Vermont Country Store
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The Vermont Country Store, Inc., is an American catalogue, retail, and e-commerce business based in Vermont with stores in Weston and Rockingham, company headquarters in Manchester, and a distribution facility and customer service center in North Clarendon, near Rutland. The company also offers its products on an e-commerce website.
Founded in 1946 in Weston, Vermont by Vrest and Mildred Ellen Orton, The Vermont Country Store continues to grow under the Orton family and serves millions of customers annually. Famous for its specialty as “The Purveyors of the Practical & Hard-to-Find,” The Vermont Country Store sells a broad array of general merchandise, traditional, specialty, and nostalgic items. Since 1946, the store’s mail order catalogue has been distributed nationwide.
Although The Vermont Country store first opened in Weston, Vermont, in 1946, its origins lie in the Orton family’s long Vermont history. In 1897, Gardner Lyman Orton, the 12th generation of Ortons in the United States, opened a general store in Calais, Vermont. Gardner and his wife Leila had a son Vrest, founder of The Vermont Country Store, the same year. The Orton General Store, owned by Vrest’s father, Gardner Lyman, was the focal point of Vrest’s early years. At the age of 13, Vrest rented an office from his father and started his own publishing business.
After serving in World War I, in France, Vrest entered the class of 1923 at Harvard and then served briefly in the U.S. Consular Service before moving to New York City in 1925. There he was on the staff of H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury, Alfred Knopf publishers, the Saturday Review of Literature, Life magazine, and in 1929 founded the international book collector’s magazine, The Colophon. During this time, Vrest became known as an authority on typography and book collecting and published many articles about various American writers. Vrest returned to Vermont in 1935 and settled in the village of Weston with his wife, Mildred Ellen Wilcox, where he founded a book publishing company, The Countryman Press.
In the early 1940s, Vrest decided that he wanted to open an authentic, old-fashioned, rural country store identical to the store his family had run in Calais, Vermont. However, the idea was postponed until the end of the World War II. Vrest spent the war years working for the Pentagon as a speechwriter. It was during this time he was inspired by a popular image in a Chase & Sanborn Coffee advertisement, featuring a group of bearded old-timers in an old country store, sitting around a pot-bellied stove with a dog resting nearby on the wooden floor. This image reinforced Vrest's singular vision to revive the concept of an authentic American country store. After the War's end, Vrest returned once again to Vermont where he set to work, realizing this vision.
In the fall of 1945, Vrest and Mildred officially entered the mail-order business with a catalogue, "The Voice of the Mountains". Vrest printed the catalogue, consisting of 12 pages and 36 items, on the printing press in his garage, and Mildred mailed it to her family Christmas card list. Riding on the success of that first catalogue, Vrest and Mildred purchased a two-story structure in Weston, built in 1827, that had originally been a country inn and opened The Vermont Country Store in the spring of 1946. The Weston store has the distinction of being America’s first restored and fully operational country store and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As its catalogue mailing list grew, the store gained national attention with the publication of a 1952 article in the Saturday Evening Post by Edward Shenton entitled, "The Happy Shopkeeper of the Green Mountains". At the time, The Saturday Evening Post had a readership of several million people and was one of the most widely read publications in America. The feature article yielded The Vermont Country Store unprecedented exposure to a national audience, resulting in tens of thousands of inquiries from people all over the country, eager to visit the store. Vrest was quick to capitalize on this new-found publicity and began expanding the store.
With so many new visitors to Weston it soon became clear a place was needed to serve people lunch. In 1959 Vrest and Mildred bought the home next to the store and opened a restaurant, The Bryant House, which continues to serve countless visitors to Weston to this day. In 1966 Vrest was inspired by the growth of the business to open a second store on Route 103 in Rockingham, Vermont. The location features a mill pond, an authentic grist mill with a water wheel, and a restored covered bridge. In 2010 the Weston store opened Mildred's Dairy Bar. Named in honor of Mildred Orton, the take-out restaurant serves classic New England roadside food, featuring Wilcox's ice cream, delivered from the Wilcox farm in Manchester, Vermont, where Mildred was raised.
Vrest and Mildred’s son Lyman took over management of The Vermont Country Store in 1972. Under Lyman's leadership the business grew substantially into a modern company with hundreds of employees and millions of customers. Today, Lyman's sons Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot continue the family’s merchant tradition.
Vrest Orton’s public service
Active in public service for years, Vrest Orton was chairman of the Vermont Historic Sites Commission, vice president of the Vermont Historical Society, and a founder and editor of Vermont Life magazine. He also served as a consultant to Dartmouth College and other institutions, to the Ford Motor Company, and to the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington. He served on the Vermont Executive Committee from 1979 to 1980 for the election of President Ronald Reagan.
While Vrest was the chairman of the Vermont Historic Sites Commission, he succeeded in convincing the Army Corps of Engineers to save an 1872 covered bridge in Townshend, Vermont. The bridge was slated to be demolished to make way for a dam project the Army Engineers were building. This bridge was carefully taken apart, stored, and reconstructed in Rockingham, Vermont, in 1966, when Vrest opened a second store there.
Mildred Ellen Orton also achieved some literary notoriety with the publication of her best-selling Cooking with Wholegrains cookbook. First published in 1951 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, the book was a compilation of generations-old recipes that emphasized using unbleached, unprocessed, whole-grain flours. The book was re-issued for publication by Farrar Strauss in 2009.
As of July 2013, a class action lawsuit is pending against the company by current and former workers. The lawsuit alleges that the defendant, Vermont Country Store failed to pay workers for all time worked. The company has been required to mail and post notices of the lawsuit to all current and former employees. 
- Hevesi, Dennis (2010-05-15). "Mildred E. Orton, a Founder of Vermont Country Store, Is Dead at 99". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
- Orton, Vrest (1983). The Story of The Vermont Country Store. Academy Books. ISBN 0-914960-45-8.
- Orton, Mildred Ellen (1947, reprint 2010). "Cooking With Wholegrains". Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-53261-3.