Shepherdstown locals have long been reclaiming historic spaces; access to old buildings with a rich history is part of the charm of this small town. Walking into the new Dogwood General store on German Street feels as though the building itself has reclaimed its original incarnation. A quick peek at the history confirms why it feels right at home here — the Morris & Brown general store opened here in 1804; the Tabler family took over in 1922 and continued minding the store until 1962. Mary Ball, the present-day owner, has implemented a vision for the old bones of this space to house inventory ranging from paper-wrapped bamboo toilet paper, household goods, and eco-friendly toiletries, to elegant ceramics crafted from local clay, grain feed, vintage hardware, and even vintage clothing.
Modern Take On A Vintage Concept
The concept of a general store is about as vintage as it gets in this country. Long before the behemoth specialty and department stores of modernity became epicenters of consumerism, every town had a general store to provide the basics. Ball intends to offer just such a shop for locals and visitors alike who desire quality, durability, and even beauty in their products. She insists on products that are “made well, with minimal packaging and limited plastic,” selecting “local when possible,” so that shoppers can benefit from a web of intimate marketplace connections.
Connection itself — more than the products and convenience of the store — is the driving motive behind Ball’s vision. She says, “Creating space for people has always felt really important to me. I love it when people come in and see other people they know in this space and spend time together. That feels so good.” The building that Dogwood General calls home has a strong history as a gathering space — the prior occupant was an arts collective and before that it was a yoga studio and a locally-owned cafe. Ball looks to maintain the energy of a community hub.
A Place for Conversation & Connection
I saw this in action when a local resident came into Dogwood General first thing in the morning to purchase grain feed. The three of us chatted about the evolution of the local area over the decades. It was a lively five-minute conversation packed with fascinating information. I myself came away feeling more intimately connected to the town. These sorts of interactions are the lifeblood of the store and enthusiastic support by locals will ensure its endurance. “Anything we can do,” she says, “to support the cycle of local creators and shops is fulfilling.”
Ball, now in her early thirties, describes how her early career shaped her ethos in opening a sustainability-focused general store. She had worked with environmental photographers in her twenties who imprinted “the sentiment that it’s important to be a steward of the spaces and life around you, whenever and wherever you can.” We giggled about how, looking back, our meandering experiences in life braid together in unexpected ways — she didn’t exactly foresee herself opening a general store.
Jumping In Without Hesitation
When the opportunity to lease the storefront arrived in November 2022, she committed and opened just twenty days later, on Thanksgiving weekend. Ball, with her million-watt smile, is just that kind of person. “It’s fun!” She beams and radiates joy while reflecting on her endeavor to open shop, build relationships, support creators, and be of service to a town she adores. Her warm personality infuses Dogwood General with the kind of homespun hospitality that invites you to linger.
Ball hopes to build Dogwood General into a meeting place for programs that support “incredible farmers” around the area. She’s enthusiastic to now offer a flower CSA [community supported agriculture group] with Whispering Flower Farm and an herbal CSA with Sacred Roots. Patrons can set up those memberships and collect their goods in the store.
In the future, Ball aims to maximize use of the Dogwood General’s space by expanding her local-made inventory and offering classes. She’s currently looking for a local broom-maker, which speaks fittingly to her vision to clean up consumerism and usher in a new (old) way of living.
Dogwood General is located at 119 West German Street, Shepherdstown WV and online at DogwoodGeneralStore.com.By Erin Atticus Mooney