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An old-time traveling mercantile is given a 21st century application in East Otto

READY TO ROLL — Jodi Oakes is pictured inside her movable store, “Oakes Traveling Mercantile.” Photo submitted by Arvilla Pritchard.
EAST OTTO — Jodi Oakes of Cattaraugus is starting up a new business that evokes memories of a bygone era. She will become a traveling salesperson.

Oakes has named her fledgling enterprise Oakes Traveling Mercantile, because, she said, “I always dreamed of running an old-fashioned mercantile store.”

When she and her husband Darryl began to look into purchasing a building to use for a mercantile, the couple said the process became too much to handle. “We have five children,” Jodi Oakes explained, “so we have to think pretty carefully, before taking any big steps, financially speaking.”

The couple has an 18-year-old, Summer; 10-year-old Kattelle; twin 9-year-olds, Kelby and Kordell, and 7-year-old Kade.

Oakes said, “The kids are getting old enough, so that they want to be involved in what we do. It came to us that, with a traveling business like this, we could work out a schedule so that, first and foremost, I’d still be a mom.”

The mother of five said that her schedule will allow her to send her kids to school in the mornings and welcome them home when the bus returns, in the afternoon. “I should still be able to get to most of their school events, too,” she added.

Oakes credited Matt Keller of the of the Cattaraugus County Business Development Corporation, for helping her develop her business plan. “I actually took a five-week course he taught at St. Bonaventure,” she said. “He brought in a lot of people to explain all the planning and preparation you have to do. It made me much more clear-eyed about things.”

Keller led the new business owner through the process of securing a grant from New York state. “I owe him and the county and the state a big debt of gratitude,” Oakes said.

The Oakes family acquired a pre-owned concession trailer, to serve as the movable mercantile. Darryl Oakes, who operates Darryl Oakes Logging, contributed a pickup to travel with.

Oakes Traveling Mercantile will hold its grand openings this week. Jodi Oakes and her family have been stocking their trailer with its new line of goods. “I’ve also been practicing my trailer-backing skills,” Oakes said, with a laugh.

The mercantile’s inventory includes baking goods, such as assorted flours (many of which are gluten-free) and sugars, as well as cooking implements. It includes puddings, flavored gelatins, dip and dressing mixes, cereals and other food preparation items.

Oakes purchases from three suppliers, all of whom specialize in American-made products. “I’ll be expanding my stock as I learn what kinds of things my customers really want,” she said.

Oakes said that she will park her rig in a central location in each of the communities she visits and will try to time her visits, to coincide with local food pantry schedules. “People everywhere have been really nice about helping me get things figured out,” she said.

Oakes will stop into South Dayton, Cherry Creek, Leon, Little Valley and Eddyville, between Feb. 25 and 26.

Her traveling mercantile will welcome customers in East Otto on Feb. 26, from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Feb. 27 will find her in Cattaraugus from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and in Otto from 1:30 – 2:30.

The mercantile will operate out of the Oakes’ driveway, located at 6570 Kickbush Hill Road in Cattaraugus, on Saturday, March 2. The mercantile will remain open at its home location, from 3:30 – 7 p.m. Monday – Friday and on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., until summer hours begin.

Oakes said that she is “making up the rules as she goes along.” She added that she will follow the above schedule for the foreseeable future “or until a good reason arises for changing it.”

The Oakes said that they hope that they have found a niche market waiting to be filled. Jodi Oakes said that she is eager to accommodate her customers, as much as possible. She said that she is also willing to drop items off at individuals’ homes, on her way to a regular stops. She also said that she welcomes ideas from the public, for expanding her product line.

For more information, call Oakes at 257-0161.

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