The owner of King Street Coffee in Leesburg is giving new life to an iconic Hamilton business.
Abbie Whitehurst late last year went in on a new business venture with her longtime barista Meredith Brown to purchase the Natural Mercantile store. The duo has kept the health food business alive, reopening after some rearrangements on Dec. 30, and are now working to install a coffee bar and obtain permits to sell Lone Oak coffee by spring. Under the new management, the business is called The Hamilton Mercantile, or The Merc for short.
“[King Street Coffee is] such an established place but The Merc is too,” Brown said about the Hamilton shop that opened as Northern Virginia’s first health food store in 1972.
Brown, who got her first job at the King Street coffee shop at the age of 14 when it was operating as The Coffee Bean, said Whitehurst had been looking to invest in commercial real estate for a while. When Brown visited the Natural Mercantile last summer and learned it was for sale, she told Whitehurst with the good news.
“I just immediately thought of Abbie,” Brown said, adding that she thought Hamilton was in need of “a great coffee shop.”
In November 2018,after years of discussions and controversy, the Hamilton Town Council voted unanimously to deny the Bullets & Beans gun store’s application to obtain a special use permit to sell coffee. Town ordinances limitfood sales in buildings adjacent to residences and many town residents opposed the special permit request.
The nearest coffee shops to The Merc are Starbucks, Dunkin’ and Happy Creek Coffee & Tea in Purcellville.
The duo plans to offer new types of beverages for their western Loudoun customers, including coffee mixed with supplements like collagen powder and MCT oil, and herbal teas.
“Just a little twist,” Brown said.
They’re still working to renovate the inside of the 131-year-old building, including transferring equipment from King Street’s location in Leesburg to Hamilton, and plan to add a walk-up window for quick, outdoor coffee pickups, just like King Street Coffee began offering in Leesburg at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brown said the outlook for business in Hamilton is all positive, considering she and Whitehurst have already received a good deal of feedback from new customers. She pointed out that Hamilton’s population is trending younger and the efforts to build out the sidewalk system in recent years has more younger families heading out to explore the community—and discover The Merc.
“We’re hoping to attract people walking in town,” Brown said. … “[Coffee is] really a great thing to connect people.”
Whitehurst said her team would work to modify operations to accommodate their customers’ desires.
The Merc was previously owned and operated by 34-year Hamilton resident Sue Phillips, who took over the business in 2005 and put it up for sale last February. Phillips previously said she wanted to sell the business to travel more with her husband and visit her son and daughter-in-law and their baby in Florida.