Jeff Kinney and his wife, Julie, moved to Plainville 15 years ago. With a job in Boston that required lots of traveling, Jeff wanted an easy commute to the Boston and Providence airports. Julie, on the other hand, wanted to stay close to her family in Worcester. They drew some circles on a map and right in the middle of the diagram was Plainville. With an ideal location, the decision to settle down in Plainville quickly became a no-brainer.
Jeff, who studied computer science in college and worked as a game designer, also sold millions of copies of his book series, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid". The books have been translated into many different languages and are sold worldwide. Even the Vatican released a Latin version of the book. "Sometimes I sit across from a kid in Madrid, Spain or in Brazil and we don't share a language or a culture, but we share these stories," says Jeff. "I think it's that we have childhood in common, it's a universal language."
The Kinneys liked to dream about what they would do if they could afford to buy the old Falk's market, an abandoned landmark in Plainville. Built in the mid-1800s, the old building had been home to a variety of businesses over the years, including a pharmacy and general store. Though it played an important part in the town's history, it was now falling deeper and deeper into ruin. It wasn't until years later, when Jeff's Wimpy Kid series became a best-seller, that what was once just an unlikely idea, became a reality. In 2012, they became the owners of the old building at 111 South Street.
Jeff and Julie knew from the start that they wanted to create a warm and welcoming environment where people would gather and share experiences. Looking for ideas, the couple went into a fifth grade class at the Wood Elementary School to see what the students recommended. "Hopefully it will become part of your lives, and you will know you had the first shot at suggesting what it should be used for", Jeff told the students. Many fun ideas such as a heliport, a giant swimming pool filled with M&Ms, and a video game store came up at the meeting, however they finally decided on a book store.
A structural engineer confirmed that the building was completely unsalvageable, so there weren't any changes that could be made to save it. It was originally built across the street and later pulled to the other side by a team of oxen. Because of this, the building wasn't considered a historical site, and the Kinneys were authorized to demolish it.
The old Falk's market was where everyone got their groceries and general supplies before Target came to town. So many childhood memories had been created there and the owner, Merrill Falk, had been a beloved business owner. It was a difficult day for many when the building came down, so Jeff made it his mission to build a great new building, with every aspect of it telling a story. In May 2015, An Unlikely Story opened for business.
Old pictures were used to replicate what the downtown property looked like many years ago. The front porch was rebuilt since it had such a big role in the community when Falk's Market was around. People would often be found gathering on it, whether it was to watch a parade or just hang out.
Many pieces of furniture in the store were produced by Stephen C. Staples, owner of Creative Art Furniture. The bookshelf above was made out of reclaimed antique pine shelves that were added to a salvaged cart with its original green paint. The re-purposed workbench below was made from pipes and reclaimed flooring with old fruit and vegetable crates that belonged to the original Falk's Market.
The colorful front porch furniture, as well as some interior pieces, were produced by Kapal Furniture. Each piece was made out of recycled wood from Indonesian fishing boats that were damaged during the 2004 Tsunami. All proceeds went back to the fishermen who lost their boats.
Hanging from the ceiling are flying books and brooms. The Harry Potter-themed decor leads you from the children's section to the adult's. Various light fixtures from Restoration Hardware light up the store and create an elegant, yet cozy environment.
In the store's cafe, the old barn wood wrapping the counter was salvaged from a Massachusetts dairy barn. The wood compliments nicely the Carrara marble counters and the blackboard structure built by Franklin Fixtures. Hope's Steel windows are perfect against the exposed brick wall, and personally, I'd like to have them installed in my own home.
Throughout the store, there are wood signs of all of the known businesses that once stood on the property. Though one of the signs is original (General Store, above), the others were all recreated by Providence Painted Signs to be similar in size and design as the original business signs. To see all the signs, click here.
The Second Story of An Unlikely Story hosts community events and private functions. The large space, which includes a kitchen and bathrooms can be divided by a sliding wall, depending on the size of the function. Also located upstairs are the store's management offices, where the furniture is made from reclaimed wood and doors that previously hung in the Falk family's second story home.
Thank you to Jeff and Julie Kinney for creating such a gem in our community.
Big shout out to Shaelyn Germain, Programs Director, for sharing with me all the details of An Unlikely Story.
Old photos courtesy of the Plainville Historical Commission.
Additional references: Mansfield Wicked Local, New York Times, Boston Globe Metro, Boston Globe Magazine, Sun Chronicle, Sun Chronicle 2, Huffington Post Life South of Boston, Long Leaf Lumber, Beals and Thomas, Valley Breeze, Patriot Ledger, Wrentham Times, Plainville Pump, Stowed Stuff, Indie Fresh Press, CNBC, The "Wimpy Kid" Author's Surprising Plan to Save Books.