Guilford resident Joe Saam found his passion in the past.
Saam, 50, left a retail career to launch Hymn & Hawe Country Store, an antiques, furniture, decor and general store, at 43 Genesee Street in Greene. The store, he said, opened in two stages.
“The building was an old-time hardware store built in 1886 and it was a hardware store for that many years,” Saam said, noting that the store closed seven years ago. “We opened last year in June for furniture and decor, with an emphasis on antiques, upholstered furniture, lamps, rugs and a lot of decor pieces. Then, the other side of the store opened in September, and that’s an old-time general store with an emphasis on organic groceries, candles, soaps, lotions, jewelry, a large book selection as well as frozen foods, a refrigerated section and retro toys, so kind of a little bit of everything.”
Saam said the COVID-19 pandemic and the advice of a fellow entrepreneur helped him pivot.
“I’ve always wanted to do something for myself,” he said. “I worked in big box retail all my life, since school, so I’ve got 30-plus years of experience under my belt. I was store manager for Lowe’s for 16 years and really trying to find what the next chapter of my career would be and the pandemic kind of made me realize that, even though the paycheck was awesome, there were … things other than money that drive me. It’s being available for my family and doing what I want to do when I want to do it, so I really thought about that.
“I happened to be in the Masonville General Store,” Saam continued, “and I consider Kendall, the owner, an inspiration. I walked in there last year in January and I was like, ‘You know what, this is what I want to do.’ I picked her brain and she gave me some sage advice. She said, ‘You’re not going to become a millionaire doing this and it’s got to come from the heart.’ As we were chatting, I told her that my grandparents, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, used to shop in that general store for their family and she said, ‘You are walking in the footsteps of your grandparents’ and it resonated, it sent chills up my spine and I knew this was what I want to do.”
At that time, Saam enlisted the help of business partner and former antiques store owner Tim Murray.
“He has a long career in retail and owned his antique store for a number of years in Sidney and it was just a perfect fit,” he said. “He knows a lot about furniture and decor and, coupled with my experience, it just clicks. It’s great to be able to go to work with somebody you really enjoy.”
Saam said customers, too, are liking the store.
“I could not be more happy and excited that the village and the town are super supportive of us,” he said. “I’ve always loved customer interactions and creating relationships, so I’m super glad I’m able to do that on the scale I’m doing this. We have people that come in every day and when they walk in, they say, ‘Wow, this is beautiful and it makes me feel really good, like I’m doing something right. I left my job of 26 years to do this and invested tons of money into opening and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think we’re going to make it.
“Through word-of-mouth and social media, now we’re drawing customers from Ithaca and the Homer-Cortland area and we get tons of people from the triple cities — the Binghamton, Vestal, Johnson City, Endicott area — then of course folks locally,” Saam continued. “We’ve really become somewhat of a destination when it comes to the type of furniture and decor we sell.”
Saam said he and Murray are committed to providing reciprocal support.
“Everything that we do (on the furniture and decor side), we hand-select, so we typically scout out merchandise in the Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey and the south shore of Connecticut,” he said. “But everything on our general store side, we like to focus on local vendors. We carry Kutik’s honey, River Rock Soaps, Windy Hill maple syrup … and Rebecca from Way Seed Farms in Greene does aprons and custom tea towels. We really wanted to have that old-time general store feel, but also support local, so that’s really what we’ve focused on.”
Customer favorites, Saam said, include candles and custom upholstered furniture. “There’s really no place in the area where you can get great quality custom pieces at affordable prices,” he said, and the stained-glass lamp collection, ranging from $60 to $700 accounts for “a huge part of the business.”
Saam said he plans to increase in-store and digital offerings.
“We’re focused on growing our business,” he said. “We now make custom farmhouse tables and those have been very well received and we’re slowly getting our website up and running. We definitely do have a broader reach for folks outside the area. There’s a lot of little lake communities in the area, so we have folks that come up here for the summer and fall … that want to stay in touch and buy something, so we are shipping stuff all the time. We’re building our selection and growing our business and offering some design services.”
Hymn & Hawe is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; 9 to 6, Saturday; noon to 5, Sunday; and closed Monday and Tuesday.
For more information, find “Hymn & Hawe Country Store” on Facebook, follow @hymnandhawe on Instagram or call 607-875-4375.