Tucked away in Idaho’s tiniest villages and historic ghost towns, charming general stores and mercantile shops are vintage pieces of American history. While some of these forlorn stores have fallen into disrepair, the charm and nostalgia of old-fashioned retail centers is not entirely gone, and is easily reawakened by paying a visit and grabbing some candy, thread, or what-have-you at the front counter. Here are 14 quaint general stores in Idaho that are still open for business or worth a visit.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Roseberry General Store, Roseberry
Roseberry is truly one of Idaho's most unique communities. Surrounded by beautiful green pastures and mountain lakes, most people don't even know that Roseberry exists, let alone that it was the largest town in Valley County in 1911. Still located at its original location and dating back to the early 1900s, what was formerly known as the McDougal General Store sits among a collection of 20 old and historic buildings from all over the local valley, including Finnish cabins from early settlers, a Finnish Blacksmith Shop, the old McCall City Hall, a Carriage House, and more.
Up until this past year, the historic general store was a collection of items accumulated by McDougal himself, which were recently auctioned off to preserve the building after its sale. The Valley County Museum hopes to incorporate a general store into its museum plans.
2. Lemhi General Store, Lemhi
This rustic country store is fittingly housed in an old converted barn, but rumor has it that the post office recently closed.
3. Tracy General Store, Almo
Constructed in 1894. this still-operating shop houses a post office as well, which has been inside the general store since day one. The original Eames Bros. Cash Store & General Supply was a log structure with an entrance on the north side of the building, and was owned by the Utah-born Eames brothers who homesteaded in Almo in the 19th century. As the store and town grew, additions were added by the Eames brothers with the help of two traveling Swiss men, whose influences gave the store the unique look and style seen today.
4. Ola General Store, Ola
Tucked away in forgotten Ola, this throwback general store with its vibrant murals and charming front porch was converted into a private residence a few years back according to locals. Established in 1882, the town is located in the beautiful, scenic Upper Squaw Creek Valley between Horseshoe Bend and Emmett, but there is little to distinguish Ola from the surrounding farmscape besides the store and post office.
5. Elk River Lodge & General Store, Elk River
This tiny town is home to more than a few historic places, but this lodge and general store is known for serving up some fantastic huckleberry ice cream and huckleberry crisp -- it's so famous, in fact, that Elk River is often known as "Huckleberry Heaven." The lodge sits above the old general store, which looks nearly the same as it did nearly a century ago.
6. Lenore General Store, Lenore
Not quite a ghost town, but village-like in its charm, Lenore's central shop houses a post office as well. In 1903, Lenore was an important railroad station in the Nez Perce region. The Lenore Trading Company, a general store, was established early on, but the post office didn't make its appearance until 1900. But the town has never been much bigger than it is today.
7. Leadore General Store, Leadore
Leadore is another on of those tiny towns along Idaho's sparse northeast border that had its start as a mining district (lead + ore = Leadore). This is beautifully rustic general store with its western-styled wooden false front is a post office as well, and depending on where you're coming from, the first building you will have seen for 20 miles or so.
8. The Brick Store, Chesterfield
Built by Barlow and Tolman in 1903, this small, brick shop in the middle of nowhere was last operated in 1956 by Joseph Holbrook. It now houses a museum.
9. Buck's Naf Mercantile & Cafe, Malta
Buck's new-old store is described quite simply by the owner himself as "Burgers, beer, bullets, hats and purses." Good enough for me!
10. Boise Basin Mercantile Co., Placerville
One of the original buildings from Placerville's boom days in the 1860s, this historic shop is no longer open for business, but boasts Idaho's famous Owyhee chocolates from the Idaho Candy Company on the side of the building. It isn't to be confused its chain-sister stores in Idaho City (the oldest general store in the state) and Centerville.
According to the mercantile's historic plaque, "Located in the building's basement is the lone cell of Placerville's original jail. Few criminals actually saw the inside of the jail during the community's early days as most either received a bullet or swung from the end of a rope."
11. North Fork General Store and Cafe, North Fork
Located near the Salmon River, this general store in northern Idaho is still a bustling, active place to grab some souvenirs, ice cream, necessities, or a few snacks for the road.
12. L.C. Watson's & Co. General Store, Spalding
Located in the Nez Perce Historical Park, this country general store was a prominent fixture in the Spalding community between 1911 and 1964, not only as a center of commerce and trade, but as a community gathering place.
The building was designed and constructed by Lewis and Margaret Watson, and entrepreneurial couple who had met in Burke. Two years after marrying, they moved to Spalding, Idaho and opened their store, until an unexpected death forced its closure. Today, it is owned by the NPS.
13. Thomas Mercantile, Swanlake
Bannock County's only post office and mercantile shop is located in Swanlake, where it has served the entire county for nearly a century, along with visitors from Yellowstone and Utah. It was originally owned by Samuel Thomas and Mary Alice Stoddard Thomas before being passed down to family. Today, this old-time mercantile is owned by Mary and Kim Thomas and is home to a large selection of fabrics and tools for quilting, and even pianos, which Kim restores. According to the owners, Thomas Mercantile has had the same phone number since the 1950s.
14. Hutton's General Store, Harrison
Quaint, locally treasured, and incredibly photogenic with its scenic location along the water, this charming shop is both a hidden gem and a community gathering place. The old, classic decor is reminiscent of an old 40s pharmacy, complete with the warm, welcoming environment, soda fountain, and throwback hospitality. But you can also order some darn good eats here (brick-fired pizza, anyone?) along with bottled Coke, sweets from the candy counter, or refreshing ice cream. Or, just swap fishing stories and call it a day!
What other charming stores are located around Idaho? Share their history with us! And, if you like these historic gems, you might also enjoy checking out these
10 Forgotten Ghost Towns In Idaho.