2014 started with an interesting experiment in neighborhood retail, food and drink — how would a 21st century general store custom-shaped for Capitol Hill fare in a world with giant supermarket chains and global online commerce giants dabbling in the grocery delivery business? Turns out, it would do pretty well.
Cone and Steiner’s all-star team of backers say the first-of-its-kind retail venture is successfully providing convenience items, fresh, local produce, giftable home goods, and lots and lots of beer to the neighborhood around 19th Ave E at E Mercer. The first six months of business has been about adjusting to what the east side of Capitol Hill wants.
“The neighborhood has played a most significant part in our product selection,” says co-owner Dani Cone.
“This is your store, so it should have what you want and we’re happy to get it for you whenever we can. Fill out those cards, we’re listening!”
Cone said the mercantile has relied on customer feedback and good ol’ fashioned trial and error, encouraging customer suggestions with a suggestion box at the front of the store. More than half of the store’s current inventory came by way of customer suggestion, Cone says. Examples include Bonache hot sauce, Mustard and Co. and Ballard Ship Wreck honey, and Honest Biscuits.
The nimble approach to inventory will be helpful as Cone and Steiner’s team sets out to open a second location in Pioneer Square. Expect the new spot to be bigger but still mirror the same old-time aesthetic as the Capitol Hill location. It will also feature more prepared foods, a small seating area, as well as a full on Fuel Coffee espresso bar.
“For us, it’s about (re)creating a place that has always been: the corner store, the general store, the neighborhood bodega, etc.,” Cone said. “Such places are on every block in many large cities, and these little places always dotted the streets of towns and cities historically as well… like my great grandfather’s ‘original’ Cone and Steiner,” said Cone.
Armed with grab-and-go items suited for the lunch crowd, candy by the pound, and artisanal items like barrel-aged maple syrup, C&S has learned a lot since its January debut. With more stores on the way (a sister location in Pioneer Square is set to open in early fall at Occidental and King), Cone’s business partner Josh Henderson said there have been other learnings that will inform the expansion. Like many good Eureka moments, Cone and Steiner found a revelation in beer.
The first lesson? “Order more growlers!,” said Henderson said. “We sold out in the first week.”
“We thought it would be neat to have a few seats at that end, but were never quite sure if folks would enjoy sitting there and having a beer, in a grocery store,” added Cone. “As it turns out, it’s a hit.”
Catering to the after-work crowd, Cone and Steiner hosts a happy hour on Mondays and Tuesdays, with wine tastings every Saturday from 1 to 5pm and food demos and tastings each weekend with vendors or local farmers. On Fridays, they offer casual beer tastings with Seth Shepherd, the curator of “Seth’s Shelf” at C&S.
Not everything has been hunky dory. The store suffered a smash and grab burglary a few weeks back that left a glass door shattered and the shop short one computer. It then suffered the indignity of a second break-in the next week with nearly the exact same MO. A representative for the store would say only that Cone and Steiner has “taken a number of steps to protect our space.” SPD never nailed the suspect but believe he was likely a transient seen in the area and responsible for a sloppy series of similar break-ins nearby.
Beyond security measures, other takeaways are less about discovery and more about cementing one of the key beliefs behind the store. Customers will pay for local, high quality items — and local, high quality convenience.
“We’re really proud of the local food vendors and farmers and unique mercantile items that we’re able to feature in our store, providing our customers great products and good value,” a representative told CHS about how customers have responded to the sometimes high prices for the more artisanal end of the Cone and Steiner inventory spectrum.
Backed by Jon Milazzo and Lori Pomeranz, the retail experts at Retrofit Home, Henderson of Huxley Wallace and the Skillet family of businesses and Cone of Fuel and High-Five Pie, the shelves from Day One were stocked with a well-merchandised mix of fine foods — think pok pok drinking vinegars and locally made honeys, just a couple of Henderson’s favorite items — and retail items.
As for what’s next at the Capitol Hill location, keep an eye out for more weekend wine tastings and demos, local and organic fruits and leafy greens from Oxbow Farms and Boistfort Farms— even the possibility of a 4th of July BBQ out front as they welcome their new general manager Scott Green to the C&S family. “Rumor has it Scott is a BBQ savant…” said Cone.