Article and Photos by Jessica McCafferty
Some say life is all about timing. More than two decades ago, Bob Timmons suggested his son Rob and wife Michelle might fill the need left in the town of Black Brook caused by the closing of the last local store. At the time, that was the furthest thing from the couple’s minds. The Peru natives were young and starting their lives together. They didn’t see a small-town store as a path to the future. Rob had a Hotel Restaurant Degree from Smith’s College and Michelle was working on her degree in Educationat SUNY Plattsburgh.
Fast forward 25 years when Rob and Michelle learned St. Matthew’s Church in Black Brook was for sale. The Catholic church had consolidated with its Au Sable Forks location five years before and the beautiful old building was available. Rob, who was working in construction by then, as well as a serving as a local legislator, and Michelle, who was a clinical supervisor and a lecturer at SUNY Plattsburgh, started a conversation that led them back to the path that had been suggested years ago.
Rob did research to determine if the area had a population to support a store. The couple talked of what needs they could fill — diversity would be the key to sustainability. They would be the spot that saved the locals a 15-minute trip to a larger town, a quick stop for coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner for locals as well as travelers on their way to Lake Placid or Whiteface, as well as a last-minute stop for the many campers who frequent the area in the summer.
Their conversation quickly evolved into a plan, and the couple found themselves in the process of buying the beautiful 1876 retired church. There were some bumps along the way. Purchasing from an entity versus an individual had its challenges. Despite their offer made in October of 2019, they didn’t close until March of 2020, just before the full impact of COVID was understood. Any further delay and the couple might have rethought their new path.
Once lockdown occurred, only Rob, Michelle and their daughters, Lacy and Allie, could be at the church to work on needed renovations. No outside contractors would be allowed. The Timmons had closed on the building. They could only move forward.
Rob used his construction knowledge to guide the family work crew through the interior remodel. “The day Michelle and I tried to stand the wall to the beer cave up, she may have questioned how she got herself into this!” Rob recalled. The family did everything they could on their own and readied the building for the inspectors who would come once the lockdown was lifted. The remodel took almost a year. The floors were leveled, counters, deli area and a beer cave built, and a new bathroom added. They even remodeled the choir loft to be used as a dining area.
Not everyone in the community embraced the couple’s decision to use their former place of worship as a commercial space. There was speculation about what having a store selling beer in the former church would be like. But when the doors finally opened, they were met with curious new patrons and everyone was pleasantly surprised.
The couple had embraced the building’s simplistic beauty and kept the stained glass-bordered windows. With a bright white interior, ten-foot windows, light gray flooring, and high ceilings, the space is bright and welcoming. The Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) Preservation Award was presented to the Timmons in 2022 for their revitalization and rehabilitation of the church.
The entrance opens to find the register and deli cases to the left, stairs to the choir area seating to the right. Aisles of shoulder high shelving and a beer cave await you ahead. Depending on the time of day, you may be met by the appetizing aroma of one of their daily lunch specials. The shelves contain everything you would expect from a traditional general store, as well as specialty items like two rows of hardware, a pet section, a camping section, and an area that features local artisans.
On any day you will find one of the Timmons behind the counter. Rob manages the store and youngest daughter, Allie, can be found there most days. Michelle works the weekends. The store also has a staff of five to ten depending on the season. Michelle noted they are lucky to employ one of the store’s neighbors who opens in the morning. As Michelle said, “In a time when businesses are struggling to find employees, we have lucked out with some of the best around!”
With the store’s many conveniences, it’s not surprising that locals sometimes visit a few times a day and the staff and community have a wonderful relationship. Many former parishioners have shared stories of marriages, baptisms and even youngsters causing trouble in the pews. Regulars stop for coffee on the way to work and dinner on the way home. The choir seating is a perfect place to meet a friend for a lunch featuring one of their tasty Boar’s head subs. A local needle crafting group has used the loft as a meeting area. The store’s outside boasts picnic tables, two oversized Adirondack chairs for photo ops or just relaxing, and there is even a self-service bike maintenance station.
In the two and a half years since the Timmons opened, the Black Brook General Store has become a community staple and the perfect pit stop. The great food brings in people from surrounding towns. The store is ideally located on Silver Lake Road, the shortest route to the Lake Placid area from Plattsburgh, providing year-round tourism traffic. The region also boasts several camping areas; including Silver Lake, Taylor Pond and Union Falls.
Fall brings in leaf peepers, winter attracts skiers on their way to Whiteface and local snowmobile enthusiasts stop in to warm up with coffee or cocoa or a hearty bowl of soup. It seems the new life for this old building might just be the perfect path for the Timmons family. As Michelle and Rob stated, “We could not be part of a better community. We have enjoyed getting to know the local families that have now become friends.”
Black Brook General Store
781 Silver Lake Road
Au Sable Forks, NY 12912