A lot of action is happening in Joseph on the Jennings Hotel block of Main Street in Joseph these days. The latest addition to the business world is the upcoming opening of “Small County,” a store dedicated to the finer things in life. Ashley Tackett is co-owner of the store with Greg Hennes, who owns the Jennings Hotel. The Small County moniker is not a slam; it refers to the population and rurality of Wallowa County.
Tackett is from a small Indiana town that she left at 18. She later spent time in San Francisco, Eugene and Portland, working in architecture and hotel design, which is how she met Hennes. She moved to the Wallowa Valley three years ago. Her small town upbringing allows her to feel at home here in Joseph.
It was while working with Hennes on the hotel that she thought about adding a retail component.
“We live in the most beautiful state, and people from the west side tend to go to Cannon Beach or Bend and forget the whole state is really beautiful, especially at the corners,” Tackett said.
The local community of artists and artisans, many of whom stay at the hotel, provided the inspiration for the store. Instructors at Hennes’ Prairie Mountain Folk School also helped.
“We feel really lucky that we have such a great community,” Tackett said. “We have a lot of people that helped us with the hotel, people who are artists, and people who make products, furniture and different things. I feel like we’re sharing a perspective of art and culture that Joseph has as a town of the arts.” However, Tackett shared that the store’s creative direction also offers a more modern and contemporary art perspective as well. “We thought that having an outlet for all of our creative community in a retail space and not just in a hotel would be awesome.”
Tackett also gave a shout out to sawmill owner Jim Zacharias and 1917 Lumber who provided much of the material and finishing. Local quilt maker, Gail Hillock, has sewn a large quilt to use to separate the store and work space behind it.
The space once housed Arrowhead Chocolates, and when refurbishing the future store area, the low ceiling was removed and restored to its former height and transom windows were installed to provide a greater view of the surrounding area — especially Mount Joseph. The former ceiling is now the floor of Small County.
The hotel doesn’t have a front desk, so the store will also serve as an informal information booth that offers amenities to enhance the Wallowa County experience for visitors. Tackett noted that although many visitors come for the lake or to hike the mountain trails, she and Hennes love the prairie and canyons.
“I feel like Wallowa County has all these amazing people — guides and makers, but you have to be in the know to know where to go, so part of our dream is to have information available not just for our guests, but for any guests or visitors,” Tackett said. “We can say, ‘Hey, you can check out so and so.’” As an example, she used honey from the 6 Ranch just outside of Enterprise to tell inquiring visitors about the ranch’s farmstand or to recommend Wild Carrot herbals in Enterprise.
“It’s been great to work with locals and bring them into the fold,” Tackett said.
The inventory is varied, and much of it dedicated to exploring Wallowa County or inspired by the folk school. For example, Oregon road atlases are offered, but so are hand-carved wooden spoons and spoon carving knives and axes in a display case.
While local artisans have a large presence in the store, the store carries items from outside the area as well; for example, handmade brooms from a woman in Kentucky who grows her own broom corn. Literature is also part of the county’s heritage, and books, many local, are also offered, as are art supplies and notebooks.
Behind the counter and display case is a large area to be temporarily used for storage, but the couple also has other plans for the space.
“The long-term dream is to have workshops for the folk school in back, so people hopefully come in here and say, ‘Hey. what are those people doing,’” Tackett said. “It’s a great avenue for us to talk to people about folk school curriculum and upcoming courses. The couple’s other dream is to utilize one bare wall in the back for seasonal art.
In order to inspire visitors to explore the county, the store also offers gourmet picnicking supplies that include not only culinary items but the baskets as well. Also included are a picnic and “makeout” (yes, that kind of make out) map of the county that includes places for skinny-dipping as well.
“It’s all of our favorite spots to do all of the above,” Tackett said with a laugh. Locals need not worry. “We’re not giving away any local hard core spots or secrets.”
The store offers a nice selection of natural wines, pickles, meat, cheeses and other items to place in a picnic basket. If you don’t have a picnic basket or can’t afford one, the store also offers basket rentals that come with a blanket.
The store is also contributing to the local economy as they have hired one employee and are looking for others to fill in on days here and there.
“We’ve got a lot,” Tackett said. “We’re trying to wedge, weave together a story, a sense of place here. We feel lucky we have this awesome slice of Joseph, and we want to make it as good as possible.”
Small County is located at 100 N. Main St., Unit A and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.