By Zack Lamothe.
Davoll’s General Store in Dartmouth personifies the adage of “past inside the present.”
Like a colonial burial ground in a 21st-century city or an ancient facade holding steadfast among a sea of skyscrapers, Davoll’s eschews the seemingly efficient approach of modern conveniences. Davoll’s may be an antique, as the building is circa 1793, but a relic it is not. It is the embodiment of what a general store should be—a community gathering place, an antidote to a society where multitasking and high pressure seem to define our culture.
Davoll’s invites you, as shopkeeper Mary Ann Buckley likes to say, “to linger,” to relish each sip of coffee while reading an actual newspaper, peruse the bookstore, or simply stop to chat with friends. Although the general store seems to reverse the idea of expedient shopping in 2022, where with a click of a button everything from an ascot to an automobile can be purchased, it just may be the remedy for the hyper-adrenalized pace of our modern world.
The general store is located in the quaint Russells Mills Historic District of South Dartmouth. The village looks untouched by time. Owner Ben Shattuck’s wife, Jenny, describes South Dartmouth best as “a town that crouched and time stepped over.” Davoll’s has served, historically and currently, as the anchor of the neighborhood. As one of the oldest general stores in the country, if not the oldest, Davoll’s has been a community gathering spot for almost 220 years. Even from the outside, the stately yellow building invites the passerby inside. Once through the door, it is truly a feast for the senses. While adjusting my eyes to the many delights, what first hit me was the atmosphere, a truly intoxicating bouquet, call it “Eau de 1793.” Next, the auditory and tactile senses converge as you listen to your feet step onto the centuries-old floorboards. Speaking of sounds in the store, Mary Ann relates, “To hear the sound of children running up and down is so important. I feel it is a point of success when small children and their parents feel comfortable enough that they can run around in the store.”
Upon opening, one of the first orders of business for Mary Ann was to “ask all the small children in my life what candy we should carry.” There is no better demographic to ask, and the candy counter is a huge hit with kids. For adults, although candy may still be a draw, food items run from specialty products to essentials. Many of the products are locally farmed. This includes greens and veggies from Eva’s Garden, honey from Alderbrook Farm, eggs from Flying Carrot Farm, grass-fed beef from Jordan Farm, flowers from Russells Mills Flower Company, which—talk about locally sourced—are all in Dartmouth! Ben proudly attests, “This is a wonderful testament to the community that is South Dartmouth, that within seven miles there are all of these entrepreneurs. There must be a special kind of energy in South Dartmouth!”
The general store also sells locally made soaps, eco-friendly housewares, and plenty of giftable items. Browse through a hearty selection of books for kids and adults and enjoy reading in a nook of the store. Davoll’s also includes a coffee shop that doubles as a pub. Owner Ben Shattuck spent a few years in the Netherlands and has tried to recreate the Dutch brown bar. A “brown bar” is void of distractions such as television, with conversation being the focal point. Choose from a slew of board games to play, and in the afternoon or evening, sip a beer from a rotating collection of superb New England breweries such as Connecticut’s Fox Farm, Maine’s Austin Street, and Marshfield’s Stellwagen (but Guinness is always on tap).
Davoll’s is not only a place to shop and to sip, but it also hosts many regularly scheduled and special events. These include music jam sessions, a book club, and Friday dinners. Look for special events such as the Robert Burns Night, where patrons recite the poetry of the Scottish bard, enhanced by bagpipe music and a whisky toast. Once there was even an impromptu wedding held at Davoll’s when inclement weather derailed an outdoor celebration!
Given the age of the building, Ben notes, “If George Washington traveled up through Dartmouth, he could have stepped in this store.” He ponders over what life was like for the multitude of generations that have patronized the store, even before conveniences such as electricity, and now Wi-Fi. The original building was constructed in 1793, with horse stables (the current area of the cafe) added on in the 19th century. Later a four-bedroom house was incorporated into the design. Once the town post office was located here. Although the antiquity of the building astounds, owner Ben and his brother Will purchased the store only in 2021, but as Dartmouth natives, they grew up going to the store. They have been able to honor the past traditions of Davoll’s and make it current at the same time.
Although the new team repurposed the space by adding a pub and making some renovations before opening in the summer of 2021, overall the store was in great shape. Previous owners Kim Arruda and Jim Chouinard had completed an extensive revitalization of the building during their five-year tenure as owners. The new owners obtained a liquor license for the pub, and a working phone booth was placed outside the front door. Ben, an author himself, even shared that although many folks thought that books would not sell, they are actually the biggest sellers by far. In addition to Ben and Mary Ann, Marek Kulig is the bartender/manager. (You may recognize his name as an eSS&SC writer.) As his wife is an actress, Ben spends four months of the year away from home, but he knows that the store is in good hands with Mary Ann and Marek at the helm. Regarding ownership, Ben explains, “I was not trying to just open a general store. I was trying to carry on a specific tradition in a specific place, adding my sensibilities from my own life, such as the Dutch pub, and the bookstore.”
Visits to Davoll’s will change significantly with the season. During the winter holidays, it is festive, bedecked with a large Christmas tree and tasteful greenery. During the summer, it is packed with essentials for beachgoers. Even a smaller holiday such as Valentine’s Day is heralded with fanciful presentations of themed decor.
Mary Ann describes Davoll’s as a convergence point. “In the afternoon you’ll have farmers coming in for a beer in their coveralls, interacting with people visiting from New York. It’s a place for everybody, and we feel really fortunate that we can provide that. You can come here and be yourself.” The store is where the authenticity of the building intersects with modern-day practicality, stocking essential products such as quality groceries and items reflecting the feel of a bygone era.
Davoll’s General Store is located in the heart of South Dartmouth. Currently, they are looking for a chef for the restaurant, so interested applicants are encouraged to reach out to them. Lunch is served at the pub every day from 11 to 2, except for Mondays when the store is closed. Also, dinner is served on Friday nights with options that range from a vegan pad Thai to a meatloaf made with Dartmouth-raised Jordan Farm beef. Ben sums it up by saying, “Owning a general store has given me more hope and lends more optimism to my worldview than what I read in the news. Here’s a place where a bookstore is thriving, and people come for a Scottish poetry night in the middle of a cold January evening.” Davoll’s General Store shines brightly as a beacon of positivity and community on the South Coast.
“You can come here and be yourself.”
Davoll’s General Store
1228 Russells Mills Road
South Dartmouth, MA 02748
Zack Lamothe is a niche history aficionado, so an article on a general store is right in his wheelhouse. Add a stellar craft beer menu, a bookstore, and coffee-shop, and Davoll’s General Store just may be his new favorite haunt!