There is a historic brick building on South Main that is constantly abuzz with activity. Be it first-time visitors drawn in by the inviting aroma of spices floating through the air, or regular customers who know exactly which shelf to go to for the right spices to accompany their pot roast.
"Working in our store is like working at Disneyland," says Olde Town Spice Shoppe owner Carol Hurst. "The patrons are happy because they're gathering ingredients for meals with their family and friends, and I love hearing the store chatter. Customers will talk among themselves about their favorite tips and recipes, their favorite items in the store." On Saturdays there is a line of customers snaking through the store, picking their ingredients for family meals and buying gifts for housewarmings and parties. She's used to the hustle of customers and isn't stunned at all by the steady stream of visitors on a weekday afternoon.
"We are part of this community and are one hundred percent invested in the Saint Charles area," she affirms. "We live above the shop, so we're about as 'small business' as it gets!" This dedication to Main Street is part of what makes her shop so popular each day; cooks and bakers of all skill levels know to come to Carol for advice and guidance with their dishes. "Since everyone eats, we have the privilege of seeing just about everyone in the metro area. We see occasional cooks and avid cooks, restaurant chefs, hunters, bakers - you name it!"
Carol is not only invested in the community, she's devoted much of her life to the shop and its success. Established in 1984, the Olde Town Spice Shoppe was bought by her family in 1994. She and her husband John then purchased the shop from her parents about four years ago. "I remember coming here with my mom when I was a teenager," Carol recalls. This generational legacy is one Carol holds dear to her heart and many of her customers have been coming to the shop since the early "Molly and Ray" days when the original owners ran the store. This family business is now a part of countless family meals across the St. Charles and St. Louis area. "I had a lightbulb realization about two years ago," she smiles. "Our spices and foods were literally on thousands of Thanksgiving tables. What an ultimate place of honor to be part of the days where you break bread with family and friends; as you enjoy family recipes handed down through the generations and remember those who are no longer here. I can't think of a better reward for a business like ours."
The St. Charles community knows that Olde Town Spice Shoppe is the place to find exactly what you need for a recipe. "Grocery stores have evolved to have fewer and fewer ingredients. We carry everything you need, even hard-to-find ingredients," says Carol, gesturing to the many carefully-labeled shelves stocked with hand-packed spices. Whole vanilla bean, saffron, and hartshorn - or Bakers Ammonia - are just a few of the many elusive ingredients the shop keeps stocked year-round.
When it comes to spices and ingredient combinations, Carol and John discover first-hand how, through their world travels, to season even the most unusual dishes. They have visited countries all over the globe, trying dishes in the outback, South Africa, Malawi, all over Europe, and even had guinea pig while hiking in Peru. "When you're in Peru, that's what you do," she laughs. This global perspective has given them a look into how different cultures prepare their food and cook, giving them not only interesting stories but a more in-depth knowledge of their own store and what they offer.
Carol's priorities for the shop are to offer affordable products of the highest quality and to be a completely green store, a quality not often seen. "We use recyclable, BPA-free plastics for our spices and teas. We no longer use plastic grocery bags and we recycle 99.9% of our waste. We don't even have a trash service, it's all recycled." This extraordinary care reflects their respect for the community and the earth that they traverse.
Alongside the hundreds of spices, a hearty collection of teas, salsa, hot sauces, popcorn, dips, gifts, and more are available throughout the store. The workers at Olde Town Spice Shoppe are often seen selecting items from shelves with a basket in hand, fulfilling online orders from across the country. Local companies and customers often request gift baskets made for clients and out-of-town visitors, filled with items everyone can enjoy while boasting the flavors and hometown charm of Saint Charles. And with Saint Charles' Christmas Traditions starting this week, the historic district will be flooded with tourists and residents coming to support small businesses in the community while checking off names on their gift lists.
Olde Town Spice Shoppe will be celebrating the holiday season with the Foundry Art Centre on Sunday, December 4 at the (sold out) Mommy & Me Nutcracker Tea, providing special holiday blend teas and hot cocoa for the tea party. "We are proud to be a co-sponsor of the Nutcracker Tea," says Carol. "It's an occasion to come together and share special moments centered around tea - well, it seemed a natural fit for us!" She will also be bringing teas and special Christmas items for sale that afternoon.
Carol supports the Arts in Saint Charles because creating meals is in art within itself. "You gather together your meat, fruits, vegetables and you design with passion and love. The arts are about expressing yourself, whether you are creating with a paintbrush, a potter's wheel, or a spoon," she explains. "We support the arts because it's the creative spark that gives life meaning, which keeps moving us forward."
Everyone is welcome at Olde Town Spice Shoppe Monday through Saturday from 10:30am - 4:30pm and on Sunday from noon to 4:30pm. Nestled between Siostra Pottery and Ooh La La! on the east side of Main Street Saint Charles, the store is packed with the perfect gifts and flavors for everyone on your shopping list this holiday season.
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.