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Why The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt. is My Disney World

For many, this beloved landmark country store in Vermont is as much a part of the New England landscape as the mountains, ocean, small towns, seafood and beacons of light



The Vermont Country Store, Weston, Vt.

The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.


Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo. All photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Story updated on 12/17/2019.

Editor's Note: The following story on The Vermont Country store will remain on this site until Jan. 15, 2020. To make this story permanent on VisitingNewEngland, we will need someone to sponsor this page for a one-time cost of $325.00. If sponsorship occurs, the story will then be permanently linked from the VisitingNewEngland homepage with continuous social media outreach. A lot of time, effort and love went into writing this story on The Vermont Country Store! If interested in sponsoring this page, please write to Eric at VisitingNewEngland. Thanks for your consideration in supporting a local writer and small business owner.

Approaching The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt. reveals the heart of authentic, traditional New England.

Even before arriving at this iconic, old-fashioned retail landmark, the feeling of being in a special region of New England becomes joyfully overwhelming. In the village, the Old Mill Museum -- with its collection of antique tools, machinery and its capability to grind grain -- resides next to a scenic, soothing waterfall.

The Old Mill Museum in Weston, Vt.
Old Mill Museum in Weston.

Old Colonial homes, the Weston Playhouse and a church with a tall white steeple surround the picture postcard-perfect village green. That village green features one of the prettiest gazebos in all of New England, as well as serving as the host to many seasonal community events.

Town common in Weston, Vermont.
Village Green in Weston.



Weston plays every bit the role of a classic, quintessential New England town. Of course, being surrounded by the spectacular Green Mountains makes the village seem all that much more special. It's like those mountains act as a framer of fine art much in the style of a Norman Rockwell or a Currier and Ives painting.

What puts Weston on the "must-visit" New England map, however, centers around its retail district. No, not in the sense of big box stores located around a mall, strip mall or the dreaded cloverleaf. On one side stands the charming Weston General Store offering souvenirs gifts, homemade fudge, cheese and locally-sourced sandwiches in an old-fashioned house-like setting dating back to 1881.

And across the street, The Vermont Country Store inhabits what many say is one of the highlights of New England travel. It's easy to see why even before entering the store...

Vintage store still thriving: the Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
The Vermont Country Store celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016.

By far the best country store in Vermont, The Vermont Country Store goes beyond that retail ranking "best of" status with a distinct highly likeable style and substance of its own. Since 1946, this classic country store in Vermont has also served as a way of life -- a community gathering place for locals. As for visitors, hundreds of thousands visit The Vermont Country Store each year. The interesting thing is, however, that with all the traffic the village and Vermont Country Store experiences, the community and store always seem peaceful, welcoming and unrushed. Sometimes, you have to wonder how the filled-to-capacity The Vermont Country Store parking lot or Village parking contrast so much with the leisurely feel of shopping here.

Like a Greatest Hits Package of The Best of Country Stores

At the cheese counter in The Vermont Country Store, Weston, Vt.
Inside the Vermont Country Store. Photo source: The Vermont Country Store Facebook page.

Many have travel dreams of visiting the ultimate country store but rarely find it all coming together under one roof. The Vermont Country Store, however, proves that those kinds of sweet New England dreams can come true. First, the front porch innately evokes feelings of welcoming, warm memories with red and white wooden steps, white spindles, rocking chairs and old-time windows with mullions. It's nothing state-of-the-art, mind you, and therein lies its genuine appeal.

Front porch at The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vermont.
Looking out at Main Street from The Vermont Country Store front porch.

That front porch overlooking quaint Main Street is just the beginning, however, as a one-of-a-kind shopping experience comes to full life beyond the old creaky wooden door. It first looks like something out of a storybook, like the quaint, charming general store where everyone in town seems to gather. The incredible feeling stays that way whether shopping 15 minutes or three hours.

The rustic look of The Vermont Country Store along with the aromas of Vermont cheese, homemade fudge, leather goods, kerosene, candles and soaps overwhelm the senses in a wonderful way. It's like a country homecoming for the public to see. Everyone here is so nice with no signs of having gone "Hollywood," even with the store's incredible success. Staff, managers and owners seem like family, taking the time to make customers feel at home while exhibiting the art and science of good old-fashioned customer service and conversation.
 
The Vermont Country Store offers so much that it's hard to believe that it's located in such a small town. Keep in mind, however, that many small towns once featured general and country stores. The Vermont Country Store just found ways to survive and then some (more on that shortly).

Men's and women's clothing, kitchen items, curtains, furniture, home furnishings, personal care merchandise, hardware store supplies, toys, food, candy and a Christmas shop create a full spectrum retail shopping scenario. It's like the best of both worlds: relevant merchandise for 21st-century tastes and a whole world of hard-to-find items from yesteryear that comprise the 6,000+ great products available at this New England icon. That's quite a difference from the 36 items sold when The Vermont Country Store's first catalogue was published in 1946!

The Vermont Country Store's mission to revive nostalgic items is heartwarming and much-needed. Browsing through the store reveals products that were thought to be long gone. Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo, Life Buoy soap, Tangee Lipstick, Cola Syrup and Columbia bikes are just a few shining examples.

The store's slogan, "Being the Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find" is certainly accurate. But as in the real world, life is more than just a slogan. For many, The Vermont Country Store has become an essential part of daily life in the Village or as a travel destination.

The Vermont Country Store is my Disney World. It is a magical place that always stays in the heart and mind and at the top of the vacation list, year-after-year. Like Disney World, The Vermont Country Store makes me happy and feeling like a kid again. That kind of happiness and return to youth clearly comes from the simplicity of the store, the nostalgic merchandise, people you can connect with and the slower pace of rural life.



It's especially beautiful at Christmas where The Vermont Country Store puts on its traditional holiday look with lights, beautiful decorations and memorable merchandise presentations.

Christmas at The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Christmas on Main Street at The Vermont Country Store.
Photo source: The Vermont Country Store Facebook page.

It's not just the Vermont Country Store, however, that lends Christmas magic to the area. Historic neighborhood homes have candles in the window, carolers put some community harmony into the mountain air, Village Green events bring people together, and horse and buggy rides further drive the retro ambiance.

Yes, the front porch, rural country store presence and neighborly relations differ greatly from amusement rides, theme parks and hotels, water parks and lively shows. But for me, New England places like the beach, a hike, a town green, a waterfront restaurant with lobster and fried clams and a country store supply the greatest travel joys -- and with no outrageous admission charges. It's free to walk into The Vermont Country Store!

As you can see, it doesn't take a lot for me to be happy but I suspect many other people are like that, too. In today's crazy world, we look for places to connect, to be part of something that is bigger than us without being too big. The Vermont Country Store is, overwhelmingly, that place for me. To each their own, but life in a northern New England town and places like The Vermont Country Store seems like one of the greatest places on earth one could ever be.

Food and Candy

Chocolates from The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Homemade chocolates from The Vermont Country Store.

Many people find the food selection atThe Vermont Country Store fascinating, and ultimately addictive. Baked goods, beverages, breakfast items, crackers, chips and dips, fruit and nuts, gift sets and tins, international foods, jams and jellies, meat and seafood, sauces and sides and soups and chowder head the list.

Tried and true New England favorites like Vermont maple syrup and butter, Vermont Common Crackers and Vermont Cookie Buttons (both made by The Vermont Country Store), old-fashioned New England fudge and Vermont cheeses are authentic, regional favorites that seem to be at the top of the grocery list here.

Maple syrup selection from The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Local maple syrups from The Vermont Country Store.

"I like that they offered tastings of a lot of their foods," said Jennifer Browne Snodgrass who lives in Arizona. "We just had to buy some of the delicious cheeses after trying them. I also got a few different dry mixes to make cheesecake at home - the pumpkin one was very popular!"

Chuckles, fruit slices, Sky Bars, Merrimints, Walnettos, Ice Cube Chocolates, Boston Baked Beans and Bosco chocolate syrup are just a few of the selections that can be found at The Vermont Country Store. It's a heartwarming experience -- penny candy included -- tailor-made for those looking to bring back great childhood classic candy memories!

Candies from The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Classic candies from The Vermont Country Store.
Photo source: The Vermont Country Store Facebook page.

Vintage Toys

Enjoying the classic toys at The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Discovering the toy department at The Vermont Country Store.

Before superstore toy departments sterilized and wiped out the personalities and, ultimately, the presence of local toy stores, there was a time when classic toys, dolls and board games came to life in virtually every child's' hearts and minds. It is amazing how simply made products could yield endless hours of joy to kids of all ages.

The Vermont Country Store toy department is like a trip down memory lane including table hockey games, chess games, classic board games, dominos, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Raggedy Ann dolls, sock monkeys, joy buzzers, Gumby and Pokey and Felix the Cat bendables, tin kaleidoscopes, wooden pick-up sticks, jack-in-the-boxes, toy soldiers, View Masters with reels, Silly Putty, red rubber balls and building blocks.

Gumby and Pokey bendable toys from The Vermont Country Store in Weston, VT.
Classic bendable toys. Remember Gumby and Pokey?

The scene never fails to bring about childhood toy memories to warmly recall, as opposed to new generation toys that often seem to be recalled. Kids — not aware of the toys’ histories but instead rightfully just enjoying the moment — appeared mesmerized by these toys that they could command rather than the new generation electronic devices that seem to command them.

Vintage toy from The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Toy department at the The Vermont Country Store.

One daughter once strongly encouraged her dad to sit down on a whoopie cushion. He did, the sound resonated with authenticity, and everyone turned around and laughed. OK, it was me, but really the whole Vermont Country Store toy department experience was a gas, anyway!

Achieving the American Dream in Vermont

Fourth and fifth generation Orton family continues to run The Vermont Country Store.
Carrying on the grand tradition.
Photo source: The Vermont Country Store Facebook page.

Vrest and Ellen Orton first published a catalogue and then opened the The Vermont Country Store in 1946, inspired by childhood memories of his father’s general store in North Calais, Vt. The store became a success and grew through the years to continuously meet customer needs. Today, Lyman Orton and sons Cabot, Gardner and Eliot own The Vermont Country Store as seventh & eighth-generation Vermonters and fourth and fifth-generation storekeepers.

While the Weston store is where it all began, The Vermont Country Store also has another store in Rockingham, Vt. It's a fantastic country store, also!

"I love that you can find items thought to be out of production and they even have a magazine and online ordering!" said Terry McKinley, an East Bridgewater, Mass. resident.

Additionally, The Vermont Country Store in Weston features Mildred's Grill. Formerly the Bryant House, the historic 1827 look of the building still graces the new restaurant but with some tremendous and much-needed renovations. Some specialties at Mildred's: locally-sourced burgers, mac and cheese, fresh salads, soups and homemade desserts like apple crisp, housemade gingerbread and buttermilk doughnuts.

Mildred's also serves seasonal hot and cold apple cider ( a Vermont favorite) and wine and beer. Some of the local beer offerings include Von Trapp Brewery's Dunkel Dark Lager and Rutland Beer Works' Rutland Red American Amber Ale.

In addition, Mildred's offers a seasonal dairy bar with hard and soft ice cream like "Creemees" (famous in Vermont) made with real maple syrup, specialty sundaes and milkshakes all made with Vermont’s own Wilcox Ice Cream, based in Arlington.

Conclusion

Penny candy from The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.
Penny candy from the The Vermont Country Store.

The Vermont Country Store has survived societal retail giant store dominance, a small-town location and the fluctuating economies through the years that have proved unkind to many mom and pop businesses.

Think about it: The Vermont Country Store is off-the-beaten-path and located in a town of 566 people. The biggest town nearby is Rutland, 25 miles away or about a 40-minute drive (often, more in the winter). Other towns in Vermont have more of a tourism industry including Stowe, Burlington and Manchester.

So, how does The Vermont Country Store survive? Well, first there's the demonstrated critical tenets that validate its continued popularity including a catalogue that keeps evolving.

"I like the fact that you can count on the quality of the product," said Carol Sandahl, a Walpole, mass resident. "It is as described in the catalogue every time."

The Vermont Country Store also demonstrates dedicated outreach on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, the latter in which they have 4.3 million followers. In a world where reviews can make or break a business, The Vermont Country Store in Weston receives 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor and Google. Media like Yankee Magazine, NBC, CBS, House and Garden, the New York Times and Martha Stewart have spoken the virtues of the Vermont Country Store.

Interesting media-related note: The Saturday Evening Post really brought The Vermont Country Store to greater prominence with its 1952 article, "The Happy Storekeeper of the Green Mountains."

Additionally, tour buses with, well, busloads of visitors from all over the world interested in the magic of Vermont frequently arrive at The Vermont Country Store to bring in further numbers. The Vermont Country Store is also a major part of the wonderful local travel attractions mix that includes skiing, fall foliage, small-town Christmas festivals, maple sugar season and mountain hiking.

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Then there's the most important element to The Vermont Country Store's appeal: It's a real place with real people that tap into our deepest, most happy emotions. Feeling at home and embracing nostalgia potentiate these emotions as an antidote to a less personal world where technology, a faster pace and less civility have often replaced basic social interaction. Additionally, people innately know the difference between real and fake. The Vermont Country Store is, no doubt, the former.

At The Vermont Country Store, customers see a newer generation of Ortons carry on the same tradition and location that their family founders first started in the 1940s. People love seeing loyalty and the Ortons embody that so well. Additionally, people love having owners onsite mixing it up with the customers and staff instead of being isolated in a corproae office far away.

The Ortons have stayed close to home while also giving back to those in need. The Orton family has supported more than "800 local organizations and events here in Vermont and spend thousands of hours volunteering our time to make sure that our neighbors and communities prosper alike," according to a mission statement on its web site.

Some businesses have sadly become shadows of themselves by giving in to trends, bad business advice and selling out to corporate entities. The Vermont Country Store, on the other hand, has followed in the hallowed shadows of previous family business owners knowing the wonders of small business, close-knit New England village life and reaching out to others.

There's something to be said about returning to simpler times. The Vermont Country Store does just that, moving forward while going back to yesteryear better than any other business in New England!

The Vermont Country Store is located on Route 100 in Weston, VT, 05161, Tel. (802) 362-4667.
Web site: https://www.vermontcountrystore.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/vermontcountrystore/

Twitter page: https://twitter.com/VTStore
Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/vermontcountrystore

Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/vermontcountrystore/
Orton Family Foundation web site: https://www.orton.org/

Stay at the Snowdon Chalet, about 10 minutes from The Vermont Country Store


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