ANN MARIE BUSH
The Topeka Capital-Journal
MUSCOTAH, Kan. - CJ Hanson, owner of the Muscotah Mercantile, hopes her shop will help this small northeast Kansas community stay on the map.
"Our town is dying," she said. "I don't want it to die. I remember grocery stories, hardware stores, a feed store, restaurants. I remember the good times."
Hanson grew up in Muscotah, graduating in 1965 from Atchison County Community High School. She worked in Topeka at Stormont-Vail Health Care and also at Hobby Lobby. She met and married her husband, Jeff Hanson, while the two were volunteering to construct a 500-mile trail in Colorado. They decided to move to Colorado, where CJ Hanson transferred to Hobby Lobby and her husband worked as a trim carpenter.
CJ Hanson eventually left her position at Hobby Lobby and joined her husband as a trim carpenter. The four-person crew was responsible for completing the trim of a house in one day. When she wasn't working as a trim carpenter, CJ spent time creating woodworking crafts, which she sold at craft shows and stores in Colorado.
A few years ago, the couple moved back to Muscotah so CJ Hanson could be closer to her aging parents.
"He has encouraged me every step of the way," she said of her husband.
Hanson opened the shop with two other women in September 2010. This year, Hanson became the sole proprietor.
The shop, which is situated a few blocks from downtown and located in an older house, offers customers a variety of grocery items, handmade gifts, books and several of Hanson's wooden crafts.
"It lends itself perfectly to a shop," Hanson said.
Each room of the house boasts something different. The front room features frozen foods, snacks, soups, toiletry items and more. The kitchen features plates, cups and saucers, and a few antiques.
One room even has a Kansas Corner, where Hanson's handmade wooden items are on display, along with other Kansas crafts. Several of the rooms now house Christmas-related gifts.
"I love Christmas," Hanson said. "I have to have Christmas all year round."
Fifteen vendors offer items throughout the shop, including a Denton woman who makes University of Kansas and Kansas State University purses and another woman who creates jewelry pieces for sale.
"I try to have a little bit of everything to accommodate everyone," Hanson said. "We try to have a price range for everyone."
Vendors don't pay a booth fee. Instead, the shop retains 25 percent of sales as a commission, Hanson said.
On Friday, Anita Fassnacht, of Muscotah, stopped by the shop to purchase a grocery items.
"I'm glad it's here," Fassnacht said.
Another customer stopped in for a soda and to talk. Later in the day, crews from the Brown, Atchison Electric company stopped in for refreshments.
Hanson always has some homemade goodies for customers. On Saturdays, she offers farmers and other community members cinnamon rolls and coffee for a freewill donation. Often, she said, older people in the community will sit and visit for several hours in the morning.
Most likely, visitors will be greeted by Hanson - "I'm here every day," she said with a smile. Hanson's husband and a few volunteers cover for her when she needs to take her father to appointments or to visit her mother, who is in a nursing facility.
Hanson has big plans for the future - she has purchased lots next to the old feed store on the main road through downtown.
"My goal is to get on Main Street," she said. "If I don't do it, no one will. I have a lot of fond memories of what used to be. It's important not to let these little towns die."