By Sarah Wood

February 26, 2019 – In a boon for both local makers and the shop itself, the historic Joseph Boston Store—Monterey’s first general store—has over the last year become a showcase for a large and vibrant array of local artisans including Happy Girl Kitchen, Big Sur Salts, Carmel Berry Co., 43 Ranch and Edison and Melrose Tea.

The change in direction of the store—which most recently sold Victorian-era memorabilia—towards artisanal foods happened after a chance meeting between the store’s buyer, Anne Banta, and the proprietor of Monterey Bay Food Tours, Casey Aguilar.

Banta had recently taken over the buying position as a volunteer for the Historic Garden League, which runs the store and uses the proceeds to care for and restore the historic gardens that form the heart of the adobe buildings that comprise Monterey State Historic Park.

Banta’s aim was to help ensure a vibrant future for the store and the gardens it supports with products that would draw in new customers—locals as well as tourists—and make them want to return. She also wanted to support local artisans and to help bring alive the time period when the store was first open—roughly from 1850 to 1862. The store opened at the outset of the Gold Rush to provide a safe for prospectors’ gold and all manner of supplies for residents of the state’s first capital. It has also been a home, state offices and a historic exhibit before the Historic Garden League reopened it as a retail store in 1995.

“The historic garden league hopes that people come into the store, their eyes will open and they’ll go wow! First general store! Wow! First safe! Wow, I didn’t know that this was the capital of California at the time,” says Banta.

At first Banta looked for inspiration from the long and fascinating list of products that the original store carried, which included items as varied as bundles of whale bones, English pickles and Kentucky gun powder. At about the same time, she also attended conferences where current consumer preferences for paring down possessions, rather than collecting them, was discussed. She thought about knitted items and soaps, but meeting Aguilar put her on the food and drink path.

“Casey was with her family, taking them on a tour. We started talking and it dawned on me, what about artisan food products,” says Banta, whose day job is developing and managing strategic marketing programs and is herself a passionate home cook. “It’s something that is meaningful, but doesn’t collect.”

Happy Girl was the first to sign on and Monterey Food Tours started making twice weekly stops at the shop.

“On my tours I always focus on the fun historic facts,” Aguilar says. “I like coming to the Joseph Boston Store because it combines history and the local artisans.”

“It just changed everything,” Banta says, noting that the combination of offering exciting local food products, being a stop on the food tours, and organizing food tastings all boosted sales, repeat traffic and interest in the store and its mission.

Customers who’ve always loved the store—a popular stop during the annual Christmas in the Adobes weekend—will still find the antiques, books, vintage items and hard candies it has long stocked.

But they’ll also find beautiful and educationally-themed food sections. Right now they will see displays on honey and olives, for example, and in May, the theme will be lavender.

The store’s numerous olive-related products in particular will be featured at a pop-up tasting at the store next Thursday to Sunday, March 7–10 from noon to 2pm. Monterey Tasty Olive Bar’s oils and the private-label Joseph Boston epicurean olives and olive-artichoke tapenade will be among the offerings. Olive oil soap from 43 Ranch in San Ardo and books on olives will also be on hand.

“I’m hoping that my inventory will honor local artisans and will honor the way that the store would have been,” Banta says, noting that as customers walk through the store, she hopes they will feel the sense of love and care that were put into the original store’s products through those it offers today, from contemporary local makers.

The local artisans are in fact some of the greatest beneficiaries of the reinvented store. 

“What I love is that they’re showcasing lots of local makers,” says Carmel Berry Co. owner Katie Reneker. “They’re introducing us to all kinds people and it’s definitely helped with my exposure to a wider audience.”

EXPLORE: The Joseph Boston Store is located at 210 Olivier St. near Custom House Plaza and is open 11am to 3pm Thursday through Sunday. Later this year, it will host a speaker series called “Bringing History Alive,” including a talk on November 2 by Monterey Public Library historian Denis Copeland on life in early Monterey at the library. A date and location is still being set for a talk on elderberries yesterday and today by Carmel Berry Company’s Katie Reneker and Rumsian Ohlone native Linda Yamane. A date and place is also still being firmed up for a talk on the history of salt on the Central Coast by Big Sur Salt’s Carlo Overhulser. For more information, contact Anne Banta at anne@banta.org