By Jolee Keplinger (C’20) | Principia Center for Sustainability
Not too long ago, Blair and Dory Smith purchased a historic building built in 1877. The building was originally a dry goods store called Keller & Son General Merchant. According to Blair, the idea of revitalizing the storefront had been “bubbling in thought for many years.” In 2015, the Elsah General Store became a reality. This store allows residents, tourists, plus students and faculty from Principia College, to experience a slower, simpler time.
The Elsah General Store is located in the historic village of Elsah, IL, which is located off of the Great River Road. When considering the fact that there are only about 600 residents there, it’s understandable that this is the only grocery store serving the area.
Currently, the store offers locally sourced staple products such as baking ingredients, eggs, meat and fresh bread plus a variety of treats which include old time candies, vintage soda and ice cream. In addition, jams, sauces, dressings, maple syrup, honey, canned goods, and coffee are available. Blair defines local as being within 100 miles, which includes St. Louis, MO.
Initially, the local food movement didn’t register with Blair and Dory. One day, a customer inquired about “eggs from happy chickens.” This led him to specially source the store’s eggs from a local and humane farm. Even though these eggs cost more, he emphasized that his customer base appreciates them. This demonstrates how sustainable and ethical options can be a beneficial business move.
Each week, Blair commutes to St. Louis to shop for locally made specialty products. This demonstrates his dedication to offering the locals a variety of locally produced options without having to drive an hour into the city.
The Goodies Table features products from the weekly St. Louis shopping haul. One dessert which is unique to the region is gooey butter cake, a St. Louis speciality. Blair purchases the gooey butter cakes from Ann & Allen Baking Company. This business bakes over 70 flavors! You can expect to find the original flavor, as well as a special flavor which changes each week.
This table filled with local specialties isn’t just reserved for sweets. You can also find savory options, such as Billy Goat Chips. Once you taste these hand-crafted potato chips you, will never want settle for the mainstream, mass-produced version ever again.
Another local speciality found at the store is Ringhausen’s Apple Cider. This delicious drink is only available September through December. What’s special about this product is that the apples are picked right off the trees. You’re probably thinking “aren’t all apples picked from trees?” For cider, most of the apples used are actually the discards that have fallen to the ground.
Speaking of drinks, Blair spoke fondly about BunkHouse Joe coffee, which is roasted in Feildon, IL, which is only a half-hour drive away. He’s even met the owner and learned all about their extensive roasting process.
This post only covers a few product highlights. I highly recommend paying the Elsah General Store a visit. There, you will most likely see Blair at the register, and hear more about his passion for providing high-quality, locally sourced products.
22 LaSalle St.
Wednesday – Saturday 10:00 – 5:00
Sunday 12:00 – 5:00
Closed Monday & Tuesday