Marty’s Mercantile: ‘Skin’ Davis’ old West Shokan store gets yet another life

Marty and Sarah Lynch in front of the 1923 cooler. (photo by Violet Snow)

When Sarah and Marty Lynch cleaned out the attic at what used to be the Good Stuff Café and Country Store — preceded by the American General Store — they found, rolled up inside a paper towel tube, the marriage certificate of Lester “Skin” Davis and Edna Mac Nichols. It was dated December 23, 1922, around the time Skin established the first store at the location, next to the West Shokan post office on Route 28A. They gave the document to Skin and Edna’s granddaughter, after making a copy, which now hangs on the wall of the Lynches’ new café and shop, Marty’s Mercantile, opening Thursday, June 8.

Along the south side of the Ashokan Reservoir, where commercial establishments are few but the rural community is tight-knit, the store will be a welcome gathering place. It is the latest in a succession of cafés and restaurants to inhabit the historic building, and the Lynches have done their utmost to make sure Marty’s Mercantile will meet the needs of both residents and visitors.

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The weekend after the couple and their three children moved from Washington, DC, to a house on Watson Hollow Road, they set up a table at Olive Day and asked everyone who stopped by what they would want in a local business. Then they put a questionnaire online and mailed it to residents of the Town of Olive, eventually receiving feedback from 150 households. “We had thought of a hardware store or a bagel shop,” said Sarah, “but once people told us what they needed, a café and store felt right.”

At the top of the list of items requested was specialty sandwiches. Since Marty has been cooking for the family since the birth of twins last year, his culinary creativity will get a workout. Second on the list was staple groceries, so the shop will carry such basics as milk, eggs, cheese, flour, sugar, crackers. Third was coffee and tea, the essentials of a community hangout.

Also on sale will be gift items, sourced as much as possible from local vendors and other New York State businesses. The shop carries maple syrup from Marty Giuliano of Olive; Bebert’s Condiments produced in Big Indian; soaps and essential oils made by Northern Catskills Essentials; handmade greeting cards from Paper Wolf Designs in Oneonta; products from La Bella Pasta on Route 28; smoked sausage from Catskill Food Company; and much more.

In addition to tables in the café, there are several more on the back deck, which can also serve as a stage for performances, with the audience sitting on the spacious lawn. Sarah, who brings her four-year-old son to Tuesday morning story hour at the Olive Free Library, polled the other mothers, who said weekend activities for children were needed in the town. So she is starting the Sunshine Club, which will meet on Saturday mornings, with families invited to play on the lawn.

Although the emphasis is on supplying the needs of the community, said Sarah, “We heard at Olive Day that we also have to reflect our customer base. Both locals and tourists are welcome, and residents whether they’re part-time or full-time. We want to be inclusive.”

Thus the menu features Marty’s specially designed breakfast burrito as well as a quick morning dish requested by the workers at the highway department around the corner — the “Road Warrior,” a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich. Among the 13 breakfast and lunch items on the menu are buttermilk flapjacks, a pastrami-and-Swiss sandwich, a cobbler salad, and several vegan dishes (oatmeal with almond milk, a tempeh sandwich, peanut butter and Nutella on marble rye). Two selections honor relatives who have passed away. “Bob’s Chicken” is a dish Marty’s dad used to make him, and “Pam’s Breakfast” is an egg salad recalling Sarah’s aunt.

History is resonant for the Lynches. The centerpiece of the shop is a cooler dating back to Skin Davis’s original store. “It still works,” said Marty. “There were two or three fridges that were more recent, but we had to throw them out. It’s proof they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Many neighbors who stop by bring stories of Skin. A local veteran said when he went off to fight in the Korean War, Skin told him his wife and child could come to the store any time, and he’d take care of them. When the man returned, Skin presented him with a bill for $850, having never charged his wife over the course of two years. “That’s the essence of building community,” said Sarah.

The new business represents a major life change for Marty, who has just left a high-pressure job with Microsoft. Sarah does policy work for a humanitarian agency and will continue to work from an office over the shop. Despite the effort involved in setting up the business, they both appreciate the gentler, slower lifestyle that used to attract them when they visited Sarah’s best friend from college, who lives in West Shokan.

The couple expressed gratitude to Town of Olive officials. “Everyone there was so supportive,” said Marty. “They helped us with building permits, inspections, regulations for running the café. Everyone from the supervisor to the building inspector helped guide us through the process.”

On the weekend of the grand opening, musicians will play each afternoon: Bill Melvin on Thursday, June 8, Rayla Hart on Friday, Evan Shultis on Saturday, and Christian Smythe on Sunday.

Marty’s Mercantile is located at 4075 Route 28A in West Shokan. Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. See their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MartysMercantileNY.

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