Reuben Koontz stands in his shop just off Highway 29 in Middletown, a coat rack he just made for his daughter’s classroom tilted against a wall. Behind him on a table rest two crescents of wood cut from an industrial spool. He’s turning those into matching benches for the finished table inside.
“Look at this,” he says, running his hands on the post of the coat rack. “It’s old-growth redwood.” He admires the grain on the wood. “I like to repurpose things, like the bicycle table you saw inside. People give me something, and I put it away in storage, so it’s there when I want to use it.” He runs his hand over the wood one more time, then gently sets it aside.
Reuben and Kassie Koontz moved back to Lake County in 2015 after living in Santa Rosa for years. There, Reuben did high-end autobody work and made great money. But they wanted a different, more rural lifestyle. So Kassie moved back home to Middletown, where her family has lived for four generations. There, she and Reuben created Koontz Mercantile, an eclectic shop filled with all kinds of cool stuff.
And ‘cool’ is the right word. The place has an aura of hipness. A surfboard serves as a shelf in the outdoor room, while a bicycle turned into a side table sits underneath rows of aprons filled with different sayings. “Shut up Liver, You’re Fine,” one reads.
Everywhere the store’s tastefully decorated for the holidays. Christmas trees peek out from corners; pinecone stocking holders hang off a wooden table, tassels stretch across a display.
It’s all part of Kassie’s overarching plan. “We only work with socially responsible vendors,” she explains. “Our customers aren’t just supporting local but other small businesses that are making a difference in the world.” Kassie leads the way back to the store’s front room and motions towards their display of pickled preserves.
“Most of our vendors grow the food they sell, so you know it’s all organic and made in the United States.” She steps back from the shelves, allowing the displays to speak for themselves. “We also have a variety of gluten-free and vegan options for our customers,” she says, catching my excitement as I make my way to the display. Sure enough, there’s a bit of everything from bread mixes to cookies to pasta. “We try to think of the things people need and can’t easily find.” She smiles as I pick out two mixes I know I’ll be taking home with me.
We walk around the corner into another room, the bright skulls on her Dia de los Muertos boots shining with every step. “This is what I call our soft room,” she chuckles. “But it has spread over to other parts of the store, too.” It’s no wonder it’s called the soft room; it’s filled with everything from pillows to soaps and Christmas decorations.
An ornament catches my eye and I take a closer look, “That and most of the others are made locally,” she explains, showing me the tag that sets it apart. Every display and item for sale is deliberately placed with intention, showing exceptional quality. While every room has a unique theme, it still retains a collective vibe throughout.
Reuben talks with his hands, and his excitement shows through the American flag mask he’s wearing. “RIDE,” read the letters across his left knuckles, “CALI” on the right. He’s got more tattoos, but he moves his hands so fast as he talks it’s hard to read them.
“When I do a custom table,” he says, “It’s usually sold before it gets on the floor.” He’s an artist with metal and wood. Taking a walk through the store shows his work: Uniquely welded coat hooks, light fixtures made from license plates, signs cut with a plasma torch.
“The furniture I make is functional art,” he says, his camouflage pants rustling as he shifts weight. “It’s meaningful for the people I make it for. When I deliver something, people are moved. They tear up.”
That’s what Koontz Mercantile is about. “The community supports us,” Kassie says, what appears to be a smile underneath her mask.
“And we support the community,” Reuben adds.
To celebrate their fifth year in business, Koontz Mercantile is offering 5% off all purchases for the month of November. And you can also shop online. From pasta to glassware, it’s all on their website.
21257 Calistoga St. Middletown, CA