Our iconic old general store has a neat and verifiable history, and especially for our out-of-town guests, it is a very special place to visit. The food is excellent, and the old store has a nearly forgotten, nostalgic ambiance. The antiques on display throughout the store have been chosen to fit the time frame of years past. The store is a living, breathing, working general store, and is still patronized by our local Amish community. On any given day, you can relax, and eat ice cream in the old rockers in front of the store, and watch Amish buggies and road carts going about their business. Very few people walk through our front door that we don't know, and as we know it today, very few places like this old general store have survived in modern America.
Somewhere in my background, I am told I am Swiss, having had a grandfather, a Mr. Francis Kohli, 5 generations back (early 1800's), that immigrated to Holmes County from Berne, Switzerland, who then, with a wife and 2 sons, bought a farm 3 miles from the store, just east of Trail, Ohio. That farmland was purchased directly from the U.S. government. Surprisingly, my immediate family knew little of his history until after this Winesburg chapter of my life had begun. Francis Kohli signed his name on the deeds to the new land with an X. And so it began. old store has seen a lot of change through the years, and has been a primary gathering place in the Winesburg community for generations, having been built by Jake A Horrisberger (1901), followed then in ownership by daughter, Mildred Whitmer (1947), and finally, in the third generation, by grandson, John Whitmer (1980). (Grandfather Jake Horrisberger's old yard-sticks can still be seen tacked to the drawers of the front counter of the store.)
After construction in 1901, as a hotel and saloon, with a stagecoach stop and livery stable in the old barn behind, the business was converted into a grocery and hardware store in the early 1920's, following prohibition and the advent of the automobile. During Democratic administrations, the store also served as the community post office, with Alma Horrisberger as PostMaster, always remaining at the center of daily life in rural Winesburg, Ohio. Mildred, and her husband Clyde, changed the name of the store to Whitmer's General Store in the mid 1960's.
Melanie Sterling Kohli and I bought the store from Jake Horrisberger's grandson, John Whitmer, in 1999, after learning while getting a haircut that "John was giving up on the retail business for good, and intended to sell off the old place at auction". At that news, having always loved the old place, my heart was broken, so we decided to intervene. After agreeing on a price, and after a simple review by our local community banker, without any attempt at haggling or intimidating one another, John and I shook hands, just like business was conducted in the good old days. No product inventory was taken. No equipment evaluations were made. No realtor was consulted. No grandiose Harvard-like business plan was put forth. John walked out, and we walked in. It was as simple and straight forward as that, and was one of the most satisfying days of our lives.
In our first days, selling only groceries, the business struggled. Every day was a cash-flow horror story, (which, of course, is why you don't see many small general stores anymore). In 2000, a close personal friend and Amish businessman, Mr. Levi Beachy, who owned the only general store in Mt Eaton, Ohio, suggested we think about adding pizza to our product line. Acting on his suggestion saved our store. The pizza program provided an immediate boost to the grocery business, and added significant business activity as a separate food category, in its own right.
Now, 18 years later, Whitmer's pizza is an outright favorite pizza within a 45 minute drive in any direction, and has become the life-blood of our small, family-owned business. After having served well over 500,000 meals through the years, we think you too will fall in love with our incredible pizza, and we think we have the very best staff in place to meet your every food need.
Our party pizzas are a favorite food item throughout the summer at Amish volley ball games. Construction crews go out of their way to stop and buy our meaty, hearty subs. Local factories and businesses order our party pizzas frequently, as a convenient and valued reward for their workers meeting company objectives. Tourists come in from all over the country, and tell us Whitmer's pizza is the finest pizza they have ever eaten. They love our secret sauce and the thick, soft dough.
We love the business, and the frenetic pace of the daily activity in the store. We hope you will enjoy it too. So, come by and see us when you are in the area. Melanie can usually be found in one of the store kitchens, and I will most likely be in a delivery vehicle. It's been that way every Saturday night, at least, for the last 18 years.