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There's something for everyone at The Vermont Country Store, located on Route 100, in Weston, south central Vermont. Snowshoes for the athletic. Rolled beeswax candles for the romantic. Moustache wax for men. Garter belts for women. And a litter of handknit kittens, dressed in calico, for youngsters.

Vermont Country Store entrance and signs
Vermont Country Store entrance and signs
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Kerosene lamps, top hats and high-buttoned leather shoes hang from hand-hewn beams. A sign urges customers to "try Kickapoo Oil — the best family liniment for aches and pains." Piles of calico aprons, cotton long-johns and muslin nightgowns (complete with lace-trimmed caps and flannel booties) cover well-worn tables. And galvanized steel tubs, wooden scrub boards and clothes wringers clutter the floor.

Penny candies

A little boy presses his nose against a curved glass candy counter and gazes wistfully at a rainbow assortment of penny candies — sassafras drops, licorice balls and peppermint sticks. Rows of gleaming apothecary jars filled with maple sugar sweets, cream filberts and candied ginger line the shelves above.

In the center of the store stands an iron pot-bellied stove and a wooden barrel, filled with crackers. If you're hungry, dig in. Samples are free. Spread a cracker with cider jelly made from a 100-year-old recipe. Or try the old-fashioned peanut butter, honey mustard and cheddar cheese.

If you enjoy cooking, you'll find stoneground flours, coleslaw slicers and an apple parer that cores, peels and slices with the turn of a crank. But don't make the same mistake that many young shoppers have done. The large, elaborately decorated covered containers are not casseroles — they're chamber pots!

Aged cheddar and maple butter

Alternatively, forget cooking entirely, and stock your pantry with jars of wild elderberry jelly and spiced watermelon pickle, cans of Indian pudding and fiddlehead greens, wheels of aged cheddar and pots of maple butter.

Vermont Country Store founder, Vrest Orton
Vermont Country Store founder, Vrest Orton
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Scents and sounds permeate the air. Bayberry, lavender and wild strawberry soaps. Cinnamon, thyme and freshly ground coffee. Sleigh bells jingle from leather straps. A music box plays on the counter. A catchy tune flows from a harmonica.

Mail order catalog

Is this a museum of early Americana? Indeed, it is. But it's also an authentic rural emporium where the artifacts are for sale.

The Vermont Country Store is the culmination of the work and dreams of Vrest Orton, who opened the store in 1946. A prolific writer, he devoted many of his articles and books to the preservation of the best of Vermont's rapidly disappearing heritage. The titles speak for themselves: The American Cider Book, The Homemade Beer Book and The Forgotten Art of Building a Good Fireplace.

The most popular publication, without a doubt, is The Vermont Country Store Catalogue, describing country store merchandise available in the store, by mail order and on-line. You'll find no large color glossies in this catalog. It retains the appearance of a New England Almanac from 1888, illustrated with black and white photographs of the wares and woodcut prints of country store scenes.

The catalog offers brands from the past that are still useful today and what the Orton family calls "sensible goods."

Lighthearted descriptions of the products, witty editorials, wholesome recipes and down-to-earth advice make the catalog so popular.


Take, for example, the catnip. The catalog reads: "We believe cats deserve a little ecstasy. Guaranteed to be habit-forming, our catnip is sealed inside small linen bags so the cat can play with it and not make a mess."

The Vermont Country Store Catalogue also suggests new uses for old products such as Bag Balm. A soothing salve for cow udders, it's often used by farmers to treat their work-rough dry hands. The catalog recommends it "for runners and bicyclists to prevent chapping and sores during long workouts and races."

Perhaps the main reason for the success of The Vermont Country Store is that it brings back merchandise that was once useful but is no longer available. Some wares have been revived, others discovered and a few invented.

Handmade crafts

Local seamstresses and craftsmen make many of the goods. Employees encourage customers to ask for items that they can no longer find elsewhere. Many do and their letters of satisfaction add a personal touch to the catalog.

Vrest Orton published The Story of The Vermont Country Store in a book that he wrote at the age of 86. In it, he claimed that few of the country stores across the nation were as authentic as his original country store.

 Orton Family Business sign in front of store
Orton Family Business sign in front of store
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The thousands of people who annually cross its threshold would probably agree. They come to shop, to sample local foods and to chat with the friendly staff. But most of all, they come to savor the past.

Although Vrest has passed on, his son, Lyman, is now proprietor, helped by his sons, Cabot, Gardner and Eliot. A second store is located on Route 103 (exit 6 off Interstate 91) in Rockingham.


The Vermont Country Store: www.vermontcountrystore.com

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