Spending a winter afternoon in Weston, Vermont, home of The Vermont Country Store, is just like taking a step back in time.
When I was in fifth grade my summer friend, Tracy Romana, and I walked down to the corner store. I don’t remember it being a big deal, but I am sure it was, two fifth grade girls walking a mile round trip by ourselves. It was late July and we were probably wearing flip flops. We bought penny candy and cans of Dr. Pepper. On the walk back, we ate every bit of sugary sweetness we purchased, except for a few swigs of soda that we poured on the hot pavement, just to watch it fizz. Everything tasted so delicious: Swedish fish–squishy and warm–followed by gummy worms, a piece of chocolate, Dr. Pepper; repeat. But then the spins came. When we got back to the beach, I hopped on a tree swing and Tracy twisted it up and up, like we always did during the summer. But I was high on sugar and after spinning and spinning and spinning on that tree swing, it took me years to be able to even look at a can of Dr. Pepper without feeling nauseous.
But, now it’s 30 years later, and I am past all of that. Sugar and I have reconciled. I am totally fine with it. I am a mature adult who has control over my candy cravings.
Here I am in Vermont, in the serene village of Weston, where the Village Green and the surrounding homes and buildings are untouched by time.
This is one of those small towns where it looks perfectly normal to see a horse-drawn carriage clip-clopping down Main Street right past the general store. (In fact, that just happens to be my cousin Karl Pfister, who gives horse drawn carriage, wagon, and sleigh rides in nearby Landgrove.)
And in the case of Weston, Vermont, the general store is The Vermont Country Store.
I push open the front door. As I step over the threshold, I take one of those metaphorical steps back in time.
I see rows and rows of candy, jars of chocolate, nonpareils, a mind-boggling amount of sweetness. I feel like one of those kids in a candy store with allowance money and without parental supervision—the perfect combination. For me, it feels like 1984 all over again, pre-sugar coma, but that is my perspective. Nostalgia is personal, so for those entering before or after me, they all probably travel back to their own memory…of being a kid in a candy store, or perhaps some other nostalgic destination.
The Ortons, proprietors of the Vermont Country Store, have carried on the family tradition of founders Vrest and Ellen Orton who published their first catalog in 1945 and mailed it to the people on their Christmas card list. The mail order business prospered and they opened the brick and mortar Vermont Country Store in Weston in 1946 selling merchandise that was both durable and practical, according to Vrest’s true Yankee spirit. The business was also inspired by Vrest’s father’s general store in North Calais, Vermont, which opened in 1897. The Weston shop, where I am today soaking in all the smells and visions, was the first restored rural general store in the nation.
“I can still recall my father’s store, where most of the men came in the evenings to wait for the horse-drawn stage that brought the mail from Montpelier, thirteen miles away,” Vrest Orton said. “The store was warm and cozy. It smelled of harness, coffee, smoky kerosene lamps, tobacco, and pine wood burning in the big stove.”
The 21st century version of The Vermont Country Store certainly lives up to its tagline, The Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find. Today, The Vermont Country Store is owned by Lyman Orton and sons Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot, 7th & 8th generation Vermonters, and 4th & 5th generation storekeepers.
Inside the store, they even share the timeline of the company’s history as well as a scale museum in one section of the store. Characteristic of the fifth grade version of myself, I move through the “museum” part quickly.
I weave my way past the candy section. Everything is glistening and beautiful. Just beyond the candy is pure Vermont maple syrup, all the grades, in different bottles and different forms. When I was in fifth grade, I poured Aunt Jemima on my pancakes. The first time I tasted pure maple syrup, though it tasted unfamiliar, thereafter there was never a choice, never. I still don’t understand why I ever put brown sugar in oatmeal. Why?
The toy section is filled with the Fischer Price toys just like the ones stored in my parents’ attic (except these are in fresh crisp boxes); plus, neatly lined rows with Slinky boxes; sock monkeys (some of them being mischievous in the linen section); marbles; and toys made in America and out of wood, not plastic.
Then, it’s on to the health and beauty section with hard to find products like Evening in Paris, Tangee Lipstick, and Anti-Monkey Butt Powder.
The clothing section features time-honored classics.
Finally, I make it to my favorite section because the truth is, even though I feel like a kid in candy store, the child and adult in me loves cheese and savory bites and here I am in the midst of samples galore. After traveling back in time so far, I am hungry!
No doubt this is a superb selection. It features some of Yankee‘s Food Award winners like Vermont Smoke and Cure, Effie’s Oatcakes and our sister publication, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
I look outside and realize the sun has set. It takes about two hours to tour the store, but I think that I’ve done what many people do when they visit: I just spent an entire afternoon (and a bit of time reliving my childhood) here.
To plan a trip to The Vermont Country Store in Weston or Rockingham, Vermont, visit their website: www.vermontcountrystore.com. To find out about other special events like Christmas in Weston , plus places to stay, shop, and eat in Weston, visit: westonvt.com.