It’s somehow fitting that the 103-year-old Kratzer Bros. Mercantile store that was home to Otto Kratzer and his camera is once again a community focal point that is used to display art and serve as an event space in Volland, Kan., a tiny hamlet about 8 miles southwest of Alma. Alma is about 100 miles west of Kansas City, just south of Interstate 70 on K-99.
In 1905, Bill Kratzer invited his younger brother Otto to join him in his general store. Otto had a serious interest in photography and for three years he used a camera with glass plate negatives. In 1908 he bought a Kodak postcard camera that produced negatives the size of penny postcards. With this camera he documented the store and its visitors for more than 65 years. His pictures paint a historic portrait of Flint Hills life.
Otto’s vibrant spirit and reverence for Flint Hills life is budding once again because Patty and Jerry Reece of Mission Hills have restored the general store and turned it into an art gallery and event space with a small loft for overnight stays. Now called the Volland Store, it shines once again like a jewel among the flint rocks.
The two-story brick building, built in 1913, originally had five bedrooms and living quarters on the second floor. The first-floor store carried a wide range of items, from farm supplies to penny candy, fishing poles and any item necessary for daily life. It was also a community center for the nearly 400 people who lived nearby.
After Otto died in 1971 the building was closed. Over the years a persistent leak caused the roof and interior floors to collapse. Karen Durso, Otto’s granddaughter who lives in Tennessee, held on to the building.
Patty said her interest in the Volland Store grew while she was curating an exhibit of Kratzer’s extensive photo archive for display during the 2011 Symphony in the Flint Hills concert. She and her husband, who have owned a place near Alma since 2000, had prior experience with the renovation of old buildings, and they were intrigued with the store.
“The local people talked about the photos so much that it made me see how important they were to the town,” says Patty. And so the Reeces acquired the property in 2012. “We’ve always chosen buildings with good bones,” adds Patty.
Ms. Durso loaned Otto’s extensive photo archive to Greg Hoots, local historian, so he could digitize the photos. Ms. Durso also loaned Greg 18 reels of 8-millimeter movies and those have been turned into Volland Memories: The Kratzer Films, made possible through funding from the Kansas Humanities Council.
Even though the bones of the building were sound, reconstructing it from the inside out was a major project. Patty engaged David Dowell, a principal at El Dorado, Kansas City architects; Don McMican, DGM Consultants, structural engineer; and George Terbovich, to come up with a plan. Don Hendricks of Alma and his crew of Andy Badeker, Rocky Spittles and Sean Umberger did the construction.
In October of 2013 the Reeces hosted a party to honor the 100th anniversary of the building and to mark the completion of rubble removal. More than 400 people attended. In 2015 the completed building was awarded a Design Excellence Architectural Citation and the People’s Choice Award by the American Institute of Architects Kansas City.
The Store is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Volland Store Fund has been established within the Kansas Rural Communities Foundation (TheKRCF.org) so that anyone can support the cultural and educational work of the Store. Information about upcoming events and loft rental can be found at TheVollandStore.com.
Upcoming exhibits include portraits from Scott Stebner’s book, Kansas Farmer, opening on March 6. Proceeds from Stebner’s book go toward scholarships. An exhibition of large-scale works on paper by Ky Anderson, Meg Lipke and Vicki Sher opens on April 10.