Doing What I Love – Mercantile 1858 Shopkeeper and COVID Chandler, Matthew Bretherick
Article by Karen Creason
Photography by Provided
Originally published in Franklin Lifestyle
Growing up in Collierville, Tennessee, townspeople believed Matthew Bretherick, owner of Mercantile 1858 and 1858 Candle Company, would grow up to be the mayor or a used car salesman. With his uncanny ability to connect with all people, Matthew has walked through life without much of a plan. “Luckily for most of my life, things have fallen into place.” And while this philosophy may not work for most, it has certainly worked well for Matthew, his teammates Kendra, Yaz, David, and regular shopper turned newest employee, Melinda. Now his work benefits 46 makers, ranging in age from 13 to 67 who supply Mercantile 1858 with “affordable products, curated blends of furniture, vintage finds, vintage-inspired and on-trend home decor and locally made gifts you won’t find elsewhere.”
How Mercantile 1858 came to be is another “not planned but sometimes you just land in the perfect place” blessing. After working in a major retail store for 13 years and being overlooked for corporate positions, Matthew took a “staycation,” visiting a friend who owned a shop in Arrington. Being a busy time for his friend, Matthew pitched in and started selling. A month later, his friend called and offered Matthew an opportunity to work with her buying and selling. “In corporate, I wanted to be a buyer, merchandiser, do the visuals, all the things I focused on, but I also got in trouble for it in the corporate world.” Having been overlooked for a promotion, Matthew gave his two-week notice and started The Gentleman’s Stache in a 4×5 space set up in his friend’s store selling steamer trunks he found. Nine months later, Matthew took over the Arrington location, rebranded it as Mercantile 1858 (an homage to the year the strip was built), and now, six years later, Matthew has the original Arrington shop located at 4812 Murfreesboro Road as well as the Franklin location at 1137 West Main Street.
What makes Mercantile 1858 different is consignors have a space to showcase their handiworks and found treasures without a fee – makers earn money when something sells but do not pay a fee to have products displayed in the store. Unlike “booth” shops for makers, Mercantile 1858 displays items in vignettes around the store. It is not uncommon to find six or seven different vendor items grouped together in stunning displays around the shops. Approximately 50% of items in the shop are new and 50% are vintage items.
COVID brought about many changes for small businesses like Mercantile 1858. Needing to pivot, Matthew and Kendra ramped up video walkthroughs of the shops on Instagram (@mercantile1858). This stronger online presence now accounts for approximately 15% of sales. When Southern Firefly candles, a vendor in the shop was sold, Matthew always “flying by the seat of my pants” decided to become a chandler. In the middle of the pandemic, with no previous experience, Matthew performed a Google search for “how to make candles,” watched numerous YouTube videos, ordered vessels from wholesalers, and after making 100 candles wrong, learned the hard way there is a science behind candle making. Luckily, Matthew has now mastered the art and is proudly offering 30 different scented 100% soy wax candles all hand-made by Matthew under the 1858 Candle Company brand (@1858candleco). Matthew and his fiancee, Cesar Lopez, are hoping to change the candle-making room in their home into a nursery for a child one day and the candle sales are helping to create a financially stable income to get the adoption process started.
But COVID also brought about another big change. COVID claimed both of Matthew’s parents, who died just 12 days apart. Matthew, “Very passionate about people – to a fault,” decided to give back and created a special Cocoa + Mint candle to help fund scholarships in his parents’ memory (@bretherickmemorialfund). “There is so much we can do to give back. I am huge at giving back – whether to random people – that is what I hope to do with Mom and Dad’s candles – to use my platform on social media to give back.” He sold out of his initial batch of 40 memorial candles in a week. “Shoppers supported us through a global pandemic, the passing of my parents, and orders for candles were sold out. People ordered candles, having never smelled them, to support our family foundation.” The Bretherick Memorial Fund awarded three $3,000 scholarships in 2021 and Matthew and his family hope to build upon and continue the fund for the foreseeable future.
1858 Candle Company is currently selling candles at both Mercantile 1858 locations and specialty wholesale candles to Sip-N-Scoop in College Grove and Triple Crown Bakery in Franklin. Some of his best-selling candle scents are Citron + Sugar, Peppered Lime + Bergamot, and Patchouli + Fruit Tea.
“Today and every day, I am thankful for the blessings in my life. There are small businesses everywhere closing their doors, and luckily customers keep walking through mine. If it weren’t for family, friends, vendors, and customers, I would not be able to do what I love.” Mercantile1858.com