Mitchell couple transforming downtown 'castle-looking' building into toy, candy store mixed with cafe
“It’s been a dream of mine to make the store bigger, and Main Street is where I feel we will flourish,” Christie Gunkel said of the 615 N. Main St. building where she will be moving 2nd and Lawler Co to in June.
MITCHELL — A local couple is gearing up to usher in a new era in one of downtown Mitchell’s most unique buildings.
For more than four decades, the 615 N. Main St. building has stood out among downtown properties for its medieval architectural style that resembles a castle. But Christie and Jeremy Gunkel are bringing a new look and new business to the building this summer that they hope will become a Main Street staple.
After three successful years of running 2nd and Lawler Co. on the corner of Second Avenue and Lawler Street, the Gunkels are planning to move their toy and candy store to the Main Street building and add a full menu of food and beverage options at the new location.
“It’s been a dream of mine to make the store bigger, and Main Street is where I feel we will flourish,” Gunkel said of the downtown location. “I’m just really excited for this change.”
With the move comes a new name. As they did with 2nd and Lawler and Co., the Gunkels will be naming the business Main Street Mercantile to fit its Main Street address.
While the wide variety of unique toys, old fashion candy and caramel corn that’s helped 2nd and Lawler Co. become a popular local store will remain a focal point of the business, the Gunkels will be adding a swath of new items and food options.
“We’ll be doing breakfast, lunch and steak dinner specials that I’m thinking of doing one night per week. It will be real cafe food like hot beef sandwiches,” Gunkel said. “I was looking at doing a small menu, but after discussing with my husband and sister about the items we wanted to offer, there was no way to make a small menu.”
The 8,993-square-foot building offers the Gunkels much more space than their previous location. And the couple plans to utilize it all.
In addition to their toy and candy section, the Gunkels are planning to add a cafe dining area, kitchen, party room and mini beer and wine bar.
Since opening 2nd and Lawler Co. in 2019, the business has expanded its footprint and food options over the past couple of years by adding soups and sandwiches. At the new Main Street building, the Gunkels will take on their biggest expansion yet. From offering a full menu of food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner to serving beer and wine, Christie said Main Street Mercantile will have “something for everyone.”
“We’ve already expanded three times in the past two and a half years, but we will be tripling our size this time around,” she said.
The new building and expansion plans will open up an opportunity for Christie’s sister to do what she loves: baking. Christie said her sister will be whipping up baked goods out of the store and provide a steady hand in the kitchen.
To fit the retro theme of the store, Christie said her sister will be baking pies that customers can buy by the slice like the "olden days."
Building changes to welcome ‘family friendly environment’
Since the building was constructed in 1981, the castle-looking property has housed several businesses, including the Enchanted Doll Museum and Valtiroty Shiloh’s Tabernacle.
While the previous businesses have maintained the building’s medieval style exterior, the Gunkels are ready to welcome a new look that Christie says will make for a more “family friendly environment.” Eventually, the couple plans to tear down the big brick castle towers that have donned the front of the building for over four decades and stain the exterior rocks a darker hue to fit the theme of the new store.
“Some people have been upset that we are getting rid of the castle look, but for this store to be more open and family friendly, we have to make the changes we have planned,” she said of the remodeling plans.
For more than a decade, Otinel Iancu, a California resident who spent his summers in Mitchell, ran his religious themed shop out the downtown building called Valtiroty Shiloh’s Tabernacle. But he said the downtown Business Improvement District (BID) tax that was imposed in 2018 began making it difficult for the business to turn a profit, leading him to list the property for sale in 2020.
After sitting on the market for two years without an official listing price that Iancu explained in an odd classified advertisement in the Mitchell Republic which read, “Your offer will determine if we have a deal now or if we need to wait another 10-15 years,” the building finally attracted a buyer in the Gunkels, who purchased the property for $270,000 in early April.
While Christie noted her husband, Jeremy, was a little hesitant at the purchase price tag they negotiated with Iancu, she said being located directly across the street from Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction that draws around 300,000 visitors each year helped the couple take the leap in buying the property.
“With the amount of people who come here for the Corn Palace, why wouldn’t we want this for this price,” Christie said.
The Gunkels have been spending much of their time over the past month gutting the interior of the building to begin the transformation into Main Street Mercantile.
Remodeling the interior of the property has been a challenging process that has led to some new and odd discoveries like an underground mote, Christie said. But the Gunkels are making progress to potentially open their store in June in time for the thick of the tourism season.
Although some local residents have encouraged the Gunkels to maintain the castle look of the building, Christie said she is confident that the transformation will be well received by both locals and tourists.
Another change the Gunkels are bringing to the exterior of the building is doing away with the religious themed mural speckled on the back of the building. Christie said the store will also utilize the outdoor space in the back of the building for a dining patio
With Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction sitting directly across the street from their Main Street building, Christie said they will be installing large windows along the front of the building and doing away with the black rebar coverings to provide tourists with a view of the corn murals.
“The windows in the front were so small you couldn’t really see the Corn Palace. We will be putting four huge windows here for people to see the attraction that brings plenty of tourists here,” Christie said.
As the Gunkels continue pouring time and effort into giving the unique building a facelift, Christie said the move to Main Street will be one that lasts for the long haul.
“We’re not going anywhere after this,” said Christie, as she took a break from a full morning of painting.