The ties that bond: Tazewell Co. Mercantile brings the community together
Bond Strong has been dreaming about Tazewell Co. Mercantile at some level all her life. A Tazewell County native, she graduated from Western Carolina University before returning home to open the locally sourced food-and-gift mart in fall 2018. Bond explains, “My mom proposed the idea of an antique store in January, and I began thinking about how I could incorporate my passion for local food and the local economy into that. The store grew pretty organically from there.”
The part-gift shop, part-local market opened in October. Since then, the store has gathered handmade gifts, local food items, and the community itself – all into one warm, bustling epicenter that hosts crafting workshops and other eclectic events almost weekly.
Bond credits the Southwest Virginia Community College SBDC and advisor Margie Douglass for walking every step beside her, which she admits was daunting at first. “As a history major, then a nanny, then a substitute teacher, then a stay-at-home mom, I had no business experience, and I did not know how to turn my idea into a reality. I had no clue what a business plan was, what steps I needed to take, or who to speak with,” Bond admits. “Margie helped me lay out a plan and organize my thoughts and ideas into something coherent and manageable. Going through the business plan development process helped me better understand how a business is run and how feasible my plan was,” Bond continues.
Margie and the SBDC also assisted Bond in competing for and ultimately winning a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching grant which, along with an additional investment by Bond and husband Reece, was critical in bringing Tazewell Co. Mercantile to life.
For Bond and Reece, community is the center of everything they do, and it is what sets the store apart. “Our commitment to locally sourced products and to our suppliers defines us. By making those two things priorities, we are putting our community first and, by extension, our customers,” Bond says. “In fact,” she adds, “one of the most unique challenges our business faces, because it is locally sourced, is that physically getting all the products to the store takes a significant amount of coordinating. I am so proud of how hard working, honest, and committed all of my suppliers are. It’s an honor to work with them,” says Bond.
“The SBDC is one of, if not the, greatest asset in our county,” says Bond. “Not only did I receive practical help, I felt like Margie was my own personal cheerleader, and it truly helped me on the days I was feeling down about the process of starting a business.”