The Vermont Country store is founded on old-fashioned values, but has progressed by embracing the latest technology.

The Vermont Country store is founded on old-fashioned values, but has progressed by embracing the latest technology.

By Crystal Lindell

The Vermont Country Store takes the word “nostalgic,” and puts it on steroids.

Its original location in Weston opened in 1946, and even then it looked old-fashioned, explains Cabot Orton, one of the owners. Not much has changed.

“When our grandfather opened the original store... he bought the content - all the fixtures and counters and lighting - from his grandfather’s country store, up in northern Vermont, that ran in the late 19th century,” he explains. “And true to form, when you walk in the store today... it feels like stepping into the late 19th century or early 20th century. It’s truly like stepping into the past.”

The second location opened its doors in Rockingham in 1963, and it too resembles a rural general store. Together, the two locations make up the largest tourist attraction in the state of Vermont, with more than a million visitors each year.

It’s isn’t just the atmosphere that’s old-fashioned though - the product selection more than lives up to the hype. Offerings range from Quick Clacks (an old-fashioned toy that allows you to clack balls together) to twin bell wind-up alarm clocks, garter belts and Chivers Hartley Gooseberry Jam.

“We’re known famously as the purveyors of the practical and hard-to-find,” Orton says. “We’re the place people come to when they’re looking for an old product, or brand that they can’t find anywhere else. The thing you hear again and again when you come into one of our stores is a customer saying, ‘I can’t believe they’ve got this!’”

He adds that it connects people with simpler times.

“It gives people happy memories to be connected to things they experienced in their childhood, or in their younger years,” he explains. “During times of uncertainty, that has a really powerful meaning to people.”

Of course, it’s the candy that’s the real draw.

Trying to find a Slo Poke, some Black Jack Gum, or some Chuckles candies? Or maybe you’re just in the mood for some Bonomo Turkish Taffee, but don’t know where to turn. The Vermont Country Store is your new best friend.

“People are so excited to come across nostalgic candy... that they remember as a kid,” Orton says. “It’s central to the experience for so many people. Customers will come in from all over the country who have visited as children - people who are now in their 50s or 60s - and they’ll have their children or grandchildren with them, and they’ll come in and just be overjoyed that it looks so much like it did when they were children and they’ll point to their kids and grandkids, [and say] ‘This is just how it looked,’ and ‘Look over here.’ And they’ll spend a few hours with their kids going through and loading up bags of candy.”

Or maybe you have some change in your pocket and you’re looking to spend your pennies on candy. For this too, The Vermont Country Store is ideal.

“We’re famous for our very expansive and eclectic assortment of penny candy, and always have been” Orton explains. “When kids come in, their eyes get really big and we have an honor system, so they grab a paper bag and they go around and they count pieces - everything is priced by the piece - and they fill a bag or several bags and then they have to add everything up on their own and go over the clerk and tell the clerk what they have.”

Most of the confections, which sell from a few pennies each to $1.50 a piece, are faithfully displayed in antique glass jars.

“We used to have everything in glass cases, but it’s less accessible that way,” Orton explains. “So, it may look nostalgic, but it actually doesn’t serve the customer very well. So we have hundreds of jars and barrels and buckets overflowing with penny candy [and] part of the charm is the size of the assortment. It’s a treasure hunt.”

In fact, the company employs a full-time candy merchant, Tish Anagnos, who travels the world finding and developing heritage candies.

“It’s a great deal of work, and it takes a real talent, a real nose for something that will appeal broadly to people,” says Orton. “And it also takes a real passion.”

Some of the products are simply the result of Anagnos tracking them down, but others have required her to find people to recreate the confection.

“We spent years in contact with a fellow whose family had made Bonomo Turkish Taffee, which had disappeared from the market,” Orton says. “And he had spent years trying to bring the product back and get it made faithfully to the authentic version that people remembered, so when he was able to bring that back successfully, we immediately offered it to our customers and they were wildly excited.”

Orton says one of the problems they have to overcome for confections is the complexity of the candy-making process.

“Every individual candy, no matter how simple it seems, typically involves special machinery or processes,” he explains. “And it’s not an easily scale-able business, [like] the other forms of manufacturing might be. So, if you’re in the shampoo business, you could make 20 different kinds of shampoo, from similar machinery. That’s not the case with candy... And part of the art of bringing back nostalgic candies is finding and effectively using old processes and machinery.“

Meanwhile, some of the penny candies are the work of small or family-owned confectioneries. Orton says that helps them offer unusual treats, such as chocolate-covered blueberries and chocolate-covered potato chips.

The store also has created its own snack product, Orton Brothers Cookie Buttons, which they distribute to other retailers, such as supermarkets. They come in a range of flavors, including: Purely Maple, Chocolaty Chocolate, Spicy Cinnamon, Snappy Ginger, Zesty Lemon, Peanut Butter and Double Vanilla.

“We’re growing that business quite rapidly,” Orton explains. “It’s one of our best selling products, and this fall, we’re offering the cookie button in chocolate.”

Despite the flood of nostalgic appeal, the company has embraced technology. Their sleek website - - allows customers to order many of their products online. In fact, most of their business stems from the website.

“The web is essential to doing business in the modern world, so we’re always working to improve products online, and the way we suggest products when they come to us online,” Orton explains.

Those who’d rather stay away from a computer though can take comfort in the store’s catalogues, which also allows customers to order products from afar.

The owners have talked about opening another physical store as well - they get a lot of requests to open a location in Texas - but they have some concerns about the possibility.

“We would never want to remove the magic of the stores we have,” Orton explains. “We wouldn’t necessarily want to go building stores all over the country. We want to keep it special and unique.”

As long as they continue to offer the past in the present though, there’s no doubt that The Vermont Country Store will retain its magic.

At a Glance

The Vermont Country Store

Headquarters: 5650 Main Street, Manchester Center, Vt.

Founders: Vrest and Mildred Ellen Orton

Current leadership: Lyman Orton and sons Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot

Store locations and square feet: Weston, Vt. 10,000 sq.-ft.; Rockingham, Vt., 7,600 sq. ft.

Tag line: Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find