The Common Man Country Store

An uncommonly great place to shop and linger
The Common Man Country Store is located directly across from the restaurant.
Photo by Melissa Boulanger

The Common Man Country Store in Ashland at 59 Main St., directly across from the original Common Man Restaurant, was not really supposed to happen.

“It started at the Common Man in Ashland. I had always worked the door there (1970s) and a lot of people would leave wanting to have some of the stuff we had there, such as the coffee mugs, the blocks of white chocolate, wine and some of the dressings,” says Diane Downing, vice president of The Common Man Family of Restaurants. For years, as Alex Ray built his family of restaurants, Downing always tried to find a new corner to sell the items customers expressed interest in.

“Location dictates what we can do. At diners we have smaller displays; items that are diner-oriented, like cook hats, fuzzy dice and diner apparel,” says Downing. “In other places, if the location fits and there’s enough foot traffic, we’ll do something more. Most of our restaurants are in old historic buildings so we work with what we have.”

For Downing, the long-held dream to become a real old-fashioned country store with candy jars, Common Man food items (including the cheese dips and spreads) and so much more became a reality in 1996.

 “We had the opportunity to buy the building across the street from the Ashland restaurant (where we had been paying for customer parking) and it just went from there,” Downing says.

“When we first opened, we had this idea of having a real country store where we would sell useful items but different. We wanted New Hampshire- and New England-made things but ideally what we wanted to do was brand our name, The Common Man. We had been selling some shirts and other apparel and realized this was the perfect opportunity to do more.”

Tempting flavors of fudge
Photo by Melissa Boulanger

Today The Common Man Country Store is as delicious as an Ice Cream Puff Trio (three mini homemade puff pastries with Common Man-made ice creams: chocolate with caramel sauce, coffee with hot fudge and vanilla with strawberry purée)!

The Common Man Country Store is a classic little store brimming with so many items you’ll hope for snow outside to keep you inside longer to linger.

 The book section for kids is lovely, featuring some great classics and soon-to-be favorites, including “Goodnight New Hampshire,” “Goodnight Lake” and (who can resist) “Cooking with Grandma.” The picture books are beautiful and obviously carefully selected.

In another section of the reading corner you’ll find the “LOL books” for the crazy adult in your life, including “World’s Funniest Lawyer Jokes” and the audio version of “Farts around the World.”

Yes, dear shoppers, there is a LOL moment in every nook and cranny.

“Well, we are a classy shop, just one with a little sass,” says Carol Palmer, the Country Store manager.

And class is mostly what you will find in this two-story delight. There’s home décor, beautiful table linens and wonderful kitchen items (isn’t it time to replace your dented measuring spoons?). The solid-color glass spaghetti bowls are gorgeous and a kitchen must-have (if you haven’t already inherited the one your grandmother used to use).

Make-your-own necklace or key chain
Photo by Melissa Boulanger

The specialty food item section is, of course, full of Common Man goodies that will hold you over until your next meal at any of the CMan’s family of restaurants. Look for the butternut squash and apple soup Mix ($7.95) or the famous CMan’s Farmhouse Chowder mix. You’ll also find blueberry and other fruit spreads along with the famous CMan’s bread and butter pickles and their dangerous Bloody Mary Mix ($7.95).

For those who enjoy wines under The Common Man private label, you will find all of them here ($9.95-$10.95) as well as the famous cheese dip and boursin cheese dip in $5 containers. You can even buy Common Man glassware, including a nostalgic red-speckled tin coffee cup ($7.95) that warms the heart.

Pampering your tired shopping feet is easy — there’s a whole section of body care products that have been personally selected by Downing and Palmer, who both do the buying for the store. They place a high priority on quality New England-made products and other fine lines that cater to discerning shoppers. Look for long-burning scented candles, gorgeous note cards and thoughtful gifts for someone who has the blues during these winter months.

The best way to shop in a store like this is to “look deep.” Look beyond what is up front; there are always items resting on others that make up an attractive display such as plush home décor pillows, camp décor and cozy apparel including hats, scarves and mittens.

The many rows of candy jars
Photo by Melissa Boulanger

For fussy little ones you’ll find a whole area upstairs full of imagination toys, wooden classics and interactive games and toys. There is also an amazingly fun selection of “old time” candy: clear jars spilling over with candy dots, wax sugary lips and (hard to find) boxes of “long white chalky sugar sticks with red on the end of it.” (Admit it, we all loved them when we were young and naïve).

Now the bad news — no one walks away from the fudge counter. It is impossible because the happy helpers behind the counter will slice off a piece of fudge before you can say, “Oh no, I shouldn’t.” 

“Fudge is our number-one seller. People come in and just love the fudge. We offer them a taste, and you can just see it in their faces, from all ages,” says Downing.

Sadly, this is true. Pumpkin fudge, peanut butter fudge, walnut fudge — if it can be imagined, it’s here. Frightfully, however, there is one flavor and that is the dark chocolate caramel sea salt fudge — one sliver and your mouth celebrates as if it were Mardi Gras. The silky delight slithers its way across the taste buds and causes words to form in your mouth, “Yes, of course, I’ll take a pound of that one.” Dear readers, try to suffer through it.



Categories: Features