By Lucas Witman
For those living outside the Northeastern United States, it can be difficult to comprehend the importance of maple syrup to the region’s endemic food culture. In this area, sugar houses have operated for centuries, carefully harvesting the sap from sugar maple trees and transforming it into maple syrup, maple cream, granulated maple sugar and maple candy. Today, the products of these sugar houses are more popular than ever, with specialty food companies going out of their way to incorporate maple into their product lines. Keeping track of all of the maple products currently on the market is a formidable task, but maple maven Mary Hilton has made it her business to do just that. And if there is a maple product available anywhere in the United States, you are likely to find it on display at Hilton’s Potsdam, N.Y. shop Maple Run Emporium.
As a retail space, Maple Run Emporium offers a truly unique shopping experience. Not only does the store contain perhaps the largest selection of maple-related food products in the country, but the space also serves as a gallery for local artists, a kitchenware and home design store and a meeting place for area residents and Potsdam visitors. Since the store’s founding in 2010, Hilton has worked hard to create a welcoming retail space that showcases the best of what her region has to offer.
Hilton’s inspiration for the Maple Run Emporium concept originally evolved out of her admiration for the works of American philosophers Helen and Scott Nearing. The Nearings often wrote about harvesting sap and making maple syrup on their farm in Vermont. Hilton was always attracted to their romantic tales of horse-drawn sleighs and Victorian stone gardens. It was Hilton’s desire to experience the world that the Nearings described, combined with her lifelong love of everything maple, that ultimately led her to open the store.
“The shop is a culmination of everything I love. I love cooking. I love gardening. I love everything about the kitchen,” said Hilton. “Boiling sap from my maple trees to make products for the shop was part of the original idea, and now the plan is to do just that right here.”
Maple Run Emporium quickly became a fixture in Potsdam, a small college town in upstate New York with a population that is very in touch with local food culture. “People are really looking to come to a local shop. Everyone wants to come to a college town and go in and out of the quaint little shops,” said Hilton. “And people want to see things that are locally produced. Almost everything I have in the store is pretty much regional.” Today, Maple Run Emporium has become the place to go in Potsdam for those looking to take in the area’s regionally produced consumables and art.
When it comes to the gourmet offerings at Maple Run Emporium, the store offers just about every type of maple product that one could possibly imagine. Popular specialty food brands like Stonewall Kitchen, Robert Rothschild Farm, The French Farm and Gourmet du Village are all represented. The store offers maple-flavored cheeses such as locally produced Maple Cheddar with Bacon from Lowville Producers Dairy Cooperative. There is a vast selection of maple candy, including Chuao Chocolatier’s Maple Bacon Chocolate Bar and sweets from Hutchinson’s Candy, Saratoga Sweets and Das Lolli. The list of maple products goes on and on, encompassing pancake mixes, frozen desserts, meats, spices, teas, coffees, pickles, jellies, nut butters and more.
Of course, no emporium of maple would be complete without an impressive selection of maple syrups, and Hilton’s store is no exception, featuring two bookcases stocked with every variety of the sweet elixir. The shop owner divulged that she does have her own favorites, most notably the two “tonics” from Noble Handcrafted. She praised Tonic 1, a dark syrup aged in bourbon casks that she feels is particularly rich and flavorful. However, she also has a fondness for the company’s Tonic 2, which is infused with Egyptian chamomile and Tahitian vanilla bean.
In addition to the store’s wide specialty food selection, Maple Run Emporium also offers an equally impressive selection of housewares, including Wüsthof knives, Nordic Ware pancake griddles, Emile Henry pizza stones, Le Creuset batter bowls, Mauviel copper crepe pans and All-Clad cookware. The store’s maple wood products are also popular with customers, including Jonathan’s maple utensils and J.K. Adams cutting boards. Shoppers at Maple Run Emporium can also browse for kitchen gadgets, home textiles, bath products and gift items.
In the store’s relatively short lifespan, Hilton has made it a personal priority to turn Maple Run Emporium into an important part of the community. The store participates in many local events like Potsdam’s annual Summer Fest and First Saturday for college students. In addition, various community gatherings are hosted in the store. . “I do events because they are an opportunity to showcase the shop and attract new customers. They keep the shop active and vibrant,” said Hilton.
What ultimately gets customers in the door of Maple Run Emporium, however, is the delicious smell of maple constantly wafting out the front door, as well as Hilton’s contagious personal passion for maple. “I always loved the flavor of maple,” said Hilton. “It is very important to me.”