the first business here in 1873 and expanded twice through the Calvin Coolidge years, until the silk industry faded away and nylon came into fashion following the Great Depression. The building at 150 Main Street then became McCallum’s, a five-story department store selling everything a customer could ever need. From clothing to furniture to housewares to toys, this was the place to go in town.
Back in the day at McCallum’s Department Store. Photo supplied by Thornes Marketplace Marketing Department.
The gradual demise of downtown department stores increased in the 1970s, however, as huge shopping malls and aggressively marketed chain stores took front and center on the retail stage in the United States. McCallum’s fell victim to the hype. In 1975, Floyd Andrus bought the vacant and unoccupied building from Revell McCallum in 1975 and soon started a thorough renovation of the property. This would pave the way for a new paradigm in downtown shopping for locals: Thornes Marketplace.
Brinkley and Gordon Thorne, with wives Mazie Cox and Annie Woodhull, purchased the building for $535K from Andrus and opened Thornes Marketplace in 1977.
In 1989, a parking garage was constructed behind Thornes and was connected to it with a skywalk. This created ample and convenient parking for customers.
Local real estate investors bought Thornes in 2006, working hard to bring this landmark into the 21st-century with improvements like new windows, floors, and bathrooms and a better mix of shops. The renovations and the growing small business vibrancy with more storefronts becoming occupied also served as a microcosm to Northampton’s overall comeback as a downtown.
Today, Northampton combines an idyllic, small-town downtown with the amenities of a larger city, thanks to Thornes, a farmers market (right outside Thornes), two historic theaters, Smith College (one of the top-ranked women’s colleges in the United States) and Smith’s Museum of Art contributing greatly to the aesthetics, rich culture, and arts. The presence of mountains, forests, and farmland surrounding the community adds to its overall appeal.
Jody Doele, marketing manager at Thornes Marketplace, can feel the love at Thornes and in Northampton. She and her husband, Dave, were living a high-stress, big-city life in and around New York City. They also suffered through the horrors of 9/11 in 2001.
“My husband and I were thinking of someplace smaller to live where we could raise our kids in a safer, less hectic environment,” says Jody. “We came here in 2010 and never looked back. The people here are tremendous. We have built meaningful friendships and seen so much kindness and sense of community here. Many people who live here could have lived anywhere, but chose Northampton. People have a tremendous sense of place here.”
“I love my job. The owner is committed to the story of Thornes,” adds Jody. “The tenants have talked to us about how much they love being in the building. It’s really an ideal place to work.”
Getting to know merchants at Thornes Marketplace
The merchants of Thornes Marketplace also have distinct flair. Will Brideau, owner of Jackson & Connor men’s clothing store (Level 2), might just be the perfect example of an owner who has marched to the beat of his own drum while passionately owning a business that, at first, rejected him.
Will, who has the mustache and beard of a turn-of-the-century merchant, the attention to detail and service of a retro business owner, and the hipness of a 21st-century millennial, never thought he’d end up owning a men’s clothing store.
He attended nearby Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 2004 to 2008 and soon found himself selling high-end “baby stuff” at the former Impish in Northampton. He approached the business owners at Jackson and Connor and “begged for a job,” initially to no avail. Repeated perseverance paid off, however, as owners Tara Tetreault and Candice Connors eventually hired Will as “pretty much the only employee.”
Little did Will know, at that time, that the owners would choose to close the store. He says, “I wanted to take over the store. I had found something I really loved doing. And they had faith in me. I told them, though, ‘I don’t know how to run it. I don’t have the money to own it.’ They found a way to make it work for me. I took the plunge in November 2013. It is the only job I have ever loved. Plus, I get to work in a job at a store I own.”
Will picks and chooses merchandise to be sold in the store by hand. He offers the ideal mix of inventory from types of denim and hoodies to jackets and ties.
“Yes, this type of store is a dying breed, but the indie-owned mom-and-pop shops on Main Street allow quirky places like mine to do well,” says Will. “It fits perfectly into Northampton.”
Gabriel Moushabeck brought his bookstore in Brooklyn, New York, to Thornes in 1997. The handsome two-story Booklinks Booksellers (Level 1 and 2) features new books, greeting cards, gifts, bargains books, and a second-story cafe and tea bar.
“I had book stores in New York City and used to vacation around here at that time,” says Gabriel. “When coming here, Brinkley wanted a bookstore at Thornes. I liked the idea of opening a business in Northampton and have no regrets. Many authors and artists come here. They love to support the business. And we are doing well here. It took a while to understand what the customers wanted. You find what they are looking for. That makes a big difference, the personalization and meeting customer needs. Yes, we have competition from the big booksellers, but we have survived well within a very supportive community and being here at Thornes.”
Katie Rennie, owner of 25 Central (Level 1), started working at the women’s clothing and accessories store along with a best friend several years ago after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. There, they started managing and buying together. The owners, Paul and Cherie, were looking to retire and felt that Katie would be a good fit to take over the business. She has done them proud by carrying on the retail tradition while being savvy enough to know what it takes to survive in a brick-and-mortar business faced with the challenge of an online-retail-giants world.
“Being a brick-and-mortar store here in Northampton, we really connect with our customers, and it’s really important I build these relationships where I go to these shows in New York City or Marlborough, Massachusetts, to buy the merchandise we bring in,” said Katie in a Feb. 24, 2018, interview on WHMP radio in Northampton. “I can think about individual customers and what they like and what I see trends in Northampton being.”
25 Central is truly a family-run business with Katie’s mom, Deb, and her sister, Molly, working there. Molly, a manager and buyer, loves working at the ultra-cool modern women’s clothing and accessories store.
“We have a selection you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says Molly. “We have something for everyone. Daughters, mothers, and grandmothers shop here.”
Customers can expect to find a fabulous mix of scarves, dresses, hair accessories, and jewelry as part of the glorious retail landscape at 25 Central.
Lunch, dinner, drinks, and sweets at Thornes Marketplace
Along with retail shops, Thornes Marketplace also is home to places to eat and drink that can be found not only front and center but also tucked away in the Victorian building.
Paul and Elizabeth’s (Level 1) is a spacious, comfortable restaurant featuring natural foods for lunch and dinner. Some of its specialties include fresh seafood, tempura, and vegetarian soups, salads, and entrees. After owning the restaurant since 1978, owners Paul and Elizabeth recently turned the reins over to son Nate.
“Things will continue on with Nate,” says Paul, with a confident but gentle smile. “Family and a love for food has kept us here for 40 years.”
Share Coffee and Cafe (Level 1) features single-origin coffee and espresso, baked goods, soups, salads, and sandwiches. It’s located at the first main intersection on the first level near the staircase and skywalk to the parking garage.
Northampton Olive Oil Company (Level 1) sells high-quality infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars, as well as hot sauces, salsas, barbecue rubs, and Bloody Mary mixes.
Convino Wine Bar (Lower level 2) offers 70 wines by the glass from all over the world in a cozy lower-level setting. They also serve “small and hearty plates,” including cheeses and meats, Greek mussels, spanakopita, marinated olives, fancy fries with truffle oil, and Parmesan, a lamb burger, filet mignon, and chocolate and mousse cakes for dessert.
One of the first places you’ll notice at Thornes is Heavenly Chocolate (Level 1) with its incredible variety of handmade chocolates made in small batches, with organic and local ingredients whenever possible. It’s all here: caramel, collections, confections, truffles, and vegan offerings.
The industrial kitchen where the chocolate is created is also inside Thornes.
Cornucopia (Lower level 1) has served as an independently-owned natural foods grocery store since 1980. It’s a perfect fit for a liberal, progressive community with health food, organic produce, supplements, and natural body care products. Husband and wife Nate Clifford and Jade Jump bought Cornucopia from Bud Stockwell and Sydney Flum-Stockwell in March 2019.
Cornucopia is jam-packed with high-quality, national brands and local merchandise, as well as an independent spirit that is heartwarming and endearing.
“Many have memories of going into a mom-and-pop health food store and experiencing that health-food smell,” says Nate. “Yes, we have that, but have also evolved in the industry. Here, we understand our roots while trying to attract new customers.”
From vibrantly colored produce to bulk grains and teas, kombucha, and locally grown mushrooms, Cornucopia is a tour de force in health food.
Nate is like an encyclopedia of health store knowledge and doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom. As an example, supplement companies like Garden of Life and MegaFood have been bought out by large corporations. Instead of dismissing the corporate buy-outs, Nate watches to see if labels have changed and is on the phone regularly with reps and management to make sure quality hasn’t been compromised.
Nate and Jade are welcoming to everyone who comes into their store.
Herrell’s Ice Cream (Lower Level 1) is a familiar name in Massachusetts. Founder Steve Herrell opened the first Steve’s in 1973 in Somerville, Massachusetts, expanding rapidly over the years. Best known for pioneering rich, creamy ice cream and smooshing in popular cookies and candies, Herrell’s is every bit as good today as it was in the beginning.
Judy Herrell is the owner of Herrells today.
Thornes Marketplace might have a long history, but youthful owners give great promise to the future of this Victorian building—as young as 18 in the case of Levi Smith. With the blessing of former owner Nolan Anaya and with help from his parents, Levi hopes to find sweet success with Captain Candy (Lower level 1).
Levi Smith and Isaac Kingston at Captain Candy.
The modest-sized candy store features “lots of candy you can’t find anywhere else,” says Levi. “Tons of stuff.”
Isaac Kingston, a manager at Captain Candy and not much older than Levi, says that this is the place to go for Jelly Belly products with 60 varieties and Pez with 30 different choices.
Spend a few hours at Thornes, and you’ll clearly see it is a destination—a travel attraction in New England for all ages. In a part of the state that is best known for Six Flags New England, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Springfield Museums, International Volleyball Hall of Fame, Historic Deerfield Village, and Yankee Candle Factory, Thornes Marketplace is authentic, interesting, relevant, useful and, ultimately, memorable.
The locals and students know all this to be true, many frequenting Thornes several times a week as a way of life in this charming, lively small city.
“By coming in here, locals and merchants are benefiting each other,” says Jody. “The merchants know that being here, you create your own store as a destination. It is really a fabulous place.”
Thornes Marketplace is located at 150 Main Street in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Web site: http://www.thornesmarketplace.com
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/Thornesmarketplace
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/thornesmarketplace
The shops, restaurants and services at Thornes Marketplace:
Backstop Seated Massage
ConVino Wine Bar
Footbeats for Women
Glimpse of Tibet
Herrell’s Ice Cream
Honey & Wine
Jackson & Connor
Northampton Olive Oil Co.
Paul & Elizabeth’s Restaurant
Share Coffee & Cafe
The Blue Marble
If you enjoyed this article, please share through any of the social media buttons below. Thanks!