EVEN PEOPLE who hate shopping can have a great time at Eggemeyer’s General Store, an extraordinary mercantile in downtown San Angelo that manages to be upscale, down-home, and just plain fabulous, all at the same time. Loaded with regional flavor—both literally and figuratively—Eggemeyer’s is the antithesis of Mall Anywhere, USA. With its huge variety of gifts, gourmet kitchen items, and special atmosphere, it’s truly a West Texas treasure.
Lubbock residents Jeri Rieken and Cheryl Stephenson, who do like shopping, have made several trips to Eggemeyer’s in recent years. Jeri’s impression: “It’s an incredible store. They have everything! If you’re looking for a gift and can’t find it here, you’re not going to find it.”
No kidding. The inventory here includes everything from Madame Alexander dolls and Jeep Collins jewelry to John Deere memorabilia and Texas souvenirs. There’s also a great selection of cards and books, especially cookbooks and Texana, not to mention a gourmet kitchen center with items from fancy pots to denim potholders.
Housed for the most part in a former Hupmobile/Buick dealership built in 1911, Eggemeyer’s is a two-story, red-brick structure on East Concho, the oldest street in town. When the auto dealership was constructed, its west side incorporated a wall from a previous building thought to date to 1880. Part of the wall is still visible, a remnant of San Angelo’s legendary frontier days.
The history lessons don’t stop there. The building still has its original tin ceiling, and many of the furnishings have been recycled from other historic San Angelo buildings that have since been demolished, including 46 magnificent hanging brass light fixtures from the town’s old Montgomery Ward building. But the real gems are the numerous vintage counters and cases that hold the merchandise. The store’s owners, former cotton farmers Bobby and Karen Eggemeyer, had collected display cabinets from old general stores and restored them as a hobby for more than 20 years before they opened the business. It was their love of these old-fashioned pieces that eventually sparked the idea of opening their own store.
From the Farm to East Concho Street
“MY ORIGINAL dream was just to have a place in my home where I could sew that had the feel of an old general store,” Karen recalls. “We found an old seed bin and restored it, and our interest in the furnishings just grew from there. About this same time, in the early ’70s, I started making rag dolls and stuffed animals and selling them at area shops and art shows. I wanted to stay home with my children while they were little, so this worked out pretty well.”
In 1983, Karen opened a gift shop called The Country Depot in the old Miles railroad depot, which the couple had moved to their farm, near Wall, and restored. The shop proved successful despite the fact that San Angelo folks had to drive 20 minutes into the country to get there.
Five years later, the couple decided it was time to move the store to town. They leased a building across the street from their present site and opened the first location of Eggemeyer’s. When the old Buick dealership came up for sale, they bought it. After restoring the building, they opened here in 1993.
Bobby continued farming until 1997, when the couple bought a second building next door—a 1920s-era tire store-turned-radiator shop. They cut out arches inside and added some bricks to join the two buildings. When they finished remodeling in 1999, their floor space totaled some 10,000 square feet.
Bobby and Karen have worked hard building Eggemeyer’s into the standout business it is today. Other family members have also contributed, including Bobby’s 85-year-old mother, Adeline, who was at the store every day until a few years ago, and their now-grown children. Eric, the couple’s youngest, modified the top of the original storefront to accommodate their large oval sign and designed the massive limestone fireplace that replaced the garage door in the old radiator shop. He also glazes their signature spiral-sliced hams. Tammy, their middle child, worked in the store when she was going to Angelo State University, but now, she just helps out when she’s available, as does Brad, their oldest child.
“We still have customers today who shopped with us when we were out at the farm,” says Karen. Asked if she still makes rag dolls and stuffed animals, Karen laughs wryly and says, “Well, that’s what I thought I was going to get to do, but I haven’t had a chance to sew since 1983.”
A Multitude of Choices
Bobby and Karen take pride in offering their customers the best and most unusual merchandise possible. Their well-stocked gourmet kitchen center features Wüsthoff knives, KitchenAid appliances, and Le Creuset cookware, as well as a large selection of specialty foods. The latter include their spiral-sliced, honey-glazed hams, which they ship across the United States.
“We’ve done the hams from day one, ever since we moved the store to San Angelo,” says Karen. “They’re smoked somewhere else, but we do all the glazing right here, in our commercial kitchen, using the cotton honey produced on our farm.”
Other items made on the premises include some dozen varieties of fudge, concocted weekly by longtime employee Sherry Bailey (look for cranberry fudge, made with fresh cranberries, during the Christmas holidays), and the store’s own Sweet & Hot Salsa (delicious served over a block of cream cheese with crackers). Something is always available for sampling, including San Saba River Pecan Company preserves and Fischer & Wieser mustards and jams.
“We try to keep a lot of Texas specialty foods—especially items from this area—on hand for tourists,” says Karen. “We also use them in our gift baskets, which we sell year round. Most of our baskets include Clark’s Gringo chili and salsa mixes, Julio’s chips and salsa, and Talk O’ Texas Crisp Okra Pickles; they’re all made in the San Angelo area.”
“When Talk O’ Texas started some 50 years ago,” says Bobby, “my father was the first one to grow okra for them. We’d come home after school, and we’d have to put on long-sleeved shirts and go pick that itchy okra and then take it to their plant. Now, they probably bottle 300,000 cases a year. It’s the best okra you’ll ever taste; it’s better than gourmet okra that sells for twice the price.”
Karen notes that one of the local brands of jelly the store carries comes from the Mt. Carmel Hermitage, a monastery in nearby Christoval. “The monks there make four kinds of jelly—apple, grape, port wine, and jalapeño,” she says. “We don’t take anything out of the profits for their products; in fact, we actually lose a penny for every jar we sell. But that’s okay; we like supporting the hermitage.”
One of the couple’s friends, who also happens to be a part-time employee—Kay Halfmann—is co-owner of another local jelly company, Lowake Ranch Jelly. “Kay and her friend Martha Broz make the most wonderful mesquite bean jelly and prickly pear jelly,” says Karen. “We sell a ton of it.”
Book-Signings, Cooking Classes, and Now, a Wine Bar
Weekends are especially busy at Eggemeyer’s. In the past, the store has hosted book-signings by the likes of Western novelist and San Angelo resident Elmer Kelton and cookbook author and restaurant owner Tom Perini of Buffalo Gap. (Tom will again be signing copies of his Texas Cowboy Cooking on Saturday, December 2, from 1 to 3.) The store also hosts cooking classes on occasion in its sparkling commercial kitchen. (Check the store’s Web site for the next class dates.)
In her “spare time,” Karen is compiling an Eggemeyer’s cookbook that will include recipes she has collected for years from family, friends, and customers. (She hopes it will be ready by Christmas 2007.) But the next coup on the horizon is the opening of the store’s new wine bar.
“The three-inch-thick marble top is already in place,” says Bobby, “and we’re ready to go with a full line of wine accessories, including Riedel glasses, decanters, corkscrews, and more. We’ll already get you a cup of coffee and invite you to sit down in one of the rockers in front of the fireplace, but soon we’ll also offer wine and German beer by the glass. We thought this would add to a person’s enjoyment of the store.”
Yes, Eggemeyer’s is the perfect place to shop ’til you drop, even if shopping is only part of the plan.
EGGEMEYER’S GENERAL STORE is at 35 E. Concho St. in downtown San Angelo. Call 325/655-1166; www.eggemeyers.com. Hours Nov-Dec: Mon-Sat 9:30-6 (in Dec., the store also opens Sun 1-5). Jan-Oct hours are Mon-Sat 10-6.