Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores remind customers of another era - a time when life was slower and more relaxed, and people had time for home-cooked meals. With a big front porch, hardwood floors and a working fireplace, the combination retail store and restaurant has a turn-of-the-century feel. The retailer's newest concept, called The Store, brings that same country atmosphere to a mall location.

The Store, the first retail-only Cracker Barrel location, opened on July 5 at Hickory Hollow Mall in Nashville, Tenn. The concept has been in development for the past two years.

"We decided it was just time," says Rick Parsons, senior vice president of retail for the Lebanon, Tenn.-based company. "We developed The Store because our retail concept has evolved to the point where it can stand alone." Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, which first opened its doors in 1969, currently has 404 locations in 37 states. From the beginning, retail was part of the concept.

Founder and CEO Dan Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store - which included a gas station, restaurant and gift shop - so travelers could have a place to rest and refuel. In the mid-1970s, Cracker Barrel stopped selling gasoline because of the oil embargo, but the restaurant and retail concept continued to grow.

"At that time, the interstate system was relatively young," says Julie Davis, corporate communications director for Cracker Barrel. "Evins thought that if people are traveling someplace, they are going to come back. He wanted to treat people like friends rather than customers."

In keeping with that philosophy, Cracker Barrel has strived to offer high-quality products at the lowest possible prices, Davis says. Many of the products in The Store will be the same as or similar to the products sold in traditional Cracker Barrel locations. However, the mall location will have more emphasis on home furnishings, collectibles and apparel. For example, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store might sell a mug as a gift or souvenir, while The Store, focusing on home decor, might sell a set of mugs.

"We see this as an opportunity for attracting folks who are in a different frame of mind," Parsons says. "We are expecting customers who are a little bit younger, people who are thinking about home decorating."

The mall store will likely draw more local customers, rather than travelers, but the company expects to see a lot of customers who are already familiar with Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. Just like at the traditional Cracker Barrel locations, the mall store sells the popular Hinkle rockers.

"What excites me is how faithful the designers have been," Davis says. "The store is in a mall, yet you walk in and you know you are in a Cracker Barrel. There is a front porch and a working fireplace. It feels like Cracker Barrel."

The 4,000 sq. ft. store also contains display tables made by Hinkle. In addition to home decor products, the store sells a variety of take-home foods such as candy and pecan logs.

Cracker Barrel chose Hickory Hollow Mall for its first retail-only store because of its proximity to company headquarters. "We see this as a laboratory," Davis says. "We're tinkering with it, and needed it to be close to us."

As of now, the company has not made any solid decisions about expansion. If the concept is successful, though, Cracker Barrel will likely roll out The Store. "We would consider opening more of The Store in the future, depending on how it does," Parsons says. "But we haven't yet defined success."

Contact: Julie Davis, corporate communications director, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, P.O. Box 787, Hartmann Drive, Lebanon, TN 37087; (615) 443-5533.