March 18, 2001 11:00 pm

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE It will be a step back in time if a historic store here reopens.

Brothers Don and Eldon Foster, owners of the E.M.&M. Building, have joined forces with the Enterprise Hometown Group to create a general store of 1925.

If their dream comes true, the store will be stocked with merchandise popular with 1925 shoppers and the clerks will dress in 1925-era clothing, right down to celluloid collars.

While theyre selling merchandise, the clerks will tell the story of the past. Only 1920s-era merchandise will be sold.

Enterprise residents will have an opportunity to talk about the project during a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Odd Fellows Hall, next to the Enterprise Library.

E.M.&M. Building, formerly known as the Berland Building, sits across Main Street from the Wallowa County Courthouse and, like the courthouse, is built from local Bowlby stone.

The Fosters are donating about 40 percent of the building for the project. The goal is to reopen the store by 2004.

Nostalgic merchandise, including restored antiques and locally produced goods, is expected to create a market for emerging cottage industries to fill the demand.

We believe theres a market for this type of merchandise, hometown improvement group project manager Mike Koloski said. There are several companies selling old stuff, mostly in the east.

A long-term business strategy is being formulated through the Wallowa County Business Facilitators.

Profits from the historic store will go into other community development projects. One full-time and two part-time employees, funded through grants, will be hired by the group.

The E.M.&M. Building was operated by the Enterprise Mercantile and Milling Company, which opened in Enterprise in 1887.

In 1916, the company constructed a new building that was the largest of its type between Portland and Boise. It was complete with a second story mezzanine that carried ladies fashions.

The entire ground floor was retail space, and in the basement were the latest boys toys of the time farm machinery and implements.

Still there is the big wooden ramp from the basement on which equipment and vehicles were driven in and out from the alley.

The building even sported an elevator.

The third floor and portions of the second provided top quality residences for key store employees and some rental housing for other members of the gentry.

Provisions will be made to continue providing apartments for current residents and office and floor space for todays commercial tenants.