Wood, wax, wool, and winsomeness.
Step through the doors of 213 Habicht St. in Brownstown and you might think this was the house that Hallmark built. Here is a place where elegance and earthiness, home and heaven, candles and candies all seem to converge, creating an ambiance of near magic.
Once a neighborhood grocery store with living quarters behind and above, this somewhat inconspicuous building in Brownstown is now in its 35th year as an alluring country store operated and owned by sisters, Annette Riek Noll and Marisa Riek Williams.
“My dad’s oldest sister, Marie, was the only proprietor of the market,” Williams says. “My dad was the local beer distributor. We all lived in the same building, but she had her own living room, dining room and bedroom.”
The day of Aunt Marie’s funeral, Sept. 22, 1986, was the day the sisters decided to make the store their enterprise. “We were sitting at the dining room table with our mother, who was concerned about the empty storefront. To appease her, we told her we could run the store,” Noll recalls. “With a $1,000 loan from our dad and a lot of elbow grease, we opened on Oct. 27.”
In addition to household groceries, the sisters contributed their own handcrafted items to the shelves and soon discovered that their crafty creations were quite the draw.
Pentecost Sunday, 16 months after their opening, Noll announced that they should get rid of the groceries and concentrate on decorative items.
“This concerned our incredibly frugal mother who said, ‘Everybody needs a loaf of bread, but not everyone needs a candle.’ I looked at her and said, ‘We need the candle!’”
Thus began the transformation from grocery store to vintage country store.
Incorporating the original display cases and furniture from the store as well as furniture from the old family home, the store now occupies all 1,320 square feet of the old house, each room tastefully arrayed with a host of home decor items consistent with the prevailing season.
“The original storefront room – circa late 1800s – is approximately 420 square feet.
“The former living area on the first floor is around 600 square feet and the upstairs area, formerly our aunt’s apartment, is approximately 300 square feet,” Williams explains.
Among the products the sisters carry are The Johnstown Coverlet, Johnstown Blue & Gray Pottery, specialty soaps, A Cheerful Giver candles, Huckle Bee Farms honey, Wind and Willow gourmet mixes, signage, wall art, wreaths and arrangements, braided rugs, vintage collectibles and glassware. They also have partnered with Gallery on Gazebo during the Christmas season, and displayed at local wine festivals and other artisan events.
February wins as the slowest month, but from October through December, the store revs into a hive of activity, not only as a result of visitors to the store during the day, but also from the changeover of interior decor from one season to the next in the hours after closing.
The sisters recall the time when the neighborhood patrol cop knocked on their door in the wee hours of an October morning, wanting to know if everything was alright. One moment the front window offered a clear view and the next moment, a life-size witch appeared in a rocking chair. How did it get there?
Come Christmas, the store front and some neighboring houses spring to life with color and lights.
The sisters started with lighting the store and then decided to spread the good cheer to their neighbors. The Brownstown Light-Up Night, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, also adds to the glitter and glamor of the neighborhood as people gather for the lighting of the borough Christmas tree.
From a family of six siblings, all artistic and crafty in their own way, the Riek sisters found that running a country store enabled them both to remain close to home while serving their families and community. Their children came to the store after school, got their homework done, and ate dinner there before going home to bed. Growing up, the sisters recall family meals in the old house, cooked by their mom and their aunt.
Now in their early 60s, the sisters thrive on a deep-rooted Catholic faith coupled with down-home common sense and hard work. Although their parents never went to college, all six siblings have college degrees.
Williams graduated with a degree in journalism and worked in L.R. Kimball Engineering’s photography department after college. Noll holds a degree in biology and makes most of the artistic decisions in the store.
There’s no mistaking that these sisters thoroughly enjoy what they do. Visitors to the store quickly become friends, and the store often serves as a center of community interaction and neighborly support.
“As a small local business, we appreciate the continued support from the Greater Johnstown community and are very blessed to have made so many wonderful friends over the past nearly 35 years. To be considered a Johnstown tradition for holiday shopping, is quite an honor,” Williams says.
For more information on Riek’s Country Store of Brownstown, check out the Facebook page at Riek’s of Brownstown, or call (814) 539-6280.
Better yet, stop by for a visit at 213 Habicht St., Johnstown.
Store hours: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturdays. Appointments are always welcome.