To see the village of Weston is to like it. A few classic Vermont stores, a beautiful playhouse, an idyllic town green, a bubbling brook and a handful of old homes create cheerful community that is an absolute delight.
During the late weeks of September we enjoyed the transition from Summer to Fall with red, orange, and yellow leaves among the stubborn green leaves who clung to the sinewy branches. The surrounding mountains peeked out behind fog, and the grass exhibited a bright, healthy shine in the midst of intermittent rain.
We pulled into town and parked by the playhouse. A small company of trees and a solitary gazebo adorned the town green that dotted the middle of the circle that encompassed the majority of downtown Weston. Immediately after leaving the central circle, one stumbles upon several shops and galleries, including the Vermont Country Store along Route 100.
I have heard much about the Vermont Country Store, but have known next to nothing about. They have a slogan that rings something like, “Purveyors in the Practical and Hard to Find.” I needed to find out for myself what this icon is all about.
Being cheap and penniless, we started in the bargain side of the store. Every item that could not be sold at an exorbitant mark-up now resides in the lonely bargain area at a much more reasonably overpriced mark-up.
And if you ever fear you’ll miss out on a deal, don’t worry. Everything exists in quantities of 50. The Raggity Anne board game, denim hats, women’s slippers, men’s moccasins, drapes, night gowns, pomade, and hats can all be found in this section. If you notice the list, all of these items are actually quite easy to find anywhere except for the pomade (now selling for $2.99 instead of $8.99).
Feeling rather disappointed I crossed through a gently sloping passageway into the main store. Pandemonium could be seen everywhere. Before me stood a room practically crawling with tourists, who resembled scurrying little insects often found under rocks, carrying all kinds of merchandise and browsing the endless displays.
The old-fashioned building was certainly handsome and tastefully put together. Wood floors and wood displays gave a sense of class that was immediately negated by the sheer volume of stuff crammed onto every rack and onto every table.
I first walked into the toy section that was filled with some old-fashioned toys, some retro toys, and some stuff that you can find in any toy store today. In fact, you can find most of the VCS’s children’s items in toy stores.
I quickly waded through the aimless masses who seemed to only survive if they were either carrying items or meticulously pawing through the nearest assortment of products. It did not take long to catch on to the genius of the VCS.
With so many nostalgic items that you are told cannot be found elsewhere, you instantly become enraptured with wonderful memories of old times. I watched several people stop at a jar of hand balm and remark about using it as children. As the memories flooded back, they were helpless to resist the urge to shell out $15, $20, or more on this jar of yellow hand goo.
I was mocking them inwardly when something caught my eye. A rack of broom-handle-like bats sat at the end of a display in the men’s section. Next to the bats was a bucket of rubber balls.
Before I could stop it, I had the stick-ball bat in my hand and I was actively remembering summer stick ball games in the school yard across from my childhood home. The rubber balls were used for bounce-pitch, especially in cities where a tennis ball could do some serious damage to a window given enough velocity. My grandfather used to cut the ball in half for a different version of the game that involved pitching the half ball.
I was feeling the rubber ball when I realized that I had fallen into the trap. Alarmed, I placed the items back and remained on my guard.
Julie fell for the VCS syndrome right away. She spotted a phone, Gumby and Pokey figures, and a puppet that all hailed back to the days of her youth. I was thinking of mentioning this to her when I noticed a familiar white surface filled with little plastic men attached to metal rods.
This was THE game of my childhood and even young adulthood. Though the arcade version is known as bubble hockey, I always had some inexpensive version to use at home made of partical board for the ice, plastic for the boards, small plastic hockey players brandishing skinny sticks, and long metal rods to assist with their quest to put the biscuit in the basket.
Dutiful wife that she is, Julie made the first move to one side of the game a very short-lived, one-sided contest erupted, though I should mention that the puck started in her end anyway. At least it ended in a tie.
Roaming throughout the store I took on the airs of an anthropologist or marketing guru trying to figure out what made the VCS so popular. While part of it is the nostalgia, I also think it provides a semi-authentic experience of an old country store. It also provides samples by the bushel.
You can try every spreadable item on any variety of crackers, every kind of cheese on a toothpick, and every kind of meat at a central counter in the food section. You could literally go in there hungry and leave feeling rather full.
The rest of the store displays the items you would expect at a department store or Kohl’s, just at ridiculously high prices. Household goods, kitchen tools, bowls, and clothing. It’s all there. Just a little bit of this and little bit of that. And so I stumbled onto another reason why the VCS works: it has a little something for everyone.
Their one major flaw is that women would probably buy more if they didn’t have to put up with slow-moving, dopey men like myself who wander aimlessly and clog up narrow arteries. Would you want to wait in line just to look at an item? I don’t think so.
Therefore, my humble suggestion to VCS is to establish a sitting room for men only. There could be classic TV’s and classic furniture that they can sit on and watch videos of classic movies and dramatic moments from the history of sports. No women or children allowed: these are the people who need to snatch merchandise from every possible display.
I didn’t see many men doing a whole lot of good anyway, at least I didn’t do a whole lot of good. I bought 4 cherry cordials. That’s not exactly a haul for the VCS.
And so I say, set up a chair, a TV, and perhaps make some cheap drinks available and you’ll be all set. The men are out of the way and the women can roam freely without hindrance of gaping males.
Of course visiting the VCS also opened my eyes to the thinking behind Cracker Barrel.
Confessions first: I love the greasy, sweet, buttered up food served at Cracker Barrel. It’s not particularly good, but it has a certain charm that I enjoy. I don’t know how they pulled that one off, but if they can get away with it . . . good for them.
Now, Cracker Barrel has a fairly extensive country store in the front of every restaurant. The reasoning is that while you wait for impossible stretches of time, you will buy some of their overpriced, deceptively “authentic” country merchandise.
While scanning the items at the VCS, I noticed many similarities with Cracker Barrel. In a sense, Cracker Barrel is just a miniature version of the VCS. Just multiply Cracker Barrel by 15 and you’ll have a decent picture of the Weston, VT location of the VCS.
I almost didn’t make it out of there. It was a constant flow of people that soon wore me out.
Driving home from Weston I was glad we took a walk around town and that we visited the Vermont Country Store. But, I also developed a new appreciation for the simplicity of towns such as Arlington and Peru who have no big name retailers of whom to boast.
In fact, I even came out of Weston with a thankfulness for number businesses and restaurants in Manchester. If you want to grab a bite to eat while you’re in Weston . . . tough. We didn’t see too much if anything there by way of culinary adventures.
This is not to mention the complete lack of book stores and coffee shops. I mean, a fellah’s got to live!
And so I send out my recommendations and warnings. Weston is a cute little Vermont town that you have to visit. Nevertheless, only bring pocket change lest you are suckered into buying random junk at the Vermont Country Store. Also, don’t count on having dinner in Weston. Londonderry, Chester, and Manchester all have some great dining options.
If it’s possible, figure out when Weston’s Playhouse will be open, that is one building I need to check out in the future. But like I said, it’s a nice town to visit . . . but I’m not sure how people survive there.
Must . . . have . . . hazelnut . . . latte.