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“The romance and enchantment of a mercantile store begins when you enter and sniff the deep aroma of many spices, tobacco, and the stove with its burning fragrance so distinct it can dissolve the years off any aging country boy...”
— BRUCE D. HEALD
History of the Mercantile
Once upon a simpler time, out on the frontier and in the remote American towns slowly established through the blood, sweat, tears, and resilience of individuals with limited means but boundless determination, the mercantile store was the center of the universe.
In those sole proprietor outposts, stocked often with more character than inventory, the aroma of spices, tobacco, and coffee blended with sawdust. Shelves were lined with soaps, rifle shells, and nails among other necessities. Under dangling lanterns and ropes, large wooden barrels offered fresh pickles or mincemeat while, towards the back — beside the pot-bellied stove and a corner that served as the local post office — you might find a leather saddle or satchel handmade by a craftsman whose personal reputation could not survive anything less than producing unfaltering excellence and durability in each item.
For there in the general mercantile stores that sustained our nation’s earliest years, a man’s word was his bond, credit was secured with a handshake, and a meticulously hand-written ledger documented every transaction, tethering the community together.
The Mercantile Standard
Well beyond producing extraordinary and lasting products with venerable craftsmanship and old-world manufacturing techniques, we seek to build genuine and lasting connections with the Mission Men and Women our remarkable leather products are designed to serve.
Today, Mission Mercantile exists to carry those uncompromising personal standards of quality and integrity into the future through the remarkable, vegetable and chrome tanned leather goods crafted with carefully selected 100% full grain steerhides that bear our name. And, the dedicated level of service we provide to the customers who value the unique virtues and features of these fine offerings.
Our family has over 150 years of merchant / mercantile history on both sides of our family tree. My personal mercantile story begins in 1903 with the Claxton Carriage and Hardware Company, located in Claxton, Georgia and the oldest continually operating business in Evans County. After his completing his US military service, my father George W. “Bill” Bowen began working in that store in 1950, partnered with Raleigh Rogers to purchase it and renamed the business Bowen-Rogers Hardware. He eventually acquired Mr. Rogers’ ownership and ultimately ran the business for almost 50 years.
I was born in 1962 (my middle name is "William" after my dad) and quite literally grew up in our hardware store.
“We believe in the simple attributes, aesthetics, and functionalities that have already stood the test of time.”
— MISSION MERCANTILE
Bowen-Rogers Hardware carried everything “from concrete block to roofing nails”, small appliances, dishes, sporting goods, feed and farm supplies. In a very small south Georgia town like Claxton, we were definitely an essentials business. Practically everyone in town came into the store from time to time and "visited" for a bit, looking for one thing or another. And, in our spare time, we operated a small (few hundred acres) farm where we raised hogs, cattle and goats, as well as grew market crops like corn, soy beans, sugar cane, water melon, peanuts, etc in addition to our acre+ garden filled with all the “good stuff” (beans, peas, okra, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, …).
My dad always worked hard, operated honestly, took great care of his customers, employees and family, and was generous as often as he could. A man of few words, his actions spoke volumes. I saw his imprint on our community, our church and our family. His imprint on me and our company is indelible. It’s in our DNA.
We are one of very few brands worldwide that own our supply chain 100%. We operate our two workshops, one near San Antonio, TX and our primary shop called Blue Artisan (located in Leon, MX) deep in the world-renowned old Mexico leather region. Within just a few miles of Blue Artisan is a cornucopia of dozens of tanneries, textile and hardware suppliers. Leon is also blessed with a rich history and supply of truly remarkable, generational leather craftsmen / craftswomen many of whom we are blessed to call “family” (our team). We handcraft for not only our own brand, but also almost two dozen other remarkable brand names.
We select the very best articles to handcraft our goods: leathers, textiles, lining, hardware and construction materials. We select only US full-grain steerhides that are dyed completely through. Based on the design / application, we’ll use vegetable, chrome or chrome / veg twice tanned leathers. We stitch all our goods with strong, high-quality German spun UV resistant polyester thread that will last a lifetime.
Our exhaustive attention to detail and quality control means that every single stitch and hammer is carefully considered, utilizing only authentic materials, chosen with longevity in mind. This means any needed repairs can be made well into the future by experienced craftsmen. This is what we call Mission-Built for Life.
So, in a nutshell, you might say our story is simple. We feel there's often something vital and authentic lost from the present world of leather goods, and retail in general. Our mission is to passionately restore and stand behind it ourselves, establishing Mission Mercantile as a house of leather for individuals motivated by more than the common superficial adornments of status.
But above all else, we - and the mercantile stores that came before us - exist to deliver genuine value for those who depended on it most — and can't survive serving anything less. And in maintaining that spirit today despite the current surfeit of disposable, often poorly constructed mass-produced products in the world, Mission Mercantile will never make any item that falls short of extraordinary.
Our promise is that all Mission Mercantile products are made for many lifetimes, designed to improve with age, accumulating distinction and character as future heirlooms worthy of being passed down for generations.
Like the shopkeeper behind the mercantile store counter, we stand proudly behind every single one of the remarkable leather good offerings that we sell, guaranteeing them unconditionally while holding a place for you in our ledger.
His Idea was the Ultimate Ice-Breaker
For the vast majority of human history, there was only one supplier of ice — and reliable customer service has never been Mother Nature’s calling card. Today, we take the convenience of Father Maytag (and countless others) for granted, but before electricity ushered in modern refrigeration, there was a global ice age that lasted roughly a hundred years, launched by one ambitious entrepreneur who’d lost a fortune in coffee and needed a comeback.
New England’s Frederic Tudor thus made himself Mother Nature’s distributor, kicking off the “ice trade” in 1806 with his first shipment from local frozen lakes to wealthy European plantation owners on the Caribbean island of Martinique. His labor-intensive enterprise soon blossomed into a multimillion-dollar industry, expanding first across the eastern U.S. then throughout the world.
Tudor's most profitable natural ice route extended all the way to India, but numerous competitors and innovations spread the trade even further. Consequently, there was a revolution in how food could be preserved, transported, and consumed. For all the ice cream and cold beer alone in that pivotal period, Tudor is a hero, the father of the ice box as well as the rugged ice bags that lugged his melting treasure into homes day after day, when a household could easily melt through thousands of pounds a year.
In towns and cities where the strapping ice man rolled up with his wagon or cart, families often met him at the door with coupons torn from a pre-paid book of bulk purchases. In other cases, as Arthur Miller vividly recalled from childhood, "once they had slid the ice into the box, they invariably slipped the sacking off and stood there waiting, dripping, for their money."
A Cut Above
The innovative “cut nail” arrived in the mid-1700's, liberating the world from the ancient craft of making nails by hand, a method that kept those sharp essentials an expensive resource in short supply. Before nails could be cut en masse from sheets of iron, they were so precious in the American colonies, for example, it is said that abandoned houses were sometimes deliberately burned down to retrieve them.
Ever eager for progress, Thomas Jefferson built a successful factory at Monticello that produced cut nails as well as finer hand-forged nails. Although commonly referred to as "square nails", in actuality only the handmade variety tended to be truly square; the mass-produced ones are more rectangular. And these days, genuine square-cut nails are a premium resource for authentic restoration work.