On the way to or from the slopes, these historic general stores are a taste of true Vermont. And many now offer house-made gourmet meals to go.
This past year, as Covid-19 closed Vermont’s bars and restaurants, libraries, churches and gyms, general stores (deemed essential during the Covid-19 pandemic) stayed open. With locals stopping in to buy eggs, butter and milk, as well as newspapers and basic household goods, Vermont’s small-town general stores stepped back into the starring role they have played for centuries: supplying towns with moments of social interaction in a time of isolation and distance.
As Bill McKibben, Ripton resident, environmentalist and Middlebury College Scholar in Residence, wrote in a 2018 article for The New York Times, “If you don’t have a store, you can’t really have a town.”
While many general stores have been forced to shutter due to the rise of bigger grocery chains and gas stations, these classic general stores in or near ski areas hold the character and spirit of Vermont. And many have turned their delis into gourmet catering shops, with breakfast, lunch or even full dinner meals to go.
Whether you ski or ride, stop at these eight classic Vermont general stores and take part in the fabric of small-town life.
JJ Hapgood General Store & Eatery, Peru
As soon as you walk into the J.J. Hapgood General Store & Eatery, you feel like you’re at home. Just minutes from the slopes of Bromley, the place is a balance between a tribute to the store’s long history and an updated rendition of what a “general store” might look like on a Hollywood set. Coffee and kombucha are both prominently displayed.
In 2013 Juliette Britton, a Peru native, along with her husband Tim purchased the store which first opened in 1927 but had been closed for a handful of years. While the couple had hoped to restore the original building, the Vermont Department of Historic Preservation determined it was not salvageable. Local contractors used materials from the original store, such as wooden beams, shelves and cases, to reconstruct the building.
By the end of 2013, the store was open for business and it has since welcomed skiers and riders from Bromley, Stratton and Magic as well as visitors (including former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, who is an occasional customer). The store’s logo, in fact, was designed by artist David Larkham (a friend of Britton’s), who has done album covers, concert graphics and posters for Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and many more.
People stop in to grab a (socially distanced) drink at the new bar, or, when weather permits, to sit down for a meal outside at one of the many tables spaced six feet apart. Head to the indoor or outdoor bar for a cocktail made by KJ Heingartner from Silo Distillery. If you’re short on time, pop in for a fresh-pressed juice to go or the famous buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.
There’s not much to the town of Peru but this general store serves as a gathering place to listen to live music performed by local bands such as The Butties Beatles Cover Band or to sample whatever the house chef is cooking up as the daily special. The menu includes everything from pizza cooked on a woodfired stove to farm fresh salads to vegetable ragout, all of which can be taken home.
While the pandemic has impacted the ability of the store to welcome diners and shoppers at full volume, the store has adopted and implemented a handful of public health precautions and it is constantly working to serve visitors in a way that ensures the safety and health of all parties.
F.H. Gillingham and Sons General Store, Woodstock
Gillingham’s is perhaps one of the most established general stores in the state, counting President Coolidge and Franklin Swift among its famously loyal shoppers. The store was started in 1886 by Franklin Gillingham, who was the great grandfather of current owners, Jireh and Frank Billings, who are descendants of Gillingham as well as Franklin Billings.
“It’s a fun history to live,” Jireh says, talking about the inspiration he continues to draw from his great grandfather, Frank Henry Gillingham. Even in the 1800s, F.H. Gillingham, a skilled entrepreneur, took advantage of the proximity to White River Junction to corner the market, telling customers he could keep his prices low if they bought groceries from him in larger quantities, which his workers would happily deliver to their homes.
The Gillingham’s history is very much entwined with Vermont skiing culture. As the sport grew in popularity in the 1920s and the first iteration of the rope tow was introduced at Suicide Six, Frank Henry Gillingham decided that his store, which previously just sold groceries and hardware needed to become one of the first ski dealers in Vermont. Within a matter of months, the store added a ski shop on the second floor that sold everything needed for a successful day on the slopes. Five decades later, the store downsized their ski shop operations as more specialized retailers started popping up.
Today, Gillingham’s continues to serve as the center of life in Woodstock and you’ll find visitors and locals alike stopping in to pick up a pair of mittens or hand warmers before heading to Suicide Six in the morning. In the afternoon, an influx of shoppers flows into the store as they pick up a beer from a Vermont brewery, some cheese from around the state or maple products to sweeten the day.
Original General Store, Pittsfield
Pittsfield may be home to just over 400 people, but the town relies heavily on the Original General Store for an ATM, a variety of locally- sourced food and a community hub.
In 2002, New Yorker Joe De Sena traded life on Wall Street for life in Pittsfield where he bought Riverside Farm, an organic farm and Amee Farm, a bed and breakfast. Shortly after moving to Vermont, he and his now-wife Courtney heard that there were plans to turn the then-100-year-old general store into apartments.
The De Senas stepped in to ensure the historic store didn’t disappear. Then they recruited chef Kevin Lasko from New York’s tony Two Park Ave. restaurant and his partner Katie Stiles to develop the menus and run catering from there. The couple still offer special dinners in The Backroom behind the store and you can thank them for the melt-in-your mouth Slow Roasted Pulled Pork or such seasonal Saturday Night Supper specialties (for takeout) as Corn and Ricotta Raviolis or Blueberry Plum Upside Down Cake. The store also carries local meats and other specialties and has long wooden tables where you can hunker down.
As the store took off, De Sena got hooked on endurance events, ultramarathons and adventure races and he started Spartan Races in 2010. They have since grown into a multi-million-dollar operation with more than 270 events in more than 40 countries.
While you won’t find De Sena behind the counter at The Original Store, it’s likely that you’ll run into a buffed Spartan participant (De Sena’s fans are known to travel far and wide with the hopes of interacting with the best-selling author and host of the podcast “Spartan Up!”). It’s also a perfect place to grab a Vermonter Smoothie after biking the Green Mountain Trails or skiing or riding at Killington.
Ripton Country Store, Ripton
This country store, famous for the ice machine which reads “IEC,” looks and feels exactly like what you’d expect a general store in a tiny mountain town to look like. Set in the heart of Ripton—a town with an inn, school, town hall and just 600 residents—it’s just 10 minutes west down Route 125 from the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and the Rikert Nordic Center. The community of Ripton is so small and houses are so remote that mail doesn’t get delivered here. Instead, locals head to the store to pick up their packages, letters and bills. Here you might see a grizzled, flannel-clad local fingering the dials of the vintage mailbox he’s held for 50 years. You might also find a posse of Spandex-wearing Nordic ski racers buying energy bars, a Long Trail thru-hiker reprovisioning a giant backpack or spy part-time Ripton residents and actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and her brother Jake picking up The New York Times.
Open from 7 am to 7 pm year-round, the Ripton Country Store is still the place where parents taking their kids up to the Snow Bowl’s Magic Carpet stop to pick up candy, milk or local eggs.
Cyclists also stop here to catch a breath on the long ride up winding Route 125 or to take a picture sitting on the bench next to the ice machine. “IEC” was printed on it due to an honest mistake made by an ice company employee years ago—and it has been intentionally replicated on replacement machines ever since.
When the store’s previous owners, Dick and Sue Collitt (who bought the store in 1976), put it on the market in 2018, Ripton resident, renowned environmentalist author and Middlebury College Scholar-in-Residence, Bill McKibben wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times— a sort of personal ad on behalf of the store, which he calls “the heart and soul of our community.” McKibben pointed out that while the idea of owning a picturesque general store might be enticing, any prospective owner must be ready to work hard day after day.
Fortunately, Eva Hoffmann and her husband Gary Wisell bought the store in late 2018. The couple relocated from Norfolk, Virginia. They’ve kept the vibe, and, like their predecessor, they make sure to ask you how your day has been as you come in and wish you well as you head out.
Warren Store, Warren
Located just across from The Pitcher Inn in the tiny hamlet of Warren, the Warren Store inhabits an 1839 building that was previously home to an inn, a library, a post office and a hardware store. Today, the store continues to be a gathering place for Sugarbush and Mad River Glen skiers, artists and noted Valley architects such as David Sellers (who helped rebuild the Pitcher Inn ), and an assortment of the Mad River Valley’s eclectic locals.
If you’re in the mood to do some fun shopping, the upstairs, which used to host community dances, is now home to an adorable collection of toys, books and clothes for children as well as jewelry, cards, and men’s and women’s clothing. You’ll find clothing and accessories by brands like Woolrich, Toad & Co., Smartwool, Kuhl and Pistil. Additionally, the upstairs has housewares and gifts made by Vermont companies like Green Village Soap and greeting cards by local artists.
Upstairs you’ll also find two cash registers, the sign above one reads “long-winded conversation register;” the sign above the other register reads “express register—10 words or less.”
Before you head to Sugarbush or Mad River Glen for a day on the slopes, grab the store’s breakfast sandwich which is to-die-for and made with local cheese and eggs and is served on a freshly baked English muffin.
Deli specials are updated daily online. If you’re more of a traditionalist, order the famous “Number Six”—roast turkey, red onion, lettuce and the house-made cranberry sauce on bread that’s made daily in the bakery. If you forgot to plan dinner, you’re in luck because Chef Colleen Mahoney and the rest of the kitchen have fresh, grab-and-go dinners ready for you, chicken noodle soup, shepherd’s pie and meat or veggie lasagna.
The Store’s bakery uses King Arthur Flour and Cabot Creamery butter to make éclairs, brownies, cookies, cakes, muffins and breads. Plus, the bakery makes an incredible yule log that’s a perfect holiday dessert.
Dan & Whit’s General Store, Norwich
Just 25 minutes from the Dartmouth Skiway and over the river from Hanover, N.H., Dan & Whit’s is a classic general store and a community hub, where you can often find musicians performing in front of the store.
The store plays a huge role in the community and has operated with the belief that “Main Street matters,” since it first opened for business in the 1930s as Merrill’s.
Stop by to pick up salads made with produce from local farms, a maple creemee or some Vermont-made organic hand sanitizer. The store’s deli serves burgers and sandwiches and in a nearby refrigerator case you’ll find lunch favorites like single servings of chicken salad and other house-made salads with local ingredients.
Recently, the store hosted public-health-code-compliant haircuts out front and sold tie-dyed Black Lives Matter shirts and donated a portion of sales to support local efforts for the organization by the same name. Additionally, the store has “round up at the register” days to support local non-profits.
Shaw’s General Store, Stowe
For the past 125 years, Shaw’s General Store has stayed in the family—a family that counts several generations of NCAA, World Cup and Olympic ski racers, including Tiger Shaw, the current president of U.S. Skiing. Once home to Stowe’s first ski shop, Shaw’s shifted gears in 1936 after the first chair lift went in on Mt. Mansfield and ski shops proliferated up and down Stowe’s Mountain Road.
Today you’ll find the store at its busiest after the lifts close as skiers and riders head to Main Street to pick up Stowe postcards or T-shirts, local-crafted soaps, hiking shoes and classic apparel.
Stowe’s full-time population is 5,000 and two-thirds of the residents are second homeowners, relatively large by Vermont standards. While Shaw’s doesn’t sell foodstuffs or most essential goods, it does have everything from warm winter boots, flannel and fleece to toys for kids and maple syrup. And the store has remained a cornerstone of Stowe village.
Alex Stevens, whose great grandfather started the store, and who is one of a handful of fifth-generation descendants helping to run Shaw’s, points out that the classically picturesque look and feel of the store serves as a huge attraction to visitors.
Craftsbury General Store, Craftsbury
Located in the center of Craftsbury not far from the Nordic trails of Crafstbury Outdoor Center, the Craftsbury General Store has everything you need, and then some. The store was founded in 1855 and has been continuously running since then. And it still houses the post office.
Kit Basom and Emily Maclure bought the store in 2012 and have been partners in operation since then and are looking forward to welcoming Jana Smart, who is the store’s chef, as a partner in the coming year.
The store’s website now offers an online shopping option that allows you to fill up your “basket” from the comfort of your couch before you hit the trails so you can stop and grab your groceries, deli or dinner order without entering the store.
Another big upgrade made by the pair is the revamp of the deli to include dishes that range from healthy to hearty—such as kale and quinoa salads made with local greens and vegetables or a grilled cheese on fresh-baked Elmore Mountain Bread.
Stop by in the morning to pick up a fresh baked scone or muffin, flavors vary depending on the day, or a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin that will fuel any adventure the day has in store for you.
The store is famous for their special cookie, which is a combination of brown butter, Belgian chocolate, pecans and sea salt. “It’s so popular that we’ve stopped baking any other kind of cookie,” Maclure says with a laugh. On Saturdays you’ll also find maple glazed sticky buns topped with pecans, a perfect weekend treat.
On Wednesday nights the store offers “Globe Trotting Dinners,” which sometimes include Korean bibimbap, Thai salad or Moroccan tagine.
You’ll find locally made gifts for everyone in your life such as jewelry made by Jennifer Kahn and pottery made by Sarah Russell.
Eds. note: With Covid-19 store hours, offerings and more is subject to change. Please check store websites.
All photos courtesy from the stores.