Walk into Melissa Clement’s downtown Castle Rock business, Mercantile by Farmgirl Foods, and you’ll find yourself inside a sprawling indoor farmers’ market laden with items from more than 70 local vendors. There, in the charming 2,700-square-foot building—which used to house the oldest business in downtown Castle Rock, Bennington Mercantile, adjacent to the city’s historical grain mill—you can buy everything from handmade pottery and fresh-baked bread to alcohol-infused jams, local eggs, and cheese.

“Right now, with COVID and everything, all the holiday markets are getting canceled,” Clement says. “So [vendors] don’t have anywhere to go after summer farmers’ markets. This gives them a place to have a year-round presence.”

Vendors from around the state pay a rental fee to bring in and sell their products, and Mercantile takes a commission for the staff and infrastructure it provides. Clement estimates that about 80 percent of the businesses in her store are female-owned—a local chiropractor, for example, is selling her candles and beeswax paper here—and every vendor featured is betted through a tasting or sampling of the products. “If it is not something that I am willing to feed my own family, or eat myself, I’m not going to bring it in here just to make a dollar—that’s just not how it is,” she says.

Most of the products are locally sourced, but Clement, who previously lived in Massachusetts, also brings in a few out-of-state products she’s personally connected to—or that are otherwise unavailable in Colorado. Mercantile has pasta, oil, vinegar, and olives imported from Italy; salsa from Texas, Clement’s birthplace; and pickled vegetables from Long Beach, California, where Clement went to college. “It’s incredibly important to me to have a personal relationship with the people who are making this stuff because I want to know where it comes from, who they are. I want to know how they make it…where they source it,” she says. 

A self-professed foodie, Clement is clear that she is not the “have-you-tried-the-liquid-nitrogen-infused-kale” kind of a food lover. “I’m just going for clean, local, simple, good. You don’t have to make it fancy and fussy,” she says. “People ask me all the time, ‘What’s your favorite thing to cook?’ It’s a roasted chicken. It’s so simple. But for me, when I walk into a house and I smell a roasted chicken, that smells like love. That’s why I do this, it’s my love for food.”

Her favorite product in the store right now is creamy, hand-rolled, European-style butter sourced from Sawatch Artisan Foods in Colorado Springs.

Clement first opened her shop at the Emporium in 2018, and then moved it to nearby Ecclesia Market in 2019 before settling in its current location in downtown Castle Rock in August. With no other grocer in the downtown area, Mercantile by Farmgirl Foods helps fill a market gap for residents who otherwise have to shop at larger grocery stores around town.

“Walmart and Amazon don’t need our money. They’re not paying for our kids’ college education,” Clement says. “If we can help each other and build each other up, that’s what this is all about. Whenever we can support local, I’m all about it. I think it’s essential.”

If you go: Mercantile by Farmgirl Foods is open daily, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., 720-900-8352

Vignesh Ramachandran
Vignesh Ramachandran
Vignesh Ramachandran is a freelance journalist and co-founder of Red, White and Brown Media. He’s on Twitter at @VigneshR.