Ben Lebel & Blake Hays shared a common story long before they ever met (even before they were born). These entrepreneurs and proprietors of Village Common Mercantile share a passion for uncompromised quality with roots reaching back two generations and 50 years.
Beginning in 1968, the first Village Common opened its doors in Avenel, New Jersey. Run by Ben Lebel’s Grandma Bernadette, this first incarnation was an antique store of carefully selected, fine pieces from all eras. Grandma Bernadette also had beautiful plants and flowers for sale on the front porch that always attracted passers-by to stop in.
In 1984, the Village Common moved to Stroudsburg, Pa., on the property of the Stroudsmoor Country Inn, and was re-imagined into a country store by Susan Lebel, Bernadette’s daughter and Ben’s mother. Antiques were still available alongside candles, soaps, homemade canned goods, and unique gift ideas.
Billy Hays, Blake’s grandfather, opened his first country store in Pineville, Louisiana in 1960 as a vintage bodega; offering local produce and custom goods.
Our visit to the Downstreet Catskill storefront at 388 Main St. was greeted by an amazing mix of natural scents and visual charm. In between welcoming visitors and assisting customers, Ben was in the midst of a production run of his Garden Collection Candles destined to fill a large order for Nordstrom that needed to be shipped the following week.
Ben & Blake operate their value-added manufacturing business from behind the storefront, filling orders to over 100 retailers. Balancing the on-line, wholesale, and brick & mortar retail aspects of their operation from a single location, they also live in the upstairs apartment.
“We found Catskill at just the right time”, Ben remembers. “We were moving out of NYC, and our wholesale business was really taking off. We were committed to keeping the walk-in store aspect of our common heritage, and the Downstreet business community in Catskill (along with the affordability of the property) enabled us to locate everything in one place.”
A walk across the street to the newly renovated Mahalo Gift Shop begged a question to proprietor Maureen Kinch on co-locating her Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty offices in the adjacent store-front.
“We love Ben & Blake, and they have the right idea”, Maureen affirms, “the ability to move from one aspect of your business to another in a single location is key to a successful operation. It also helps build community between co-workers, customers, and other business people.”
If you are interested in joining the new business communities in our Catskill Mountain, Rural Valley, or Historic Hudson River towns, call the Greene County Department of Economic Development at 518-719-3285 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for Concierge Service on available business assistance programs.