A look at the lives of country store owners
Caroline Kapp and Nora Peachin visited many of Vermont’s country, general and village stores to find out what makes them special — and how they are evolving. Read their companion article here.
ADDISON FOUR CORNERS STORE
ADDISON — The Addison Four Corners Store is a land of temptation. If the table of homemade chocolates when you enter the door doesn’t make you immediately stop in your tracks to fill up a bag, the cider doughnuts (made fresh daily) will certainly do the trick. These treats were all part of the updates made by current owner Terri Glidden and her husband, Herbert. Terri Glidden said the store’s appearance has been updated since the couple bought it in 2001.
Their ownership had an eventful start when the previous owners had to leave unexpectedly. “It was crazy at first; we were only getting two hours of sleep per night.” Today, you wouldn’t be able to tell — from the homemade frozen pizzas, chocolates, fresh baked goods, and racks laden with linen tops and dresses, everything appears to be under control and perfectly delicious.
Glidden also explained that the store creates a sense of togetherness. In a small community, many people know the employees and can greet the next person to walk through the door by name. And Glidden knows that she can call on her neighbors whenever she needs a helping hand.
Plus, the bench on the front porch is the perfect spot to munch on chocolates while enjoying a mountain view.
ORWELL — Sitting next to Andy Buxton on the bench in front Buxton’s Store is kind of like sitting with the Mayor. Almost every driver headed by waved out their window and nearly everyone on their way into the store paused to say hi.
After noticing that Andy was sitting with a reporter, loyal customers started to, not so slyly, shout their praises. “Can’t beat Buxton’s!” one woman gleefully called over with a wink and a laugh. One thing is for sure, Buxton’s customers love their store.
The store was built in 1910, after changing hands several times the store was bought by Buxton’s grandparents in 1968. Between 2006 and 2017 the store was run by Doug Edwards. With a combined 35 years of experience in the hospitality business under their belt, Buxton and his wife, Mary, bought back the family store in 2017.
Buxton’s serves as a market with a wide selection of Vermont craft beers and wines, lots of local products, a bulk section, homemade baked goods and a deli that serves prepared meals and dinners to go (including homemade chips and salsa). Plus, Buxton’s now has fresh seafood delivered to the store for Fish Fridays, and it sells out every week.
But that’s not all. The left side of the building in currently under construction and will soon be home to an ice cream window and a commercial kitchen. The ice cream window will serve Vermont hard ice cream from Wilcox Ice Cream and Island Ice Cream starting in the next few weeks. The kitchen will have the capacity to serve full take-out menu four nights a week.
During hunting season Buxton’s serves as a way station for large game. Buxton loves being part of this piece of local culture that spans generations. He recounts the pride on kids’ faces when they back in with their first big buck. Hunters driving by will start to pull in to the parking lot. “All of a sudden people were starting to gather and congregate and then you can start telling the story of how you harvested this animal,” Buxton said, remembering his first time bringing large game back to Buxton’s as a kid. Today he gets to create those moments for many other kids.
FOREST DALE GROCERY & DELI
BRANDON — On Monday, July 1, Todd Lagendyk started work as the new owner of the Forest Dale Grocery and Deli. The store is bustling; it has been “slam-packed since Monday,” Lagendyk said a few days after taking over.
Previous owner Dave Darroll retired on Friday, June 28, after 30 years in the business. Lagendyk and his wife, Maribeth, originally from the New York and Vermont area, moved back with the intention of running a small business. Forest Dale was the perfect find.
Lagendyk plans to keep much of the store’s history and tradition alive. He recognizes the importance of the customer loyalty and support the previous owner worked so hard to establish.
The store’s employees make up a large part of its history. Todd Jackson, working at the deli counter, has been at the store since day three, others for one or two decades. “I think our staff is really what draws customers to our store,” Lagendyk said.
Although he is set on upholding tradition, Lagendyk is in the process of making some tasty additions — homemade smoked roast beef and turkey, homemade potato salad, and breakfast sandwiches. He hopes to keep adding to, but never take away from, the store’s offerings.
Lagendyk has had many sleepless nights since starting ownership, but he feels the relationships he is building have already made it worth it. “When somebody comes in, they don’t just get their coffee and leave. They tell me how their day is going, how they are.” He loves interacting with his customers and keeping up with what’s going on in the community.
“This is a great meeting place for people, I love the connections that happen here,” he said. He is excited to keep making more connections in the years of ownership to come, and perhaps to get some more sleep too!
GILFEATHER’S FINE PROVISIONS
FERRISBURGH — Owners of Gilfeather’s Fine Provisions Rick and Nancy Benson are crossing country store with fine cuisine.
Rick Benson’s first job was at an old-fashioned country store in New Hampshire, he then moved onto restaurant work for many years. Benson built and operated several restaurants in Vermont, and worked at various others across the country.
Now, having returned to the world of country stores, Benson finds that his background in the restaurant business helps him run a successful catering business and storefront. According to Benson, Gilfeather’s serves tens of thousands of people every year, with offerings ranging from oysters and bacon-wrapped sea scallops to cheese and fruit platters and sliders.
The display case is laden with scrumptious homemade salads, hot dishes, and baked goods. The sandwich menu advertises lobster rolls, pulled pork, and more. Shelves are stocked with local chocolates, coffee, wines, beers, pickles, and, of course, maple syrup.
Benson prides himself on the quality and convenience of his food. “Everybody works hard. People are tired. It’s easy to get a frozen pizza or a can of soup, but instead, people can stop here and get a nice homemade meal,” he says. “I think the biggest asset you can have in this business is to be flexible and to be welcoming to everybody,” he continues.
Benson is committed to serving folks of all income levels and dietary preferences. He emphasizes that gluten-free products make up a large part of his business. “You have to embrace what people want. It’s not about us; we’re here to provide services that people want, and if we can introduce some services that they didn’t know they wanted, that’s great.”
In addition to serving his community, Benson has also enjoyed getting to know it. Running the store has allowed him to meet a lot of people who live just down the street from him, he says.
GRANVILLE GENERAL STORE
GRANVILLE — Granville General Store was closed for 10 years until husband and wife team Daniel and Kira Sargeant bought it up in 2011. Now, eight years later, the pair is still running the business with the help of loyal employees like Cheryl Sargeant.
Cheryl sees the store as more than just a convenient shopping location. “We’re here to serve the community and travelling public. We assist those who have been hurt on bicycles, respond to medical emergencies, and answer all sorts of questions regarding the town,” she explained.
She described the store as an information center for Route 100. “We’re the first place people go to and we provide assistance,” Sargeant said.
The store goes beyond the basics with a big game reporting station, wood shop, and array of outdoors, hunting and fishing supplies. Despite their wide selection, Sargeant worried that people still prefer the “big, glitzy retailers.”
However, Sargeant seemed confident in the essentiality of Granville General to the local community. “We’re right here in town, within five minutes of people’s homes, and we’re the last store that’s open every day until 9 p.m. in a five town area,” she said.
“It’s hard to say what the future looks like for country stores,” Sargeant pondered. She predicted a move to online or telephone ordering, to meet the next generation’s shopping preferences. The key to success, according to Sargeant? Adaptability.
HUBBARD’S COUNTRY STORE
HANCOCK — Sara Deering could be a talent scout, except instead of baseball players, she would work with country stores.
When she and her husband, Jon, bought Hubbard’s Country Store at auction in 2015, it had been abandoned for 18 months and the basically empty building was in bad shape. But Sara, a former town clerk, didn’t want to give up on it. They took down the plywood drop ceiling to reveal beautiful old beams and leveled up the floor, which had previously had a 10-inch difference between two of its corners.
After another 18 months of renovations they reopened the store and started to work to regain the customer base they had lost in the three years since the store had closed.
With Sara’s vision, the store is moving away from being mainly a grocery store. Today, the store’s main focus is a deli, which serves up a variety of sandwiches and pizzas as well as homemade baked goods crafted by baker Elissa Klingensmith (check out their Facebook page for pictures that will have your mouth watering). The Deerings also work to support local artists and hope to continue growing their selection of local products.
“People want to have a place to come to where they feel that they’re bonded with something,” she said. The store is often people’s go-to place for information whether it is to ask for details about an upcoming potluck dinner or to figure out what day the trash gets picked up.
Sara frequently has customers tell her that they had driven by the store many times, but never bothered to go in. After quickly falling in love with the comfortable environment, welcoming employees and wide array of goods, they promise that they will stop by again on their next trip.
Hubbard’s is a hidden gem, and it might be the perfect place to stop, stretch your legs, and grab a snack before heading out onto the highway.
JERUSALEM CORNERS COUNTRY STORE
SOUTH STARKSBORO — As you round the hill driving eastbound on Route 17 it is likely that you will be so enchanted with the breathtaking view, it might take you a second to notice the red building off the side of the road. But the Jerusalem Corners Country Store is worth the stop.
Owners Christy Grauer and Wyatt Custer have been serving up a wide selection of local craft beers, Grauer’s handmade knitting and baked goods, and tomato and pepper starts for the last one and a half years. They hope to add fresh produce from their garden soon, which Wyatt is working on in a plot right beside the store.
The couple prides themselves on their craft beer selection. “People know to stop here — ski people going to Sugarbush, summer hikers, bicyclists, motor cyclists — people know they’re going to have a good selection of beer here,” Grauer said.
Their coolers also boast kombucha and coconut water, intended to bring in a different clientele than their usual customer, according to Grauer.
The store sees a huge influx of customers for a two to three week window in the fall, which Grauer described as “non-stop insanity.” The store is the perfect pit stop for “leaf peepers” who are visiting Vermont to enjoy the fall foliage. “It seems like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but this road actually gets a lot of tourist traffic.”
When Grauer and Custer moved to Vermont from Kansas and began their business, they were grateful for the “built-in ice breaker” of store ownership. “People want to know who you are, because this is a place they’ve been going to since they were kids,” Grauer said.
Grauer’s time at Jerusalem Corners has taught her the importance of community support. “You don’t realize how vital it is until you own a local business,” she said. “Every person, every sale matters. Without consistent traffic, these places wouldn’t exist. They need community support.”
KAMPERSVILLE COUNTRY STORE
SALISBURY — Holly Hathaway likes to change at least one thing about the store every year, so no one is ever bored. This year, she added fresh cider donuts made in-house daily, in the morning the scent wafts out the door and towards the street — talk about a great sales tactic.
The Kampersville Campground and Country Store was started in 1969 by Holly’s parents and today ownership is shared amongst Holly and her husband Eric, Holly’s mom Jean Wisnowski and her brother James and his wife Melisa Wisnowski. The campground is home to 209 campsites, and the store has to just about anything you could every need.
As the store has grown over the years the deli was moved out of the main store and to a building next door.
Unlike most country stores, the Kampersville store sees seasonal customers who come to visit the campground and Lake Dunmore, many returning summer after summer. Hathaway looks forward to her seasonal customers come back every year.
During the winter, the store depends on business from local customers. But the road goes both ways. There have been times during snowstorms and power outages when the store can be a lifeline for residents.
Having grown up around Kampersville and now owning it herself, Hathaway has learned a lot from the store. “You learn to feel compassionate for people,” Hathaway said, she now knows that “the good with the bad happens” and to always be patient, whether it is training a new employee or dealing with a customer who might be having a bad day.
KAMUDA’S COUNTRY MARKET
PITTSFORD — It seems like Brian Kamuda doesn’t really like anything. He loves everything. He loves the store that has been in his family for three generations, he loves his employees who he praised relentlessly, he loves his customers whose needs he eagerly strives to meet, and he loves his community, which he constantly works to give back to. Saying Kamuda is enthusiastic might be an understatement.
Kamuda took over the family store in 2017 with his wife Christine. The store is a full grocery store with products from around 100 vendors, including many local Vermont businesses. They serve hot lunches and prepared dinners made from real ingredients as a way to provide busy families with a healthy option. In the back of the store, the deli is home to quality meat and fresh seafood brought in once a week through the Earth & Sea Fish Market based in Manchester.
“How can you do the little things that make a big difference for people?” Kamuda constantly asks himself. The store will take special orders for customers in order to get them the goods they want. Also, for a long time the store has been making complimentary deliveries to customers who for whom it is difficult to leave their homes. “We were kinda UberEats before UberEats,” Kamuda joked.
Kamuda’s is about more than just selling a product. The store partners with local schools and the library to encourage students to read and act kindly towards one another. It has also participated in various community fundraisers and events.
While the store stands on 80 years of tradition, Kamuda is continually finding new opportunities for growth and improvement. “You’ve got to evolve with the customer,” he said. In the future he is looking into building a drive-through to enhance convenience, or selling gift baskets so that people enjoy the thrill of Vermont products no matter where they are.
LINCOLN GENERAL STORE
LINCOLN — Vaneasa Stearns completed the sale of Lincoln General Store at 26 years old, with a 5-week-old baby in tow. Stearns left behind life in New York City to purchase the store in her childhood home, and raise her own family in it. At first she struggled to balance new motherhood with store ownership, but managed to do so with the help of a bed in the back room for her daughters, and a hand from her own mother. Now, she has been running Lincoln General for 28 years.
Stearns enthusiastically recounts how owning the store has allowed her to be a part of many local’s lives, people she never would have met otherwise. “People count on me; they call me in times of crisis,” she says. She once received an urgent call asking “how long do you boil an egg?”
Stearns has served multiple generations of Lincoln residents by now. When she first began ownership, she welcomed kids waiting for the bus at the stop outside her store to come in and stay warm during the winter. Now she is watching as those kids’ kids come in to raid the penny candy jars. She describes the unity of the local community, something she finds is lacking in many other Vermont towns, ones with “less flavor,” as she puts it.
Both store and owner are vibrant and dynamic, certainly boasting plenty of “flavor.” Stearns hosts everything from deer, turkey and bear check-ins during hunting season, to wine tastings and live music on Valentine’s Day. She seems to love it just as much after 28 years as she did on the first day. “It’s a good lifestyle,” she proclaims.
MONKTON GENERAL STORE
MONKTON — The Monkton General Store proves that sometimes the best things happen by accident. When one of their vendors stopped carrying peanut butter buckeyes, the store’s owner Darcee Alderman thought she would take a swing at it. “I should be able to make those, it can’t be that hard,” she told herself. She started out with just the peanut butter and coconut almond treats, but customers kept asking for more. Alderman’s of Vermont Chocolate Candy Confections now line the shelves in the back of the store. They can also be found online and since receiving a wholesale license, several other country stores have begun to sell the chocolate.
The store has been around since the 1800s, Alderman and her husband, Sam, bought it in 2007 when the economy was booming. But the recession hit the following year and keeping the store afloat has been a constant struggle ever since.
“We have done what we needed to do to keep the community store open, personally not the smartest move, but for the town we did it,” said Alderman, who knows the value of a town store and doesn’t want Monkton residents to lose theirs.
“I love knowing all the customers when they come in, hearing about life events,” she said. “General stores we care, deeply, about our community and our employees so I think it’s really important to keep us around.”
This past March, the Alderman’s announced via Facebook that they needed help to pay back state debt, or else the store would close. The following day people flooded the store and a GoFundMe page brought in additional donations. The Aldermans were able to keep their doors open, but they know that this is not the end.
BRIDPORT — Darwyn Pratt has been running Pratt’s Store for an astounding 50 years. Pratt shares ownership with his son and daughter, Corey and Stacey. The secret to half a century of success? “Say good morning to everyone who walks through the door.”
Pratt attributes his success to the support of the town of Bridport. “We work together as one big family.” He prides himself on knowing most of his customers on a first name basis. In his 50 years of ownership, he has served three or four generations of locals. He is grateful for this community support. “You need that; you can’t just depend on tourism. The local people are here and they’ll be here 365 days a year.” Pratt and his family like to stay involved in the community beyond their roles as store owners, coaching Little League, volunteering for the fire department and serving on various boards.
Pratt’s success perhaps also has to do with the store’s wide array of homemade salads, fresh produce, meats and cheeses, beer cave, full deli, and, on top of all of this, a catering business complete with truck and refrigerated trailer. Pratt believes in offering a little bit of everything, trying to buy local products and supporting other small local businesses.
Pratt also preaches constant change — “you can’t stay stagnant; you have to keep thinking ahead.” So, who knows where Pratt’s will go next? Pratt admits running a country store is not always easy, but with 50 years of experience under his belt and a tremendous amount of community support, he feels confident about the future. “There is always room in Vermont for a country store,” he concluded.
RIPTON COUNTRY STORE
RIPTON — Next to the antique cash register and Texaco lamp on the front counter, sit locally grown shiitake mushrooms and CBD caramels. This eclectic combination of items is a perfect representation of the Ripton Country Store.
Ever since owners Eva Hoffmann and Gary Wisell took over last November, they have worked to maintain the locale’s original charm while also experimenting with lots of exciting changes. Amongst these, a green space with a picnic table and port-a-potty, an expanded wine collection, more local art pieces, and locally made jams and pickles. Local produce and fresh flowers will soon join the list.
On Fridays, chef and friend of the couple Lauren Slayton brings freshly baked pastries to sell. As Hoffmann describes this week’s offerings — currant scones, Belgian brownies, peanut butter cookies — Wisell interrupts to protest: “I won’t be able to not eat that!” Apparently, customers are unable to resist the temptation, too; the baked goods typically sell out by the end of the day Friday.
The couple proudly explains that all these changes have attracted new customers who weren’t frequenting the store prior. But, they recognize that they can’t make too many changes too quickly, and are always committed to preserving tradition and history, from impromptu town meetings on the store’s front stoop to creaky rocking chairs sitting in the center of the store. “We’re not a boutique, we’re a real Vermont experience,” Hoffmann says.
Wisell and Hoffmann are committed to bringing customers both joy and variety. “Have you ever walked into a big grocery store and seen someone smiling?” Wisell asks, then answers his own question with a confident “no.” The two try to treat customers like guests walking into their home. The pair is fighting to prevent the homogenization of retail, and to keep their ideal of America alive — a country where communities come together and shopping puts a smile on people’s faces.
SHELBURNE COUNTRY STORE
SHELBURNE — When Steve Mayfield came home one day and suggested to his wife, Deb, that they should buy a country store, she thought he was joking. The Mayfields have now owned the Shelburne Country Store for 12 years.
The store’s building dates back to the 1830s with the first record of it being a store in 1859. Today, if you look past the jars of penny candy, the stacks of unique local goods, the rows of homemade fudge and the shelves of colorful gifts, the store could almost double as an antiques museum.
Hanging from the ceiling are the store’s original gas lamps that warranted a visit from the fire marshal after a previous owner tried to electrify them. A shelf running around the perimeter of the ceiling features old containers that used to house everything from cinnamon to clothing dye (some dye packets still remain in the old box). Behind the counter hangs an old Wayside telephone, below sits the old brass cash register that weighs nearly four hundred pounds and to the right is the original Shelburne post office boxes who were moved their from the old post office that used to sit next door.
People today are “shopping with their thumbs rather than their feet,” said Mayfield. But the Shelburne Country Store is refusing to fall behind the times. The Mayfields have painstakingly digitized their store with around 32,000 of their 45,000 items available for purchase online. About 30 percent of their overall business comes in through online purchases.
Country store shopping has gone global. But if you want to indulge in a maple creemee, you will still have to head down in person — they haven’t figured out how to ship those yet.
VILLAGE GREEN MARKET
NEW HAVEN — The Village Green Market bubbles with life in the morning. Owner Patty Lawrence skillfully fries sizzling eggs on the stovetop, deftly assembling heavenly smelling breakfast sandwiches all while simultaneously chopping mounds of potatoes. Her husband and co-owner Jay mans the checkout as customers grab their morning coffee, exchanging hellos.
Under a sign that reads “The Gathering Place,” three men collect around a wooden table in the corner, catching up before their days officially begin. Around the sign are frames filled with old photographs, maps and newspaper clippings, paying homage to the 200-year history of the store.
Patty and Jay bought the store in March when the previous owners were considering closing it. “We didn’t want the store to close, so we took over,” Patty explained, who had been working at the store under previous management. When the couple first started, they enjoyed hearing locals’ excitement over the store still being around. In the short time that they have owned it, the pair has learned to value their customers above all else. Almost every product the store sells was originally requested by a customer, and store prices are kept as low as possible. Patty and Jay describe their loyal customers as making the ownership experience special. “Whatever you do for them, makes them feel happy,” Patty said.
WEST ADDISON GENERAL STORE (W.A.G.S.)
ADDISON — Although Scott Petrin is originally from southern New Hampshire, Vermont holds a special place in his heart. Conversations with customers from out-of-town remind him why — “A lot of people do love Vermont’s beauty, and (talking to them) helps reinforce not wanting to live anywhere else.” For Petrin, this is his favorite part of running West Addison General Store, more commonly known as WAGS: making personal connections with tourists and locals alike.
It is easy to imagine Petrin making customers feel welcome, with his easy-going manner and warm smile. He believes these attributes are almost as important to the store’s success as the products it offers or its convenient hours. “You get to know the customers, and I think a lot of it is these relationships.”
It’s also all about family at WAGS. Petrin took over ownership from his in-laws six years ago, and the store has been in the family for over 30 years. Petrin’s family keeps him connected to the local community, with one child in preschool and the other in elementary school. “Local stores do a lot to support their local schools, their local communities, you’re not always going to see that with chain stores or bigger stores,” Petrin said. He likes to hold fundraisers at the store and do his part to help out. “That’s a big role of small businesses in their communities.”
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