The Front Porch Mercantile Story
Front Porch Mercantile
Front Porch Mercantile and Gifts was the end product when Joyce Draper decided to reinvent herself as she has done a few times over the past decade. From Navy nurse to owner and proprietor of the Gainesboro famous Front Porch store featuring the talents of those creative Jackson County folks, Joyce and her husband Gainesboro lawyer William Draper have been living comfortably these past few years in this small, picturesque town.
Meeting while serving in the Navy, the Drapers traveled the world after William graduated in 1969 from Tennessee Tech University.
“By education, I am a nurse,” Joyce said. “After leaving the Navy, I was Intensive care nurse in Memphis; I’ve taught student nurses, been the health department director over several counties, child health care coordinator, and health county nurse.”
She grew up in a small town where her parents and other family also were store and shop owners and proprietors. Her mother had a gift shop and father had a hardware and fishing and tackle store in a small resort Northeast town.
“After I retired in 2004, I wasn’t interested in doing anything for awhile,” she said. “I cleaned cabinets, then got interested in volunteering at the historical archives in Jackson County and then decided it would be fun to have a booth at Pappy’s Picket Fence Antiques.”
Pappy’s was a local marketplace store on the square in Gainesboro featuring local artists works.
“I was a vendor,” Joyce said. “And when the woman who owned it decided not to do anymore, I figured I could do that. I was not alien to starting a business.”
And Front Porch Mercantile and Gifts was created.
While Jackson County is considered a distressed and underserved county in the Upper Cumberland, Joyce said, “we are not short on talent, that is for sure.”
The store features all types of jewelry, t-shirts, etched works, signs, cards, local honey, and handmade soaps just to mention a few.
“We really do have some fantastic vendors who are local and have other jobs or interests,” Joyce said. “This is their store too; we are a family.”
Joyce also features some of her own art and even beautiful fresh flowers arrangements.
She makes baskets, paints, constructs crafts such as hot mats and potholders, and she also carries on the true Southern tradition of quilting.
The current situation with the Covid-19 shutdown has greatly affected this small community. At the present time, Joyce has had to close the store until the Governor allows small businesses such as the Front Porch to open to customers. But that hasn’t stopped Joyce from thinking and caring about her vendors.
“We are taking one step at a time, right now,” Joyce said. “Right now I am working on auctioning some items and featuring vendors work where I can.”
She has completed two weekends of Facebook auctions where she featured one item from each of her vendor’s booths up for auction.
“We have had a thousand people view the Front Porch Facebook auction message and view the items,” Joyce said. “ We know there is a problem with not being able to mail the purchased items. We’re having people stop by and pick up the items and I know that doesn't work for everyone.
“However, I am just hopeful that when people finally do get out traveling around, they will remember those items from my vendors and the auction and maybe stop at the Front Porch mercantile to see what we have.”
The Front Porch Facebook auctions will be continuing until her opening planned for May 15, 2020. And her list of vendors may be growing with the addition of Backwater Farms who will be selling plants right off the front porch.
She has also pursued some involvement from Tennessee Tech University College of Fine Arts and the Tennessee Tech Center for Rural Innovation. One student came to Gainesboro and presented some crafting classes on the porch with children from the community. From tie-dyed merchandise to silk scarves and painting collages, Joyce said the event was a huge success.
Another project Joyce was very proud of was her new “Front Porch” sign painted by a student working with Tennessee Tech’s Center for Rural Innovation.
“I am very proud of my sign and sure appreciate all that those in the rural innovation office have done to help my community and me with this business.”
The Center for Rural Innovation’s mission is “to create companies and build economic development by providing technical assistance to main street businesses and entrepreneurs within the tourism, technology, innovation, retail, and agriculture sectors" within the Upper Cumberland region. They are located on the TN Tech campus and may be contacted at www.tntech.edu/tcri.