BY KELLY TWEDELL | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW WONDERLY
There are no mule-drawn wagons parked in front of Leclair’s General Store on Fort Bragg Road in Haymount. No furs are being traded inside. And the goods that are being sold tend toward antiques, wine, coffee, one-of-a-kind housewares, gourmet treats, unique paper goods and other specialty arts items, not calico cloth, grocery staples and patent medicines. Leclair’s is a modern take on the old-time general store, but with the same comfortable vibe that makes it a place where people like to gather.And it’s ringing up success.
On a recent morning, a high-energy buzz wafted through the store as a steady stream of customers came in to order coffee, grab something to eat or make another purchase. Some sat at the tables scattered throughout the store, chatting or setting up laptops to work or check the internet. Many sipped coffee from the heavyweight black-and-cream ceramic mugs that they have purchased, tagged with their names and then leave at the store for easy and environmentally friendly reuse.
It’s what owner Patrick Leclair had in mind when he started envisioning the store.
“My goal was to create a space and environment to organically attract customers who are intellectual, nostalgic, creative; then you create a community, not a commercial-like customer list,” he said.
Since its opening last year, the store has become increasingly popular both as a gathering place and a source of unusual and artisan gifts and goods. It has also become a unique venue for community events – everything from a wedding reception to military change-of-command ceremonies, from small morning coffee meet-ups to a theater company performance. Eclectic and comfortable, it has a welcoming feel.
Leclair, the former director of visual presentation for the Ralph Lauren-owned high-end casual clothing line Club Monaco, has a flair for eye-appealing aesthetics. At Club Monaco, he was responsible for creative store displays that mixed clothing with vintage items. That vibe carries over to his store in Haymount where products are key parts of the displays.
At his standing desk, Leclair pulled up his early digital vision board – the business plan with his early ideas
– to show how, in a relatively short time, his vision has come full circle. His inspiration came from Norman Rockwell covers depicting old-fashioned stores as gathering places adorned with striking vintage décor. “Whether it’s tins or a Coca-Cola cooler, the utilitarian uses then are now today’s collectible designs,” he said.
“The history of American business shines through in the eclectic mix of industrial use with farmhouse chic, and Americana style that is desirable.”
Other inspirations include antique books, issues of Architectural Digest and the Saturday Evening Post. “I use a bit of design from each brand we carry from their creative content and I create a vignette in the store,” Leclair said. Sometimes customers bring ideas. For example, he started stocking market baskets after a regular customer came in with one and shared where she got it. The baskets, both utilitarian and fashionable, are also fair-trade certified and have become hot sellers at the store. With nearly every item in the store up for sale, the store’s décor changes constantly but coherently. Leclair creates the displays in ways that control the store’s energy, environment and mood.
Marketing is a creative outlet that comes easy to Leclair, who studied the subject in college and spent nearly two decades putting his knowledge to use at Abercrombie & Fitch, then at Club Monaco. In a prior position as regional director of sales, he navigated the operational end as well as sales, using the analytical side of his brain for stores that bring in $5 million to $10 million annually.
When Leclair decided to open a general store, he considered locating it in a city like Savannah or in a Triangle-area city, like Cary or Apex. Fayetteville got the nod because he has family here, including his brother who is in the Army, and because he liked the way the city has been transforming. “It’s a big risk,” he said. “Many wouldn’t do it.”
The Leclair family has a pivotal role in the business end of the store whether it’s weighing in, playing devil’s advocate, crunching numbers or providing inspiration. Leclair’s father, Paul, does the bookkeeping and financials. Many of the items sold at the store can be traced to some sort of connection with Leclair’s family, from the military-inspired handmade greeting cards to the specialty Hatchet Coffee that’s served to the watercolor bird designs that are a favorite of Leclair’s mother.
If you pay attention, you might notice a framed, weathered-looking photo enlargement on one wall, showing two young boys fishing. I knew by the way Leclair stared at with a smile when we walked by that it took him back to a fond memory of his own young son.
Leclair draws professional and creative encouragement from James Mills, an international consultant on aesthetics and styles and a former colleague from Club Monaco.
Life moves fast for Leclair but he seems its equal. After being on his feet for 20 years he said it doesn’t feel right to sit down while at work – though he will sit for a while at the end of the day to savor a conversation and a glass of Pinot Grigio. Otherwise, he’s on his feet and moving – all day, every day. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5
p.m. on Sundays. If it’s open, Leclair is there. One day out of curiosity, he recorded his steps inside the store and found he had walked the equivalent of four miles.
When asked about vacation preferences and plans, it took him more than a minute to recall the week he took off last year. While he does enjoy an occasional round of golf, his eyes lit up when talking about travel and the satisfaction of a good road trip. “I enjoy the idea of combining shopping and traveling because it is intentionally for the business,” he said. “I like to get in the car and go.”
Patrick’s father was busy serving coffee during our interview but he let me in on a few family secrets. He joked about his son’s OCD personality type, which greatly benefits the impeccable neatness of the shop. “In his younger days, it wasn’t unusual for Pat to tear up his room and then put it back together – then do the very same thing in his brother’s room,” said Paul, smiling as he recalled the memory. “He was also very deliberate while dressing in his Little League baseball uniform, taking an hour to get all put together.”
Paul let me meander through the back garage, which literally at one time was an actual garage for an auto repair shop. Now it’s an overflow storage area for unique antique finds that belong to Patrick. The area is a work in progress. Some of the finds there might eventually be put out in the store but, for now, only a few private groups have had the privilege of viewing nostalgic treasures ranging from hand-etched leather riding saddles to retro metal miniature airplane models.
Back in the store, Patrick was tending to business, just as he does all day, every day. “I love what I do,” he said.