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Eau Claire native returns to open home goods store

Becca+Cooke+sits+in+Red%27s+Mercantile+amidst+her+Midwestern+sourced+products.+
Becca Cooke sits in Red's Mercantile amidst her Midwestern sourced products.

Becca Cooke sits in Red's Mercantile amidst her Midwestern sourced products.

Becca Cooke sits in Red's Mercantile amidst her Midwestern sourced products.


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Becca Cooke sits in Red's Mercantile amidst her Midwestern sourced products.

Becca Cooke opened Red’s Mercantile to feature Midwestern products in a Scandinavian style, a design decision inspired by her Norwegian heritage. © 2016 Amanda Thao

By Amanda Thao

With a modern white exterior and vast windows, pedestrians squint past the afternoon sun for a closer look at Red’s Mercantile, the new home goods store located on the corner of Wisconsin and North Dewey Street. Through its metal-handled red door, the shop is full of filtered sunlight and surrounded in warm earthy hues. Incense mingles fresh in the air and soft alternative rock music plays quietly in the background. Traces of the traditional Midwestern Eau Claire vibe have dissipated with the introduction of Red’s simplistic Scandinavian inspired interior design. Once inside, customers are greeted by Becca Cooke, the founder of Red’s Mercantile.

Having lived a whirlwind of a life so far, Becca Cooke graduated college, traveled the world and held various jobs. At 27, she settled back in her hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to open her own business.

The successful creation of Red’s Mercantile was the result of spontaneity. Cooke sits on a plush couch and sips coffee from a clay cup as she recounts her experiences after college, what eventually led her back to Eau Claire and the source of inspiration behind the branding of her brick-and-mortar store.

“It all started with the location,” she said, her glasses reflecting soft sunrays as she slightly turns to glance at a passing car. Cooke was walking along the same street just months ago when she spotted an empty storefront. Wanting to somehow be a part of the downtown Eau Claire scene and craving for a creative outlet after previously working at a high stress job, Cooke took a chance and opened Red’s Mercantile in November of 2015.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to put in the store, but I knew I wanted to do something,” she said.

Being Norwegian, Cooke pulls a significant amount of design inspiration from her roots, but it was after visiting Europe that she found an even greater appreciation for the Scandinavian lifestyle.

“People bike to work, everything in their homes are there for a purpose and are purposefully arranged,” she said. “They live much simpler.”

Red’s Mercantile incorporates greater areas of white space and the products are styled to reflect her heritage. This alone contrasts with most stores in the area that make greater use of their shelving, but it allows for Red’s Midwestern products to speak for themselves at a greater volume, she said.

Cooke said she understands the uniqueness of her venture and has since hired two employees and one intern to assist her.

Working as a Red’s Mercantile sales associate, Cassie Okamoto admires Cooke’s goals and looks forward to the business’s future.

“I’m excited that the store exists because it is a place for local artists to get their wares out there and I hope that Eau Claire jumps on the wagon with us and helps to support that so the community can grow,” she said.

Post-collegiate life began normally for Cooke. After graduating with a double major in Public Relations and Marketing, she went on to work for an integrated marketing firm in Minneapolis, pitching clients. But after a year of working at a desk, she took some time off.

Cooke would switch from waitress to European traveler, going back and forth between the two until she picked up an internship for a congressional campaign in Minnesota. She was quickly promoted to Finance Director, kicking off her political career. After raising 3.7 million dollars in Palm Springs, Cooke made the decision to come back home.

“It was a high stress job and I was living in the desert. I wanted to be by lakes and rivers and trees, so I decided my heart was more at home,” she said. “My values are here and the people I care about are here.”

Once back home, Cooke said that her parents were supportive of her endeavors. In turn, she values them as role models because of their incredibly strong work ethic and value system.

“When thinking about business ethics, I think about my parents and what they would do,” she said.

Opening a business isn’t difficult, Cooke said. She offers advice for those that dream of becoming entrepreneurs.

“Just start today,” she said, “no matter what you’re doing.”

Cooke launched Red’s Mercantile without taking out loans or borrowing funds, completely funding the business from her own savings account. She advises saving up for your dream and hopes others realize it is easy to start your own business.

“In Wisconsin, we’re encouraged to pursue blue and white collar jobs, there isn’t a lot of encouragement toward risk and doing something new or different, but know that you can do it,” Cooke said.

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Eau Claire native returns to open home goods store