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Bell Mercantile Building predates Oak Creek

Oak Creek — Before Oak Creek was called Oak Creek, the town was named after the Bell building and its owners. — Before Oak Creek was called Oak Creek, the town was named after the Bell building and its owners.
— Before Oak Creek was called Oak Creek, the town was named after the Bell building and its owners.

In 1895, Ed and Sam Bell subdivided their ranch with a few streets and called it Bell Town. In the middle of town, they built a general store and called it Bell Mercantile. The store served as a distribution center for all types of goods for the mines and ranches of South Routt County, said Johnny ManChac, co-owner of the building.

The building stands at the corner of Main and Moffat, even though the name of the town was changed in 1907 to match the creek that flowed through it.

Anyone who has driven through Oak Creek has seen it. Eyes are drawn to its east-facing side, adorned with about 30 rusty metal signs from the early 20th century.

The eye-catching signs, reminiscent of soda fountains and old drug stores, have been collected over the years by townspeople and the current owners. Some signs advertise national companies, while others have more local messages. One sign reads “Finger Rock Rearing Unit” with an arrow pointing south toward the Finger Rock butte south of Yampa.

The owners, Ken and Johnny ManChac, who own and operate a ranch at the foot of the Flat Tops Wilderness near Yampa, have kept antiques not only on the outer façade of the building but also on the inside.

In the front section of the building, which they have converted into an antique shop, they have collected old ranching tools, tins, signs, clocks, trinkets and a safe that has been in the building since the Bells first opened the mercantile.

The antiques will be sold along with the historic building and its furnishings for $198,000, reduced from $345,000.

“The assets alone are worth it,” Johnny ManChac said. “But it’s also an important building. Everyone passes by it and glances at it because it’s interesting.”

The ManChacs are trying to devote more time to their ranch, and because they also spend a lot of time with family in Texas, Johnny ManChac said they need to simplify.

“We hope the building is kept as original as possible, but we just can’t spend as much time as we would like there,” she said. “The shop has just become secondary.”

The building remained a general store until the 1970s, when housing became so great a demand that the owner gutted the interior and renovated it to create five apartments.

Over the years, the apartments have served as long-term rentals, hotel rooms, and even a doctor’s office, ManChac said. A small section of the storefront remains partitioned for the antique shop, and there is an office just behind that.

All the apartments are furnished, and all the furnishings will also be sold with the building.

Realtor Jane Stitt of Town and Country Properties said the building could be used for a variety of purposes, but she thinks continuing to sell antiques, arts or crafts would be a sure-fire success in the old building.

The ManChacs restored the building in the 1970s when they purchased it. Johnny ManChac said they have maintained it regularly over the past 25 years to keep it “running beautifully,” she said.

— To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com