Monday, July 15, 2013

Bon-Bon's & Berdine's: Small Town Shopping

I've said it before but it bears repeating, until I visited West Virginia, I had no concept of small town living.  Driving down the two-lane Main Street into Mt. Hope, WV, it took me a moment of adjustment to realize that the immediate transition from charming homes to a few small shops and restaurants was all I was going to see before we had completely traversed it in its entirety and left the city (and I use that descriptive in its most casual denotation) limits.  In Mt. Hope (and many of its West Virginian ilk), "Main Street" isn't a colloquial reference to an old-timey downtown area; Main Street is all there is.  I'd heard of one-horse towns and one-light towns, but I had yet to experience a one-road town.

This particular one-road town had something special that required a return trip to down its Main Street, namely Bon-Bon's Confectionery & Hardware (est. 1920).

"Did someone say 'confectionery?'"

Our discovery of Bon-Bon's was purely accidental as we walked off lunch from a neighboring Italian restaurant.  Although it was early in the afternoon, the screen door (yes, the screen door) to Bon-Bon's was latched.  Asking a passerby if the store had permanently shuttered its doors (not an uncommon sight in this part of the country) and he replied that the store was open everyday but the hours depended entirely on the proprietress who usually closed up shop around noon.  After a few days and several cheery phone conversations, we went back to Mt. Hope to visit our favorite, small-town convenience store and its lovely owner.

After her husband's death, Mrs. Floyd Bonifacio has continued to run Bon-Bon's with help from her children.
Clearly, patrons continue to receive superior service and delicious treats.

Isn't that the sweetest sack of bread you've ever seen?!
Sunbeam Bakeries originated in Philadelphia and have used
 variations of this image since 1942.

Any Southerners want to elucidate on the mystery of "Creecy Greens?"
I've never heard of them and wasn't willing to have my first experience be one
from a can that looked like it could have been sitting on the shelf for decades.

A current view of Bon-Bon's
Mrs. Bonifacio showed us a vintage photograph of Bon-Bon's when it was operating
 exclusively as a soda fountain and candy shop.  The same checkerboard floor and marble
candy counter made it easy to see beyond the contemporary fixtures and fluorescent lighting.

Learning that the Bonifacio family also owned the Mt. Hope Theater (and
 was looking to sell), I, for one brief yet romantic moment entertained the
 notion of moving to Mt. Hope (a wonderfully optimistic name, don't you
think?) and taking over the theater and returning Bon-Bon's to its former glory.  

Even the old NCR was still hard at work.
I couldn't find an excuse not to buy everything lock, stock, and barrel!

A vintage soda shop and movie theater?!?!?!  In all sincerity, I couldn't think of a more perfect life...until I realized that West Virginia experiences a bizarre weather phenomenon called "Winter;"  That doesn't really work for Mr. Tiny.

I had to be satisfied with our Bon-Bon's loot.
The next day was Father's Day and as a "treet" for my brother-
in-law, a native of Hawaii who has developed a liking for that
 peculiarly-American taste sensation, we indulged him with a can
of spiced, luncheon ham.  Obviously, the mints are to get rid of
the awful taste... 

Like our encounter with Bon-Bon's, it seems that some things are simply meant to be.  Shortly before my trip, my mom showed me the back page of Country Living Magazine.  In a very brief, but impassioned article, Country Living shone its light on the pride of Harrisville, West Virginia, Berdine's Five & Dime.  The timing of the article and the charm of the accompanying photographs was perfect; the spirit of the owners and staff set the tone for the whole of my trip.

At 105 years old, Berdine's is widely recognized as America's oldest, and continuously-operated, five-and-dime stores in America.  Eat your heart out Woolworth's!!!

Located in the epicenter of Harrisville's bustling metropolis....oh, did I say "bustling metropolis?"
I meant to say, "Located in the quaint downtown of Harrisville's ultra-sleepy, yet charming country village,"
Berdine's is the beautiful evolution of that early-20th-Century American tradition, the five & dime.

It is a miracle that Berdine's still exists.  Firstly, its location is almost the exact definition of "the middle of nowhere."  Thinking that West virginia was a small state and everything must be a stone's throw from everywhere else, I was bound and determined to follow the editor of Country Living's advice; so I set out on the road to Berdine's.  Three and one half hours later I was lucky to find parking in one of Harrisville's five parking spaces.  Secondly, maintaining a tradition of genuine hospitality and quality inventory with a name that scoffs in the face of 21st Century inflation is a difficult endeavor.  Thirdly, as a true variety/five-and-dime store, Berdine's must stock a dizzying array of merchandise in hopes that shoppers are still interested in rattle snake eggs, beaded hairnets, primitive clayware jugs, and fly paper.

For all that it carries, Berdine's seems to take particular pride in its toy section.
Like the exploded sack of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, Berdine's toy selection is
 vast and the store manager, Karen, is ever anxious to show off the best of the stellar collection.

One of these cowboys managed to make it home in my suitcase!

Tin toys abound and guests are encouraged to wind them up and watch them go.
In fact, my favorite part about Berdine's is the policy of allowing customers to explore every nook and cranny of the entire store.  Playing with the toys and receiving samples from the candy counter aren't just allowed, they're required!

Berdine's is much more than a toy store, however.  In just 1,500 square feet, it is a dime store, a novelty shop, a variety store, a gift shop, a general store, and housewares supplier.

I was even directed to the back room where Berdine's keeps a small collection
of vintage and antique housewares; add "antique store" to the ever-growing resume!

Despite its name, Berdine's Five & Dime is not selling everything for nickels and dimes but they do their level best to keep prices low and joy levels high.  If I lived in close proximity, it would unquestionably be my go-to destination for gifts, sundries, and everything in bewteen.  Honestly, where else can one find: 

Skeins and skeins of multi-hued yarn?

Corncob pipes?

Educated monkeys to perform your times tables homework?

Jadite rolling pins?

And everything else for which one could possibly dream, hope,
wish, and imagine under one beautifully-aged, pressed-tin ceiling?

If you can't take my word for it, then listen to the masked lady.
She says, "Berdine's is the only place to shop in Harrisville."

I would suggest that this is a humble truth rather than advertising puffery;
Berdine's really is one of the only places to shop in Harrisville, but it
is definitely worth the journey from near and far to sample a bit of old-
timey goodness!

I have fond memories of the five-and-dime in my home town that held out until about 1999.  Do you have any shops like these where you live?  Do you own a shop like this that you would like to feature on wacky tacky?  Please let us know; we'd love to hear from you!

Bon-Bon's Confectionery & Hardware
531 Main St.
Mt. Hope, WV

Open Daily (hours vary, call first)

Berdine's Five & Dime
106 N. Court St
Harrisville, WV

Open M-Sat, 9am-5pm


Mr. Tiny

Editor's Note:  If you're ever in West Virginia and want to visit both of these locations, please keep in mind that they are about 170 miles apart (a roughly three-hour drive).


  1. I don't have any memories of five and dimes in town (Nashville, TN has a notorious, ongoing-for-the-last-100-years issue with laying waste to landmarks to make way for Walgreens and parking lots), but Matthew's dad (my soon to be father in law) has THE MOST AMAZING set of photos from the one his parents' visited in the late sixties'. It looks more like the late EIGHTEEN sixties' from the neatly lined up, behind the counter tins and huge scale on the counter, not to mention the old men in Libertys around a potbellied stove! Truly a time warp.

    I love daydreaming, as you did, about buying an old movie theater or drug store and giving it the best vintage go of rehabbing it...some of these buildings, and how important they were to their communities in their heyday, really deserve a shot at revitalization!

    1. Well, I hate to admit it but I am older than you so I still have a few memories of the good old day. Hahahahaha!!! My dream trifecta would be movie theater, soda fountain/cafe, and motel!!! Couldn't you see a Mr. Tiny roadside empire developing before too long!!! I would love to see your FFIL's pictures (you should definitely do a post)!

  2. There is something magical about five and dime/drug/hardware stores. Small towns are charming and the people are great. There is no rush to do anything and everyone wants to chat.
    Wish we had a bundle of money to buy up Main Street in Mt. Hope and give it a new life. It would be a fun project.

    1. Yes, the pace is wonderful and the scenery charming...but you know I hate like He** the winter cold. I guess the grill and popcorn machine could keep me warm!

  3. Ahhh, the Five and Dime. My town had several apparently, but there were only two that I remember: Woolworth's and Watson's. They both lasted until the strip mall was built on the bypass and all the anchors (JC Penney's, [Parks] Belk, etc) left downtown high and dry. There's still a really weird holdover in 'Kykers'. The merch hasn't changed since I was a kid. The guy who owns it owns most of the downtown street it's on...and he keeps it and all the other buildings in a manner that even Fred Sanford would be ashamed of! I was in there the other day, picking through racks of acid washed high waist jeans and with every step I was worried I'd fall through the floor and into the mid 1980's!
    Those places both look amazing! I would have bought one or two of those vintage creesy green cans just to look cool in my cupboard! And I know I've had creesy greens before, but I'm buggered if I remember what they're like, so I'm no help! Sozzles!

    1. I've heard of collard greens and mustard greens but they're never preparing Creecies on The Food Network!! It sounds wonderfully awful - I think I need a trip to Kyker's!!!

  4. there are SO many old theaters for sale around here, travis and i always talk about how great it would be to buy one and run it. the indie theater in nashville that we go to is the belcourt and it is from 1908 and is still in operation! i lve it!

    i have also NEVER seen those canned greens. the label is cute but i'm scared of what it contains!

    1. I know owning and operating and maintaining ANY business these days is extremely difficult but doesn't it seem like there are enough like-minded people to sustain an awesome, old movie theater? Now we just need investors!!! DON'T BE SCARED OF THE CREECIES!!!!!!

  5. I think the "dollar store" is what passes for the modern-day version of the 'five-and-dime'!

    I love those old buildings that you can still see the "traces of history" on; there is a several-story building in Toronto that still has its ancient "birdcage" elevator as its sole means of mechanical upliftment, f'r instance! I remember experiencing a thrill when a friend pointed out the old gas fittings that used to light her apartment back when electricity was still a "novelty". So i can understand why you would be excited about places like these!

    1. Don't think for a minute that I am not a complete sucker for the dollar store. I have even fallen into the trap of buying something at the dollar store and then seeing the same item at the "regular" store for a lower price. As my grandma used to say, "That's how they get you!"

  6. I had much of the same experience on my Mississippi road trip - two lane roads, old ass and empty historic downtowns, 100 year old general stores. And I loved it. I find the pace of small country towns and the friendly folks endlessly charming, though I agree with you that the winter weather would be too much for our California bones. Thanks for showcasing Bon-Bons & Bernadines! They are truly wonderful.

    1. I wish that I could have gone on your road trip too! The pictures I have seen are incredible! You're right, acclimating to the arctic would take longer than the life I have left in me. I might be pale as a ghost but I am a Californian through and through. I do so love small towns and the generous spirit found within.

      And might I add my sincerest congratulations to you two!!! I am so happy for you guys!!! I love love!

  7. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! for doing the Feild work for my "West Side Story" set, while "Doc's" is a rundown 5 & 10 drugstore int he play I have been searching for inspiration for set dressing and you my friend have just supplied it! Bon-Bon's looked delightful, I might just have to copy the marble topped counter out of it as well! :)

    1. Awesome, I'm glad it was useful! Do I get some sort of credit in the playbill??? Hahahahaha!!! I'll send you a few more photos that might help. Good luck with the set!

  8. And then there's Thurmond, W.Va., the NO-road town! The business block (partly preserved by the NPS) faced the mainline of the C&O Railway, which was for all intents and purposes, the "main street" in the late 1800s.

    1. I was going to say that I don't think we drove through Thurmond; I guess that wasn't an option!

  9. Today Thurmond is popular with rafters on the New River. My father's uncle was freight agent there for 27 years-- the C&O's highe$$$t value agency thanks to all the coal mines close-by.