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Conversations with Rainbow Shultz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rainbow Shultz.

Hi Rainbow, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
“The Merc” as The Jamestown Mercantile Cafe is affectionately known in our tiny mountain town and has consistently served our community since 1892! I fell in love with the town and The Merc from the minute I walked in the doors. Jamestown is a unique village in that there is a really strong sense of community and love of the beauty of the Rocky Mountains around us, and it is made up of some very fun and wacky individuals.

There is an acceptance of wildness and real individuality that I adore. I had just finished getting my master’s in social work and had my first baby when I had the opportunity to buy this eccentric and lovable hole in the wall. The Merc has been a real labor of love ever since. It has been one of the most fun places that anyone could spend a decade. Our mountain community is constantly giving to the business; in a sense, it is owned by the whole area. It’s like our local shared living room. We have live music, and local and nationally touring musicians visiting us to play a few times a week, all year long.

We get great produce from our local farm friends, amazing kombucha from our local kombucha maker, Juliens Ciffhouse, beer and wine from great partners, and best of all, The Merckers are some of the best most hilarious folks that you could ever work beside. It’s been described as “irreverent service.” We’re grateful for the customers who love us, the folks that appreciate a bit of a dive with a heart of gold.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There have been some substantial obstacles! We’ve had a pretty interesting time. In September 2013, a flood came through that devastated our town. It was truly heartbreaking. Our best friend, mentor, and inspiring figure to our whole town, Joey Howlett, was killed in a mudslide immediately. Many of our town residents lost their homes. We were airlifted out with helicopters after a few days of being surrounded by mudslides in the canyon, but rebuilding took years.

Our Mayor Tara Shoedinger was an incredible leader and convinced the larger government entities involved that we were worth saving, but it was still an incredibly long journey. The canyon roads Lefthand Canyon and James Canyon were completely wiped out. For the first year, it took two hours for all of the displaced community residents to drive other back roads to return to town to gather weekly at The Merc.

During that year, we opened on the weekends and served all food and drinks with a donation jar. Those who were able to pay took care of those who weren’t and the system worked for the entire year. Nobody could live in town as there were no roads or water, we had a cistern and a pump and had water delivered and pumped into the 120-year-old building.

Musicians came to play for us, it was a special time for us to support each other. Baptists and Mennonites from around the country showed up and helped rebuild our town and we got to know each other by sharing dinner at The Merc as well. In 2020, as no one can forget, the global pandemic shut us down. We changed our business model to what we called the CSC- Community Supported Cafe.

We signed households up for 8-week periods and then delivered everyone dinner, drinks, and dessert to share while we all watched the zoom concert happening at The Merc in an empty dining room. We had hundreds of participants who all helped get us through a pandemic that closed a lot of other small businesses. Our Merckers were able to stay employed as cooks and delivery folks, and we all rolled with a weird year.

The following summer, our best friend and owner of Moxie Bread Co., Andy Clark brought his mobile pizza oven up the canyon to set up outside The Merc. With the help and blessing of The Town of Jamestown, we moved the entire dining room outside as well as the music stage, and all food and drinks, and we had a beautiful summer gathering in the park, cooking and eating pizza together by the creek while listening to live music. Our friends and community’s love and support made it an amazing success.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
The mission behind The Merc is to walk the fine line between a lovable dive and a quality restaurant. We play every day with the idea of creating a space where outcasts, mountain dwellers, old hippies, and wealthy vegan health nuts can all feel welcome and happy. We also want The Merc to be a place where all employee Merckers feel truly valued.

We don’t do the “the customer is always right” type of corporate mentality- we are creating a space full of music and fun people making great food, and we want to invite all types of people to be a part of the party. (But we also laugh at the folks who treat the employees without gratitude and respect) The Dream that is The Merc is the creation of a socialist pirate artist’s dream of a capitalist eating and drinking establishment and seeing what that looks like. We have amazing musicians, fun customers, fun Merckers, and very beautiful mountains all around us.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
Jamestown is the best little town on Earth. Fine, if it had an ocean beach, that would make it even better.

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