The store’s inventory reads like a poem:
Oyster knives, rolling pins, tin watering cans, pie plates, local tomatoes, jars of honey culled from combs down the road. Handmade wooden bowls and bronze castings, Shaker hats, chocolates, fresh peaches, bouquets of local flowers, and handmade candles dangling in pairs.
You might walk out with local zucchini, corn, blueberries, or turnips.
You might sip an espresso, tuck into a “ploughman’s board” of meat and cheeses, or drink organic wine over a bocce game with friends in the outdoor courtyard.
Welcome to Davoll’s General Store, established in 1793 and bringing a taste of Ye Olde World to an Amazon world.
South Dartmouth’s Ben Shattuck — writer, painter, gallery curator, and actor/comedian/writer Jenny Slate’s fiancé — bought his hometown general store with his brother, Will, last year. The doors opened July 22.
The vision lies somewhere between old American hitching post by day, and van Gogh-esque Dutch cafe by night: wooden chairs, candlelight, wine, bread, and fiddle.
Shattuck lived in the Netherlands from 2016 to 2018 with an artist’s visa. He came home to South Dartmouth, the coastal town where he grew up, longing for quaint Dutch pubs.
“It feels a little bit like a Hobbit story — going out and coming back and saying, I would love to bring that experience here,” says Shattuck. Dutch pubs are “really different from American bars — no TVs. There’s candlelight, dogs, children. I also missed the Dutch marketplace, that farmers’ market feel.”
Davoll’s has long held a special place in his heart. An artist with no background in retail, he bought the 228-year-old store essentially out of nostalgia.
“I wouldn’t have bought just any store,” he says. “My family’s been in this town for over 100 years — my grandmother shopped here, my mom shopped here as a little girl. When my brother and I were kids, we’d ride our bikes to get penny candy here. It’s just an enchanting old space that’s been the background of our lives and part of the fabric of our community.”
In a time of scrolling Instagram shops, this is a space built to browse. To pick up jars and flip through books. Nurse a beer by candlelight. He’s also planning to start Sunday Irish fiddle sessions.
In a wooden phone booth outside, dial a friend — or call a secret number (hidden in the store) to hear Slate, a Milton native, recite poems by Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, or Mary Oliver.
“This place was around when George Washington was alive. It’s weathered the storms of modernity in so many ways,” Shattuck says. “Why has this store existed for 228 years? It’s the community investment. People who decided even if there’s a Walmart opening, they’re going to come here. There’s just some magic here.”
Shattuck’s ultimate goal is to build community. “I was really thirsting for that town square-feel,” he says.
Last year, he found himself talking to one of the previous store owners, Kim Arruda.
“I said, ‘I wish there was a place I could just grab a Guinness, hear someone playing fiddle, grab a bag of local potatoes some grass-fed beef. A place for community to gather.’ And she said, ‘If you’re so interested in that place, why don’t you make me an offer?”
A graduate of Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Shattuck sanded floorboards down to original wood, built out the cafe/bar “with a large piece of American chestnut, which was found in the basement.”
He brought his eye as a gallery curator — he also works at Westport’s Dedee Shattuck Gallery, owned by his mother — in selecting crafts and art to sell and in creating the store’s rustic aesthetic.
Antique tools decorate walls. The produce is mostly local. A “produce boat” is stocked with local turnips, potatoes, lettuce, onions, and scallions.
“We’re not just importing organic stuff from far away — you’re really dipping your toe into the Southcoast community,” he says. “We have Cuttyhunk oysters on Friday. The eggs are delivered from three miles down the road, the beef is delivered from seven miles down the road. Then there are local artists — wooden bowls, ceramics, little bronze sculptures.”
Shattuck also brought his eye as a writer — he’s a graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and won a 2017 PEN America Best Debut Short Story, among other honors — to the book section, which he stocked with authors from Mary Oliver to Chris Van Allsburg, to Slate’s essay collection, “Little Weirds.”
The Pushcart Prize winner recalled, “My father actually illustrated a book called ‘Moonlight on the River’ about me and my brother. I signed books right here, when I was like 9. My first book signing.”
A “local-ish” section includes area writers spanning time, from Herman Melville and Thoreau to Paul Harding and Geraldine Brooks.
Director of the Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency, Shattuck is also planning writers workshops and a Davoll’s Book Club. He’s booked Nathaniel Philbrick to read this fall.
In a few years, he eventually wants to open a bed and breakfast in the four-bedroom house attached to the store.
Sooner, he plans to have a garden center and is slowly building a menu for the cafe/pub.
The locals are apparently hungry for Shattuck’s vision.
“After three days, the poetry section literally sold out,” he says. “It’s exciting. It’s been a joy to see people enter the store: The kids run to the penny candy. The adults look at the local produce, might pick out an onion, or a bouquet of flowers. Then they all slowly move into the book store. And one of the small revelations I had that feels really precious — they do it together.
“When you’re shopping online it’s a solitary expense. It’s fast food,” he says. “Shopping in a small space like this — where you can smell the old wood, and see the light filtering in through the trees in the old windows, hear the door close — it’s like sitting down for a nice meal.”
He’s also awed by the sense of history in the space.
“I found up in the attic these old ledgers, from 1884, 1890. The pages look tea-stained, the edges are torn. I always get that feeling when I’m looking at old documents, oh, my God— somebody wrote this, their hand was on this paper. It hits something, an abstract emotion we really crave.”
As a nod to the area’s fishing and seafaring history, he “screwed oars into the side of the building, and now morning glories are creeping up the oars,” he mused. “I don’t think people are going to go back in time, but they might be reminded of the simple pleasures in life — sitting in a bar with a candle flame between you, looking at a bouquet of flowers picked down the road. It’s satisfying.”