Tin-framed chalkboards, tasty lemon curd, colorful metal roosters and hand sanitizers packaged with a risqué saying are among the many treasures awaiting shoppers at Fat Pilgrim in Sonoma.
Three buildings and a garden are thoughtfully arranged with unique items at this contemporary general store, a south-of-town location old-timers and baby boomers may remember as the Jackpot gas station, among many incarnations.
Sonoma resident Craig Miller, 50, opened Fat Pilgrim four years ago, envisioning it as a tourist stop. Instead, locals account for the majority of his business.
Often, they stop by looking for hostess gifts from among the novelty items, home décor, food, handcrafted jewelry, housewares or whimsical objects on display.
“I can’t tell you how many times we hear that,” said Miller, who also owns Harvest Home stores in Sonoma and Corte Madera and, with partner Tim Farfan, the historic Sonoma Hotel on the downtown Plaza.
Miller works with local artisans and visits gift shows in Atlanta and Dallas for the bulk of his merchandise. He also heads to Vermont and New Hampshire every two years to fill a truck with antique discoveries like the weathered barn doors that have become increasingly popular.
He has a knack for finding unique items that add charm or character to a room, from accessories to bedroom quilts, cozy throws and signs that declare, “I love you to the moon and back.”
In addition to soaps, lotions, jams, barbecue sauce and olive oil all locally produced under the private Fat Pilgrim label, the store also specializes in home furnishings. Popular items include vintage-inspired tractor-seat bar stools, handcrafted redwood-slab dining tables, plus contemporary farmhouse sofas, chairs, ottomans and sectionals made in California and customized from among 300 fabrics and numerous sizes and styles.
Often, says Miller, updating a room with a throw rug, cushy pillow or artwork can change a person’s outlook.
“Those simple, inexpensive things can change your view,” he said. “When your pieces change, it makes you feel better.”
Miller brings some humor to Fat Pilgrim with things like chewing gum with novelty packaging and cookbooks like “Pork,” subtitled “More than 50 Heavenly Meals that Celebrate the Glory of Pig, Delicious Pig.”
Many farm animals are spotted for sale, from those metal roosters of varying heights to watercolor cows reproduced from photographs Miller took at his father’s cattle ranch in Texas, where the shopkeeper grew up.
Vintage-inspired Christmas ornaments and decorations are currently on display, with garden furniture and décor popular all year.
Visitors can discover a line of confections like Candy Cane Taffy and Mini Licorice Allsorts candies packaged with pretty ribbons, or a cob of corn ready for popping. There are scented candles like Beach Fire and Sicilian Fig; polka-dot mixing bowls; even fashionable eyeglasses for reading that “are not your normal drug store glasses,” Miller said.
Reminiscent of a roadside general store with unexpected finds – and complete with retro soda pop like Bubble Up – Fat Pilgrim lives up to its name suggesting happiness and abundance.
“Pilgrims were hard-working,” Miller said. “I thought if there was one fat Pilgrim in town, he’d be the happiest.”
Miller hopes to share the happiness with more people. Plans are underway to convert one of his buildings into a wine tasting room in the springtime, encouraging tourists to stop by, sip wine – and shop.