Our Story

Home » About » Our Story

Draper is for Dreamers

As a historic site and a long-standing tradition in the community of Draper, the Draper Mercantile remains at the heart of the community. 

Come and explore our village – enjoy lunch at the Village Table, shop for unique gifts and unusual finds in our village shoppes, visit The Junction to rent a bike and ride the scenic New River Trail, browse our selection of craft beer, wine, and local foods in the marketplace, book your special event with us in our main hall, the event room (Taborri room), or our historic Village Chapel. Make your time with us even more memorable and rent one of our many vacation homes on the New River, Claytor Lake, or New River Trail through New River Retreat.

The Draper Mercantile creates positive ways of coming together through food, art, music, or the outdoors. There’s something about the energy here that evokes a sense of belonging, this old building has a way of speaking to what inspires us.   

Recent History

The Draper Mercantile closed its doors in 2007, after a 20-year spell as a furniture store, clock shop and antiques venue. The building stayed on the market until June 2008 when Debbie and Bill Gardner, owners of New River Retreat, a Draper, Virginia, tourism and property management enterprise, fell in love with the 8,000-square-foot facility. New River Retreat brings visitors to Southwest Virginia for access to the natural beauty in the New River Valley, but also facilitates the “complete experience” for guests visiting the area. “With this area not yet being known as a major tourism destination, we always felt that we would have to do more to provide guests with exceptional getaways,” Debbie Gardner explains. “We knew that in order for New River Retreat to be successful, the total experience of our guests would have to be just as important as appealing lodging. We wanted to connect guests to the area’s unique offerings and regional culture. This challenge led us to our mission statement: Showcasing the best of Southwest Virginia.” 

Every staff member is trained to provide concierge-style services, offering advice on where to find the best local foods, music, or times of area events. New River Retreat fuels regional business, sending tourists out to numerous locations. The process is cumulative. Repeat and referral clients make up 30 percent of their annual revenue. New River Retreat’s Web site, www.newriverretreat.com, includes calendars of events and links to other businesses. “We’ve started a local links initiative where we visit local businesses with our guests in mind. We experience theses places for ourselves and are then able to provide informed recommendations to our guests while also supporting local businesses. We maintain current brochures on area businesses and services for our guests. We support each other.” The restored building will continue the old-style mercantile function as a place to buy an assortment of goods as well as a place to experience and enjoy the cultural traditions unique to this part of the world.

Deep History

Like many Virginia institutions, the history of the Draper Mercantile must be patched together through non-traditional sources, like story or anecdote, a yellowed newspaper clipping, someone’s memory. With that said, the best existing research has tagged three disparate years of construction: 1812, 1865, and 1885. While her origins may be elusive, her role was not. The Merc provided material goods and services for Pulaski County and surrounding communities for over 100 years. Residents and visitors could purchase “just about anything.” A receipt found in a desk by the current owners summarizes an eclectic purchase: sugar, burial clothes, salmon, lemons, and a coffin. The place housed a barber shop, a blacksmith, the post office, and a dress shop at various times. “In the spring the farmers brought in their lambs to sell and in the fall their hogs, turkey, potatoes etc., which went towards settling their accounts.” 

The Pulaski County library even maintained a Draper station there for some years, which will be honored by addition of a small bookstore. A soda fountain occupied the front corner of the store. E. G. Gannaway, in partnership with G. H. Gilmer, E. T. Pratt, and J. H. Pratt, established the Mercantile and ran it together until 1944 when Gannaway’s sons, G. G. and Lawrence Craig, bought out the Pratt and Gilmer interests and took over, operating the business until 1979. At that time, it was thought to be the oldest continuously running business in the county. Ownership and activity was sporadic for the next few years, but the 1982 purchase by Arvella Sadie Brown opened an antiques store that was assumed by Lee and Katherine LaFleur in 1990. In 2008, The Gardners stepped forward to return the Merc to her original glory.

Stay With Us

Vacation getaways on the New River, Claytor Lake, and New River Trail.

Dine With Us

From sophisticated southern to the simple but exquisite.

Shop With Us

Explore the village shoppes for unique finds and unusual gifts.

Book With Us

From weddings to baby showers and everything in between.