Vrest and Ellen Orton opened The Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vermont, in 1946. They were inspired by childhood memories of Vrest's father's general store in North Calais, Vermont, which opened in 1897. The Weston store was the first restored rural general store in the nation. "I can still recall my father's store, where most of the men came in the evenings to wait for the horse-drawn stage that brought the mail from Montpelier, thirteen miles away," Vrest Orton said. "The store was warm and cozy. It smelled of harness, coffee, smoky kerosene lamps, tobacco, and sugar maple wood burning in the big stove."
Today, The Vermont Country Store is owned by Lyman Orton and sons Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot, 7th & 8th generation Vermonters, and 4th & 5th generation storekeepers. They adhere to the old-fashioned values set forth by Vrest and take pride in being Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find. In today's global economy, merchants at the Vermont Country Store search throughout the nation and abroad to find goods that fill the needs of American and international customers alike. Speaking for the Orton family, Eliot says, "We still go to great lengths to find products thet aren't sold anywhere else."
Timeline of The Vermont Country Store
How the Ortons Became a Family of Storekeepers
My great-grandfather, Melvin Teachout become a storekeeper when he partnered with his son-in-law, my grandfather Gardner Lyman Orton (right), and opened the Teachout-Orton Store (below), in North Calais in 1897, the year my father was born. By then, the hundred-year population decline was
underway in Vermont, and hill towns like North Calais were hit especially hard. The Orton family left North Calais in 1910 and moved to Athol, Massachusetts, where Gardner and a partner opened the Orton & Tillotson Store. My father, Vrest, graduated from Athol High School and soon set out for New York for a career in publishing, learning the ropes from H.L. Mencken at The American Mercury magazine, and sealing his lifelong
passion in writing and publishing. But Vermont beckoned and Vrest returned to his birth state, settling in Weston in 1933.
Vrest and Mildred met when both worked for Tuttle Publishing Company in Rutland, Vermont, and they married in 1936. He started The Countryman Press in his print shop and wrote weekly. I was born in September 1941; three months later Pearl Harbor was attacked. My parents moved to Washington, DC, to help with the war effort where Vrest, who had served in World War I in France, took a job in the Pentagon. In 1944 he saw an ad for Chase & Sanborn coffee using a color lithograph of an old country store which reminded him of the North Calais store.
He was determined to return to Weston at war's end and recreate that store with a mail order catalog. In 1945, my parents sent the first catalog to their expanded Christmas card list. They purchased a building in Weston that uncannily resembled the Teachout-Orton store and opened The Vermont Country Store in the summer of 1946.2015
Whatever merchant-DNA was in my great-grandfather and grandfather, it certainly passed to my father, and I was fortunate to retain that genetic disposition. My three sons, Gardner, Cabot, and Eliot, are carrying on the family tradition.