As I cruise down Highway 101 and take the Mud Bay exit, I am reminded of my childhood with the familiar mud flats reaching out before me on one side and those big iron cattle sculptures guarding the pastures on the other. It has never been an area with a lot of growth, but that is okay because some things do not need to change. Turning right off the ramp, I discover that not only the landmark Buzz’s Tavern greets me but also a new shop just across the street, Bay Mercantile.
The rustic structure has been here for as long as I can remember, a small beach house on the saltwater shore. However, in the last few years it has had a facelift, and the welcoming porch with oyster shells and wooden birdhouses only gives a small glimpse of what is inside. Owner, Kariann Pettibone, greets me with a warm smile and takes me on a tour. It is not a big store, but, with an eclectic mix of local favorites, there is still plenty to choose from, including her own beautiful wood-wrapped mirrors. “My first thought was to do a home interiors kind of store featuring mostly my stuff. That was the plan pretty much until about six weeks before I opened,” she tells me laughing.
That is when Kariann’s shifted course as she realized her shop needed to appeal to a larger audience if she was going to succeed. “I don’t know how I really came up with this concept, but I love it. It kind of just keeps evolving,” she explains.
For Kariann this also meant utilizing this unique space she is in. “My location and the shopping experience is the draw here. I want to make it a destination. I’ve really moved toward this coastal kitchen idea because there isn’t another one in town,” Kariann offers. With craft beers, local wines, books, Ila’s Foods, Briney Sea smoked fish, jewelry, cigars, vintage glasses, Ice Chips Candy and many other treasures, you never know what you are going to find at Bay Mercantile. “I’m just trying to find special things that people can’t get other places to carry here,” she suggests.
But Kariann also is not forgetting the roots of the space she is in. “I sell fresh clams and oysters, which is really the heart of this place,” she adds. Originally, the property was home to a man who sold fresh shellfish, but it has not been that in many years. Of course, the original shells still litter the beach out back, but native Olympia Oysters no longer grow here due to sediment from logging operations in the area. These days Kariann relies on other great local shellfish growers like Chelsea Farms and Skookum Point Oysters.
However, Kariann is not about to give up on tradition and has spent many hours cleaning up the property and is determined to bring the Olympia Oysters back along with native vegetation. “It’s just a magical location. I really want to be a model for a little business really being a wonderful steward of such a sensitive environment and great community,” she explains. As we sit to talk on the back porch, I understand what she is suggesting and am taken aback by the beauty in front of me. The resident Great Blue Heron is putting on a show as he dives after another fish then shows off his expansive wing span, flying to a new location. Countless other birds make an appearance, enjoying the landscape as I sit and relax.
At Bay Mercantile there is definitely something special, something that makes you want to stay. “People come in to get a glass of wine, go sit by the fire pit and just watch the water,” Kariann explains. Of course, yes, you can hear the freeway, but she describes to me a new way to look at it thanks to a close friend. “She told me, ‘I kind of like it, it’s like you’re watching life going by’ and that’s a good way to see it.” And to my surprise, I have to agree. After a while you do not even notice it. “I think people are looking for more of an experience, instead of just some place to go shopping. It’s nice because I can combine those two,” she offers.
From weddings, bachelorette parties, and concerts to wine tastings and non-profit events, Bay Mercantile is making its mark on the area as a place to gather. “It’s a really fun way for me to be involved in the community and do good things with this space while I’m also trying to build my little business and see where it takes me,” Kariann suggests.
And so far the response has been great with customers becoming friends, and Kariann’s little store earning its place on the map.
“I want people to be happy that I’m here and like what I’m doing to the place. And I want to be proud of how I’m working with the environment and my community. I think I have a really good start, and I’m having a lot of fun,” Kariann finishes. Honestly, I challenge anyone to leave Bay Mercantile without a happy heart and a new treasure they did not even know they needed.