An enterprising Cattaraugus-area woman, Jodi Oakes, with her family's wholehearted endorsement, is starting up a new business which evokes fond memories of a bygone era. She plans to become, of all things, a traveling saleswoman.
Oakes has named her fledgling enterprise Oakes Traveling Mercantile, because "I always dreamed of running an old-fashioned mercantile store," she said.
But when she and husband, Darryl began to seriously look into buying a building for that purpose, it turned out to be too much to tackle. "We have five children," Oakes explained, "so we have to think pretty carefully before taking any big steps, financially speaking."
Mention of her family caused her to interrupt her narrative (like any proud mother) in order to tick off the kids' names. "There's Summer, she's 18; Kattelle is 10; the twins, Kelby and Kordell are 9; and Kade, our youngest, is 7 now."
The children, in fact, became the major factor in change of direction in their mother's business plan. "The kids are getting old enough so that they want to be involved in what we do," Oakes said. "It came to us that with a traveling business like this, we could work out a schedule so that first and foremost, I'd still be a mom."
"I'll be home in the morning to see them off to school," she said, "and I'll be there when the bus drops them off in the afternoon." Pausing a moment, she added, "I should still be able to get to most of their school events, too."
Oakes credits Matt Keller, of the Cattaraugus County Business Development Corporation for helping her develop a coherent business plan. "I actually took a five-week course he taught at St. Bonaventure," she said. "He brought in a lot of people to explain all the planning and preparation you have to do. It made me much more clear-eyed about things."
Oakes said that Keller also led her through the process of securing a start-up grant from New York State. "I owe him and the county and the state a big debt of gratitude," she said.
Since then, the Oakeses have acquired a "pre-owned" concession trailer to serve as their "mercantile." Husband, Darryl, who operates Darryl Oakes Logging," contributed one of his pickups to put the "travel" in it.
Oakes Traveling Mercantile will hold its grand opening(s) this week. In preparation, Oakes and her family have been stocking the trailer with its start-up line of goods. "I've also been practicing my trailer-backing skills," she joked.
The Mercantile's initial inventory leans heavily toward reasonably priced food products: baking necessities such as assorted flours (many gluten-free) and sugars, as well as cooking implements. It includes puddings, flavored gelatins, dip and dressing mixes, cereals and other food preparation necessities.
Oakes presently purchases from three suppliers, all of whom specialize in U.S.-made products. "I'll be expanding my stock," she said, "as I learn what kinds of things my customers really want."
Oakes plans to park her rig "in a central location" in each of the communities she visits, and is trying to time her visits to coincide with local Food Pantry times and dates. "People everywhere have been really nice about helping me get things figured out," she said.
On Monday, Oakes will head out to her first trio of stops - starting with South Dayton (from 9-10:30 a.m.), then Cherry Creek (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and Leon (1:30-3 p.m.).
Tuesday, she'll visit Little Valley (9-11 a.m.), Eddyville (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and East Otto (1:30- 2:30 p.m.).
Wednesday will find her in Cattaraugus (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Otto (1:30-2:30 p.m.).
Friday ends her traveling week with stops at Ellington (8:30-10:30 a.m.), Randolph (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Napoli (1:30-3).
On Saturday, she'll operate the business out of her home driveway at 6570 Kickbush Hill Road, just off the New Albion/Leon Road (county Route 6).
In addition, the Mercantile will be open at its home location from 3:30-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. until summer hours start.
Oakes said she's "making up the rules" as she goes along. She'll follow the above schedule for the foreseeable future, "or until a good reason arises for changing it." During the summer months, she plans to set up at the Saturday farmer's markets in South Dayton from 9 a.m. to noon, and in Leon, 12:30-2:30 p.m.
The Oakeses hope they've found a niche market, waiting to be filled, and Jodi is eager to accommodate her customers as much as possible. For instance, if a harried housewife (or househusband, for that matter) is itching to create a fresh, crusty loaf of rye or a special birthday cake, but needs a pack of yeast, or a particular spice, she said she'd be willing to drop the items off on the way to one of her regular stops. She also welcomes ideas from the public for expanding her product line. Her number is 257-0161.