By Staff Reports
Down by the river and across the train tracks in Bassett sits a quaint shopping spot that offers a variety of items hard to find anywhere else.
This spot, formally known as the RiverWalk Mini Mall, has been in operation for the past four years and is a treat for first-time shoppers.
“If I was walking in here for the first time after crossing those railroad tracks and passing the ribbons, I would think ‘what in the world is RiverWalk?’ Then after I came in, my eyes would widen and my mouth would be wide open because I wouldn’t be expecting the beauty and everything that we have here,” said Marjorie Wilson, co-manager of the mall. “There are so many things that we have that you can’t find anywhere anymore. Items like antiques that my mother used to have, juicers, spreaders–there’s just something for everybody.”
Wilson, who is also one of the 10 vendors at the mall, said the establishment has been open for four years total, but only for two years continuously.
The mall was originally an idea born out of repurposing the Historic John D. Bassett High School.
“Adam Wright went to his dad and told him that he knew the (Historic John D.) Bassett High School was closing down,” Wilson said. “They looked into it and they bought the high school and they started doing events up there. When he realized that there were other things to be done, he bought this building and opened it where we could start up the mini mall. He remodeled it, put in the windows and the deck. Now it’s just a beautiful facility and we have all kinds of beautiful things in here.”
Since the mall’s relocation to Fairy Stone Park Highway, customers had to time their visits just right to peruse the offerings.
“We would be open during the summer, close for the winter and go up to the school before coming back,” Wilson said. “Now we are full time down here.”
The mall currently operates on a three-day basis, so customers can stop by any given week
“We keep a running count of how many customers that we have. We just started doing that, but I’d say we have anywhere between 100-150 people on our three days that we are open,” Wilson said. “Hopefully we can go back to our four-day week which would be Tuesday through Saturday.”
While the days of operation may be limited, that’s certainly not the case for the selection of goodies inside the mall. The list varies from hand-crafted works to donated antiques.
“Some of our most popular items are Annie Washburn’s homemade cakes and pies. Then of course, our glassware is very, very popular,” Wilson said. “I tend to enjoy doing my crocheting, which is typically a lot of hats and blankets. Those are also popular. Everybody loves the Christmas room. It mostly depends on what all you like, but you can find just about anything here.
“David and Cynthia Wright have families of deceased loved ones that have a lot of antiques which are then donated here after they pass. We have the Christmas room that is strictly donations,” Wilson added.
In addition to antiques, the mall also hosts a popular food bank which is made possible through donations.
“The Food Bank is every Monday from 9 a.m. until noon. Donations for that come from all of the various stores in the area,” Wilson said. “The food bank typically has a long line all the way out of the building and up the street. We don’t stop serving until right up until noon.”
With the mall continuing to grow, management is looking to expand to offer made-to-order meals on a regular basis.
“Right now, we have all of the proper permits for the food court that we are trying to start. We are just looking for someone that could come in and run that,” Wilson said. “If we could find the right person, it would be very good for them and it would be very good for us. We are so anxious to find somebody that is willing to rent the food court and operate it for breakfast and lunch.”
Seating wouldn’t be a problem at the mall which overlooks the river.
“With our deck, it would be perfect,” Wilson said. “People keep saying ‘when you get it open, call us so we can come, go out on the deck and have our lunch.’ We are hoping that we can get someone that is trained and has knowledge of short-order cooking. Things like hamburgers, hotdogs, salads, and grilled cheese. Mr. Wright does a really mean salad. It’ll make you smack your mouth.”
Along with the food court, Wilson said new vendors are always welcome.
“We rent our tables, or we can do it on a commission basis,” Wilson explained. “The best way, I think, is by renting a table because if you rent your space then you just pay your rent, fix your items and then go from there. If you go on a commission basis, then you may or may not sell and make enough money.”
New vendors can expect to find a supportive team to help.
“We work with each other. We’re not all here all of the time,” Wilson said. “There are 3 to 4 here today, but there are 10 of us vendors. With the owners, that makes 13 people that work here.”
Each vendor has their own style and method of selling merchandise.
“Everybody runs their tables differently. I do mine where the customers can do special-order. In other words, if you come in and want a hat or something, and I don’t have that particular one, then I will take your order to make your hat or blanket,” Wilson said. “I also do dish towels, rags, placemats and potholders. I can do them individually or in sets. There are different buying options too. For instance, I do layaways.”
Wilson said she enjoys crocheting because she finds it relaxing ━ something she was desperately in need of when she began to learn the craft.
“I learned how to crochet when I was pregnant with my first son. That was 1960. I made his little cap, sweater and booties,” she said. “Then, I didn’t create anything for years. I worked as a finance manager for a car dealership. When I retired, I was not just going to sit at home and do nothing, so I started back crocheting. Then, all of a sudden, I’m involved with the Wrights at the school and eventually bringing my things here to sell them. I love seeing the beauty of it once it’s finished.”
As much as she enjoys continuing her hobby, Wilson said she also gains a sense of fulfillment from being part of the broader community.
“The people in this community make you feel so welcome, particularly in Bassett,” she said. “I live in Horsepasture, and I love Horsepasture, so don’t get me wrong, but Bassett cares about their people so much. They do so many more events and the people that come in here to buy are just wonderful people.”
While Wilson gains from visits by the community, the community also gains from simply visiting the mall ━ regardless if they purchase an item or not.
Visitors to the mall are asked to sign the registry at the entrance and the names are put into a container. Once a month, a name is selected, and the winner receives one of the famous cakes by Washburn for free.