Heart in the History

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Heart in the History

Feb 4, 2022

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

-Abraham Lincoln

 This saying became especially true for me as I embarked on a quest to find a very particular year – the year the original Draper Mercantile first opened. I wanted to measure the life of the Merc in terms of years, but when I asked people for specific dates, I didn’t get numbers. I got stories. While the stories never turned up the exact year this historic building was built, they did something far more important: they brought the Merc to life.

The “history” of something is more than just names, dates and events- the true history of a place is found in the stories and faces of people, it’s found beneath layers of peeling paint, it’s found in the surprising insights gleaned from a tattered 100 year old grocery receipt. The true history of a particular place is found in the hearts of people who have loved it.

 I have always been intrigued by the ways this old building is still shrouded in mystery. It’s like a time capsule, slowly revealing its secrets. In 2009, I traveled to the library of Virginia in Richmond determined to discover the exact date of the Merc’s inception. After days of digging through old newspapers, tax records and microfilm archives, the opening date remained a mystery. Perhaps the grand old building prefers it that way.

 For me, it is both an honor and a responsibility to continue the Draper Mercantile‘s long and vibrant history. This building has a story to tell, and every single person who has ever walked through those doors becomes a part of that story.

 One of my favorite stories was shared by a Draper local whose sweet tooth led her into mischief. She recalled the old candy counter; how getting to select a piece of candy was the highlight her week. Sometimes the temptation was too great, and she would steal a single chicken egg from the family’s coop and sneak down to the Draper Mercantile to trade it for a piece of “penny candy “.  Of all the stories Draper natives have shared with us, the candy counter was the most popular memory. When we realized what a special place it had in people’s hearts, we knew we had to continue the tradition so that kids today could experience that same kind of magic.

 Today, the candy display still holds nostalgic candy. In the Marketplace you can find anything from teaberry or blackjack gum to old fashioned cinnamon cube pops to horehound drops.  The next time you see it, pause to imagine how many generations stood wide eyed at the candy counter carefully picking out the perfect sweet treat.

And while we may no longer trade ill-begotten chicken eggs for candy, we do take great joy in seeing the timeless excitement in kids’ eyes as they peruse the rows of colorful confections just as children have done here for well over 100 years.

Sharing these simple, timeless joys are what “Merc Magic” is all about. I discovered that the most meaningful history of the Draper Mercantile will never be found in tax records and old newspaper articles. It is in the memories, stories, and traditions created here. After all, the biggest part of the word “history” is “story “- and that is exactly how this grand old building has chosen to reveal herself to us.


Written By:

Ashlee, Village Creative Team Member

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