Everything you never needed

Michael Gebicki takes his custom to a shop where those obscure things are easy to find in chilly Vermont.

I enter Vermont from the south, in a particularly appealing part of the Green Mountains, where piny forests are dissected by streams that gallop over mossy boulders. When I stop, there are birds chattering invisibly in the forest and the sort of bracing air that makes you feel you've stumbled onto the set of a mineral-water ad. As the highway meanders into farmlands, there are "moose crossing" signs and shingles that shout "maple syrup!!!" on every farm gate, fulsome eruptions of apple blossoms and cows with sagging udders in flowery meadows. Even though it's only May and the state is just defrosting at the end of its long, hard winter, it's abundantly gorgeous.

From the Green Mountains I turn east to the village of Weston. Although it has a population of fewer than 600, Weston has a big rep among the showbiz fraternity thanks to the Weston Playhouse. In summer, the writers, artists and actors of New York City stage a mass exodus, and where do they come? Vermont, of course, and specifically Weston. While they're here, they practise their craft for the farmers, who get to see some classy productions with the added convenience that they can actually park in the main street, which is not something you can easily do on Broadway.

I'm too early in the season to catch Dustin Hoffman, but I have another good reason for visiting Weston; the Vermont Country Store ("purveyors of the practical and hard to find"). Country stores are one of the joys of small-town America, and in particular of rural Vermont. Cluttered, slightly chaotic, open all hours, family-owned and operated, they are the very model of Yankee virtue. Whatever your needs - a round of cheese, knitting needles, maple syrup, decoys for duck hunting or ammunition, you'll find it in your local country store.

As useful as the country store may be, Vrest Orton decided he would go one better. It all began when Orton was stationed at the Pentagon during World War II and happened to see a Chase & Sanborn coffee ad that showed four old guys sitting around a hot stove. The ad kindled memories of the country store his father once owned in North Calais, Vermont, and Orton decided to return to his childhood home in Weston and re-create the original country store. Since then, the Vermont Country Store has never deviated from Orton's guiding principle of selling nothing but practical, functional products that the farm families of Vermont could not easily find elsewhere or make themselves.

Consider the selection of goods for women, for example, which features such essential wardrobe items as the Face-Flattering Newsboy Cap in warm and cozy angora, the Miss Elaine Plaid Seersucker Lounger ("side-seam pockets keep hankies and other treasures close at hand"), and the Our Calico Apron from 1973 ("still as functional and attractive as ever").

For men, there are Sleeping Caps and Genuine 2" Wide Vermont Comfort Suspenders, and I have to say I am tempted by Blenheim Bouquet Eau de Toilette ("Winston Churchill's favoured fragrance"). Actually, that's not strictly true. In fact, there is nothing in the Vermont Country Store I could buy without enduring sniggering remarks from my family. In a household of three women, one does not spring open a suitcase containing a set of Jewel Tone Aluminum Tumblers or an original Whirley-Pop Popcorn Popper without risking severe belittlement, but I am mightily taken with the philosophy behind the Vermont Country Store.

It's hard to tear myself away from such richly evocative comforts, but eventually I am turfed out by Cabot, Gardner or Eliot, the three grandsons of Vrest Orton who now run the store along with their father, Lyman.


Getting there Qantas has direct flights to New York City, the logical place to start a self-drive tour of Vermont. The other gateway option is Boston, accessible by Amtrak rail services from New York. See qantas.com.

Getting around A hire car is the only practical way to explore the back roads of Vermont, although there are many bus tours of the state, particularly when the leaves change colour in autumn. The peak season is in late September/early October. Driving from New York City is not difficult with a GPS.

Staying there Vermont Inns is a collection of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, farms and historic inns that represent the membership of the Heart of Vermont Lodging Association, many with unique character, at a reasonable price. See vermontinns.com.

More information vermontvacation.com