Upon entering Uncle Tom’s Market on Pleasant Street, I was immediately greeted by André—a bouncy, moplike bichon frise—who hangs out there with his owner, Dan Bouthot. Dan inherited the store from his father, Leoneide Thomas “Uncle Tom” Bouthot. As uncle to more than a dozen nieces and nephews, the market’s name is homage to a family man. Yet, the namesake is often confused for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic antislavery novel.

“It has nothing to do with what people keep saying. In fact, we were written up in the Chicago paper. I keep the clipping at the front of the store. Are you kidding? It has nothing to do with Harriet Beecher Stowe,” Dan said. “Everyone called him Uncle Tom.”

André is the third of three bichon frises that have graced the store, documented in a series of photographs laminated on the counter. Uncle Tom loved the dogs. “He would finish his meal, pick the dog up, put her on the countertop where he had just gotten his meal, feed whatever scraps were on his plate, and watch TV for the rest of the afternoon,” Dan said.

Every night, Dan cooks for his wife and daughter in the back of his store. “I work 60 hours a week,” he said. “It’s just what I do if I want to spend a meal with them.” Once he roasted an entire pig.

“On anniversaries, he makes scallops,” his daughter, Gabrielle, added. “And on Valentine’s, and Mother’s Day.”

“I mean, [the store is] good for him and it’s great to keep it in the family, but balance is hard,” his wife, Maggie, commented. “Which is why we adapt, why we have suppers here. We just do what we need to do to be together.”

“Talking about beer, that’s what I do,” Dan said about his job. “I try enough of them to help customers pick them, and people are happy with the choices I help them make. I’m not a professional by any means. I’m completely self-taught. But I keep my ears open for information.”

Yet, the store offers some other things that have grabbed customers’ attention. On the wall opposite the checkout counter, there are racks of pornographic magazines.

“I mean, there’s a demand for it,” Dan comments. “I hate the fact that I have them, but now that they’re here, they are a draw.”

Stranger things have been sold here. When Uncle Tom was still around, the shop sold 40 suits of armor within five weeks. “Those were cheap Mexican knockoffs,” Dan admitted.
Their customers can be strange, too. One has a name that’s a phrase, Bobby Rocks. 
“He legally changed it,” affirmed Gabrielle, Dan’s daughter.

One woman, known as “Moose Lady,” brings in stuffed animals to show Dan and his family. 
“She brought in her brand-new boots the other day, to make sure I knew she had boots this winter,” Dan said.

“She’s lonely,” Dan said. “And belligerent sometimes.”

“He’s like a bartender,” Maggie noted. “You know, just listening to people.”

“I hear everybody’s problems. Sometimes I can offer information, sometimes I can’t,” Dan said. 

“Opening up and talking to people it what is part of what it is, it’s the business,” he said.
“Good at heart, that’s what you need to be.”