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The perfect fit

For a 144-year-old Jacksonville landmark, a couple's specialty food store could be ...

JACKSONVILLE ' Plenty of potential renters desired the old Wade Morgan & Co. General Merchandise building that most recently housed the late Robby Collins' historical artifacts.

The number of suitors allowed Collins' niece Barbara Heyerman to be choosy in picking a tenant for the 144-year-old structure at 120 E. California St. A new couple in town with an old-fashioned idea proved the perfect fit.

Two months ago, David and Constance Jesser opened Jacksonville Mercantile, a specialty foods store.

We thought the mercantile concept was close to some of the prior usages of the building, says Heyerman, who along with her brother and sister have loaned some of their uncle's collection to provide yesteryear ambience. As stewards of the building, we wanted something that would be a nice addition to the community for local people as well as tourists.

Constance Jesser is a graduate of the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She says the 900-square-foot shop is modeled after Dean & Deluca, a New York-based gourmet food seller, and Oakville Grocery Store in the California wine country.

We're offering things close to impossible to find in the Rogue Valley ' at least not at the prices I have them, Jesser says. The kinds of things you would need to go to Eugene, Portland or San Francisco to find.

The store's &

36;60,000 inventory includes exotic tea, olives, honey, sugar, vanilla beans, saffron, caviar, barbecue sauces, Italian, French and sushi products popularized by cable-television culinary shows. She says her products appeal to the gourmet cook, or someone wanting to cook with something different. While the store benefits from the tourist traffic, local residents are its bread-and-butter customers.

Among its Rogue Valley offerings are products from Rising Sun Farms, Rogue Valley Creamery, Heart Song Teas and Lillie Belle Farms as well as Cranberry Sweets of Bandon and Rising Moon Organics of Eugene.

I'm the logistics and sales person, and she's the creative one, says David Jesser. I told her to fill the place with food and spend as much as you want.

Jacksonville Mercantile is also the latest venue for Valley View Winery, which has maintained a tasting room in Jacksonville since 1985 when it was located inside Gary West Meats. Subsequently, the Ruch vintner has operated in the Village Gallery and the Glen Drum Mercantile Building. But when the location was put up for sale earlier this year, Valley View needed a new location.

We put our heads together and decided the food and wine would be wonderful together, says Terri Gieg, who has been pouring Valley View Winery vintages for 23 years.

A decade ago, however, Jacksonville wasn't on the Jessers' radar. David Jesser, 45, was a vice president with Rand Financial Services in Chicago. He previously had been a member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's Index, Options and Markets division as well as the Chicago Board of Options Exchange.

But after reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in the late 1990s, Jesser was ready to break away from the Midwest.

My wife hated the cold weather and I hated the heat, Jesser says. I was 39 and a half and I decided that I've got to create my own wonderful spot.

He kept his hand in commodities, going to work in Sausalito, Calif., for Alaron Trading Corp., a Chicago-based clearinghouse, while Constance opened a specialty cake business in Sonoma.

But Northern California didn't live up to their expectations.

We were looking for someplace we could settle down and be for the rest of our lives, Constance Jesser says. The Bay Area just wasn't for us.

While on a winter vacation on Christmas Eve 2003, the Jessers discovered Jackson County and bought a house on Hill Street in Jacksonville a few months later.

He gets up at 5 a.m. to handle his commodity accounts from his home office, then goes into the store at about 9 o'clock. She comes in a little later, helping customers understand how to use new products. She hopes to offer cooking classes down the road.

We wanted to do something together we loved, David Jesser says. We thought about restaurants and bed and breakfasts, but they can eat up your life.

The perfect fit"business@mailtribune.com.

Constance and David Jesser offer gourmet foods and spices in their new mercantile in Jacksonville. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli