Karen Auman fondly remembers drinking Uwharrie Mercantile’s coffee in the middle of the forest. She was acting as a trail volunteer at Yates Place campsite during the annual Uwharrie Trail
Karen Auman fondly remembers drinking Uwharrie Mercantile’s coffee in the middle of the forest. She was acting as a trail volunteer at Yates Place campsite during the annual Uwharrie Trail Thru Hike — a four-day, 40-mile backpacking trip — when Dana Dawson met her with a warm smile and a jug full of coffee for some 100 hikers. Auman had asked Dawson, owner of the mercantile, to bring refreshments to the site ahead of time. She knew that the hikers would be invigorated by both Dawson’s hospitality and her special gourmet coffee blend. “Not all trail angels are on the trail,” Auman says.
Auman has been a regular customer of Uwharrie Mercantile since her first sip of their coffee in 2018. For her and many others, the café, located on North Main Street in Troy, is the unofficial gateway to Uwharrie National Forest. Officially, it’s the first stop on the Discover Uwharrie Welcome Center’s passport program, which awards silver medallions to anyone who visits 10 designated sites within the region. Outdoor adventurers like Auman have found that the mercantile is a special place in a fairly remote area, and the locals in the small Montgomery County town think so, too.
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Uwharrie Mercantile is located on the first floor of the historic Hotel Troy building. Dana — whose father is from Troy — and her husband, Ray, purchased the building in 2017 and opened the café that August. Neither had any restaurant experience, but they had a vision of saving the old building and creating a place where people could gather to relax and reminisce. Originally, they just sold coffee and baked goods, but they quickly expanded to lunch service on weekdays.
The food includes simple but delicious sandwiches, like homemade chicken salad on a freshly baked croissant and pimento cheese on sourdough; scratch-made soups in the winter; salads in the summer; and lots of North Carolina-made treats — Karen’s Fried Pies, cheesecakes made by Laramie’s Cakery, keto goodies by Make “Mia” Cake, and homemade ice cream from Homeland Creamery. Dana spends her days walking back and forth across the honeycomb tile, checking on customers and listening to their memories of Hotel Troy and all its iterations.
Dr. Frank Thompson Sr. opened the 1909 building as Dr. Thompson’s Sanatorium, the first medical clinic in Montgomery County. In 1926, the building became Hotel Troy, boasting everything that a busy town needed: A dining room, shoeshine stand, and drugstore were located on the main floor, while a barbershop, grocery store, and photography studio occupied the basement. The hotel ceased operations around 1953, but the drugstore stayed open for another 30 years. After it closed, the building housed a variety of businesses before falling into disrepair.
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The Dawsons have placed vestiges of the building’s past lives throughout the café. The cashier booth and the stained-glass transom that led from the main lobby to the dining room are still around. The brass foot rail from the soda fountain runs along the coffee bar, and the original Hotel Troy sign is displayed prominently on the back wall. “It’s so neat that you get to live in the present but have this connection with the past,” Dana says.
In a corner of the shop, next to a mannequin dressed in a Troy High School cheerleader uniform once worn by one of Dana’s relatives, she keeps a leather journal displayed on an antique dresser. She encourages visitors to write down their memories in it, or to thumb through its pages and read others: Dave Harris’s story of accidentally getting locked in the drugstore as a child while looking at comic books in the window; Howard Nod’s recollection of his grandmother Emma Cotton — who ran the hotel during World War II — allowing hotel porters to listen to the radio in her 1936 Chevy. What you won’t find in the pages of the journal? The rumor that a young Andy Griffith stopped into the hotel while visiting his first wife’s family, who happened to be from Troy.
Auman believes that the Dawsons and the mercantile — the building’s history and charm — have helped bring people back to Main Street. “When you open the old double doors and walk on the tile floor, it takes you back in time,” Auman says. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a great place to get a treat and a cup of coffee before starting an early morning hike.