Rutland Daily Herald
By Susan Smallheer
September 18, 1995

Honoring the Ordinary of Vermont
New Poster Highlights Small Town General Store

PLYMOUTH NOTCH -Governor Howard Dean bought a can of Moxie at the Florence Cilley General Store late Saturday afternoon and sat on the porch to drink it. An ordinary Vermonter (more or less) doing an ordinary thing on the steps of what Dean and others hope will continue to be ordinary -- Vermont's country stores.

Ordinary but special, say two Connecticut women who have created a special poster honoring Vermont's country stores, featuring 30 pen-and-ink drawings surrounding a watercolor montage of the atmosphere and artifacts of a country store.

The two women, Carol Wallace, an artist, and Jean Sands, a writer, presented Dean with an artist's proof of the poster Saturday afternoon on the steps of one of the state's more famous country stores. Both Women are ardent fans of the verdant state and the poster was their way, they said Saturday afternoon, of trying to preserve a unique aspect of Vermont. Connecticut, they said, is full of warehouses and convenience stores, malls and fast food restaurants.

Included in the poster are the Vermont Country Store in Weston, Gillingham's in Woodstock, the Perkinsville General Store and the Manwell General Store in Plainfield, among others.

Dean was invited to the President Calvin Coolidge Historic Site and bought a can of Coolidge's favorite soda at what was undoubtedly his favorite store: His father owned the store, he helped build the cherry and bird's-eye maple counters and he was born in the adjoining house. Coolidge even established his Summer White House in the Plymouth Notch community dance hall in the second floor of the general store, noted William Jenney, regional administrator for the state Division of Historic Preservation.

Jenney and Tordis Isselhardt of Bennington are the co-chairs of the recently established state Heritage Tourism Task Force, and general stores are part and parcel of that. Jenney said that what is now being called "heritage tourism," a combination of history and culture, is the biggest draw Vermont has to offer, according to requests for information at the state Department of Travel and Tourism.

The two women said they undertook the project, which includes 30 pen and ink drawings of stores from all corners of the state, because they loved Vermont country stores, which reflect an old-fashioned way of life.

Dean said country stores were an integral part of a community in Vermont's towns and villages. "They are functioning community centers" said Dean. "I hope country stores are preserved in everybody's memory and in everybody's daily life," he said.

Sands said that during her research into the stores she realized that each store had its own personality and it reflected the personality of its owner.

Dean said he had personally visited at least 15 of the stores on the poster during his various campaigns around the state, and he told a campaign story about a general store not on the poster -- one of the two general stores in the Connecticut River Valley town of Fairlee.

The governor said he upstaged himself when he spoke at the eighth grade graduation ceremonies at the Fairlee Elementary School when he recounted a confrontation with a Republican, dyed-in-the-wool Vermont storeowner. The man was not impressed with Dean, a Democrat and Burlington resident with New York roots.

But Dean said he shot himself in the foot, so-to-speak, because while he told this story, he didn't realize there were two Fairlee general stores, and the townspeople spent his entire speech trying to decide which curmudgeon it was.

Isselhardt said the Heritage Tourism Task Force was only two weeks old but that it was working to promote not just general stores but all Vermont traditions. Vermont is a real place and it has coherence, she said.

That task force will provide the state Travel and Tourism office with "good solid examples" of Vermont heritage that is open to the public. Jenny said the state's historic sites drew a good many visitors. The Coolidge Homestead has grown now to include about 1,000 acres in Plymouth Notch and about 20 buildings, he said.

"It's generally recognized as the best-preserved presidential birthplace. It's a pristine, early 20th century village," he said from the steps of the Cilley store.

The posters will be for sale in all 30 stores featured, Sands said. The theme of the poster is a treasure hunt, because there are two objects from each of the stores. Sands, of Harwinton, Connecticut and Wallace of Barkhamsted, Connecticut have donated 50 posters to the Preservation Trust of Vermont. The posters sell for $25 to cover the costs of printing. The two women don't expect to make money on their personal preservation project.