The Vermont Country Store: Our Face of America Journey Continues

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2010
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

“Every great business is built on friendship.”  J.C. Penney

Mix a lot of hard work, a great vision, a commitment to customer service, a quest for excellent products and the creation of an atmosphere that represents so much of what America is on its best days and you have a recipe for the Vermont Country Store.

Located in Weston, Vermont, this country store is a magical place.  It is not only the wonderful mix of products, and the genuine country store environment that makes it that way.  It is the human connections people have with this store and the people who work here.  That’s what makes this place so special.

Over the years Kitch and I have used The Vermont County Store catalogue to purchase items.  In fact, the draperies in my room were purchased from the store. As customers, we have never had a bad experience.

The way we look at things, service is an important part of the mosaic of the Face of America on its best days. Therefore, it was only natural that we would try to arrange a visit to this iconic place in Weston.

During our first telephone contact, we were connected to the answering service of Lynda Hilliard, the Assistant to the President  & CEO.  Our message was received and answered in a very pleasant and encouraging way, and the rest as they say is history.

Following the advice of Tom Peters, Lynda made sure that the shades were not closed on this window of opportunity.

On July 5, at 2:30 p.m., we pulled into the parking lot behind the store.  It was one of the hottest days of the summer, but everywhere we looked we saw and heard the sweet sounds of people of all ages having a good time. 

There was an elderly couple on a wooden swing smiling and enjoying their ride. There was a couple from Maryland eating ice cream on the porch of the side entrance to the store. A clinical research manager from Vancouver and a surgeon from New York came to experience the fun of the store.

There were people gathered in front of a sign that called attention to a way to conserve energy. It read: Right to Dry.

From the moment we got out of our Prius, we had a good feeling about this place.

The atmosphere inside the store was refreshingly positive and very welcoming.

Every employee we met went out of their way to help us. Every shopper we interviewed inside the store was enthusiastic about the shopping experience and the variety of products available.

The founder of the store, Vrest Orton wanted to build a personal business. He wanted to stock his store with old-fashioned, useful things that are hard to find.   He wanted his store to be a genuine country store. He wanted his products to stand the test of time, and he provided his customers with a 100 percent guarantee.

As we walked along the aisles between colorful display tables filled with things that brought back memories of a less complicated time, we felt a sense of belonging and attachment that is difficult to describe. We felt as though we were at home. We felt safe and comfortable and relaxed and joyful. We felt like two kids who were tethered to their parents as they shopped in the Five & Dime of our youth.

We were not alone. Rita Mcgahan, a shopper from Boston, liked the fact that she could touch everything, relax and feel no harassment.  She found the employees willing to help her with any question she had.  Raymond Farland, a retired IBM employee who lives in Vermont, agreed.  He and his wife were attracted to the store by an advertisement in a magazine. It was their first visit, and it lived up to their expectations.

Every employee we talked with told us the store was a fun place to work.  They enjoyed meeting the people who visit, and they are trained in customer service. Martha Clarkson, the store manager for this day, put everything into context with this comment: “On the day we are hired, we are told that our number one job is customer service.  We want to make sure that the customer is happy. We want to make this the best possible experience for the customer.”

Sandy Reed said it another way: “There’s a lot of stuff that makes it special, but I think the people are number 1. We get to meet a whole bunch of people.”

Imagine that, an employee who is enthusiastic about the people she meets on the job.

We came to Weston, Vermont, and its most celebrated business, The Vermont Country Store, searching for the Face of America on its best days.  We found it in the employees who helped us.  We found it in the responses of shoppers who were enjoying their shopping experience. We found it in the legacy of Vrest Orton, a man who revitalized his town, preserved its history and built a successful business that is deeply rooted in simplicity and service.

Long before Vrest Orton opened his store in Weston, Marshall Field established 12 principles for retailers to remember.  All of these principles are alive and well in The Vermont Country Store. Four of Field’s values are very obvious to anyone who visits this place: “The joy of origination; the dignity of simplicity; the pleasure of working, and the power of kindness.” 

There is one other truism attributed to Marshall Field that is the lifeblood of The Vermont Country Store: “Whether right or wrong, the customer is always right.”

Shortly before 7 p.m., as we were driving home, we received a call from a senior executive from the store. He wanted to know if we had a successful visit. He followed that message with another telephone call and two e-mail messges that speak volumes about The Vermont Country Store and its management team. These unexpected acts of kindness give truth to the words of J.C. Penney:“ Every great business is built on friendship.”You can make recommendations for a Face of America episode by writing to us at or

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

Kitch and Tony Mussari
The Face of America Project