A Mercantile owned by a charming red-head in a quaint Wisconsin town—sounds like it’s straight out of a movie right? That’s because it could be if you’re looking at it from the outside or meandering inside the walls of this carefully curated shop. But as you well know, foxes, we’re all about a great #girlboss and sharing her whole tale, not just the happy ending*.
Red, or Becca Cooke, as she’s known around Eau Claire, a larger city in western Wisconsin, grew up in the Midwest on a dairy farm. When she graduated from college she spent some time in St. Paul serving tables, working a desk job, and ruminating on how she could best put her degree to use. She eventually landed in Palm Springs, CA, working as a political fundraiser on a successful and impressive campaign (imagine a precursor to Scandal with a Minnesotan accent.)
Red was killin’ it by all standards and while she remains a career-driven person, her resume wasn’t the only thing required to make her happy. Two years in a toxic work environment was wearing on her spirit and her work-life-balance was completely lopsided. So for a little bit, she went home.
There’s no place like it and anyone who grows up in the rolling hills of the Midwest knows that there’s a certain solace and re-centering that comes from resting your bones among sky-high trees, deep rivers, and open fields.
“I asked myself how I wanted my life to look. To lay your roots down is a hard choice. Sometimes you don’t know what you want or when you’re ready to come back home”, said Cooke. But after long days driving through the desert, tearful over a job that’s permanently scarred her with a tinge of anxiety she hasn’t yet shaken, Red made a choice. She left her job, her sunny climate, and re-evaluated.
At this point in the movie, the montage begins, where Red slowly unwinds and reminds herself who she used to be before her life was a mix of job offers from Washington D.C. (I told you it was like Scandal) and internal millennial-esque debates about what she should “do” with her life.
If you ever speak with Becca, you’ll know why she’s a dream to interview. She’s well-spoken and it sounds like everything she says could be written in motivational calligraphy. So you’d be surprised that in the interim between opening Red’s Mercantile and managing political campaigns full-time that she didn’t know what she wanted to do next. In those few short months (yes, months) she took a good, long hard look at her life and considered her skills.
Cooke always knew a few things: she wanted to be a part of her community, she was meant to run her own business, and she gave good gifts. Short of being Santa’s helper, she considered opening her own store. “I wanted to find something that was a culmination of the things I’d experienced—the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met. I always think about who is going to receive this [the gift] and how they’ll enjoy it. It’s more than just things—it’s about enriching people’s lives.”
Many of the brands featured in the “fox den” as she sometimes refers to it, are locally made and one-of-a-kind pieces. Some of the artists she’s met personally and others she discovered in her travels, but they all have one thing in common—their products are produced with intention.
So now she has a store in the heart of Eau Claire, sitting first-hand on the precipice of a downtown renaissance that has been long overdue, and she’s just doing it. Did I mention that Red still does part-time political consulting? Yes, that means in between building the shelves, placing orders and writing up her business plan, she was managing campaigns for clients across the country. It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t like the movies— but much the way movies go, Red looked to her friends and family when she needed a helping hand.
Some people try to do things on their own and in books or articles it seems that they climbed the ladder to their current success by “hustling”--a vague term that doesn’t say much about the late nights and early mornings people actually put into their careers while others remain rooted to dreaming about what they want to do. Cooke will be the first to tell you that she has a difficult time delegating responsibility but that she couldn’t have opened the store without the help of her friends and family. “People came out of the woodwork to help me get here and I am still in awe of what people were offering— and willing— to do to help me. I’m so grateful.”
It’s this community and an intense focus on her goal that allowed Red to get here. By bringing a unique shop to Eau Claire, she's offered one more option for people to shop outside of the box and find gifts that are truly one-of-a-kind representations of makers across the country, including personalized gifts that become staple pieces to keep forever. Jewelry from Kiki Koyote and Christi Ahee of Chicago are a few of her favorite makers, but when pressed she smiles and confesses, “I love everything, it’s hard to choose!”
Perusing her shelves made it difficult to not name the entire store as my Christmas list but that’s no doubt a credit to her skill in selecting each item with explicit care.
The store is still in it’s early days and while Cooke admits she’s still learning so much each day, it is plain to see that Red’s Mercantile will quickly become a necessary spot to visit when traipsing through Wisconsin’s riverside city or looking for a great day trip.
It’s been quite a journey but there it is friends, Red’s Mercantile. Your entrepreneurial boss-lady landed just in time for your holiday gifting.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, her drink of choice? Bulleit Old Fashioned.
*Red’s story has only begun. This is merely a chapter among many more to come.