DORSET — In 1816, a building that may have been owned by Norman Blackmer and Harvey Holley was established as a retail store, and is one of the oldest country stores in the Green Mountain State. This year it turns 200.
Throughout the year the Dorset Union Store is celebrating by giving away items every month to the 200th customer. This month is a grill set with accessories such as an apron, spatula and sauces. An official event will commence on July 9 along with the Dorset Historical Society's ice cream social and the library's annual event.
"I can't believe it," owner Cindy Loudenslager said. "For a business to last 200 years, it's pretty amazing. It's hard to put into words."
Though the store doesn't have the most accurate history, the Dorset Union Store on the Dorset Green used to operate as a co-op and associated with the New England Protective Union, which offered uniform bookkeeping and partnership. It was bought by Moore Holley & Company in 1839 and acquired names such as S.F. Holly & Co. and Holley & Gray Co., according to Tyler Resch's book "Dorset, in the shadow of the marble mountain" (1989). At this point, it was a six-man partnership. Six years later the store name was changed to Underhill & Ray, and then Clark Gray in 1847.
The original name came back in 1851 when it encompassed a library space and store on the second floor. In 1926 Perry M. Peltier and Kimball O. Tifft bought the store and renamed it the Peltier & Tifft general store. Tifft sold his half in 1955 and the name was dropped to just "Peltier's."
Jay and Terri Hathaway from Connecticut bought the store in 1977 and lived with their three children on the second floor for 27 years until they sold it in 2004 to John Rushing and Ellen Stimson. Three years later Loudenslager and Gretchen Schmidt took the reins and restored the original name, once again.
Many coincidences revolve around the relationship between the current owners and the Hathaways. The Hathaways' son worked in a bank near Loudenslager when she had a career in New York City, but lived in Connecticut. The land that Loudenslager purchased belonged to Peltier's relative, and 14 people lent the Hathaways money to keep the store running at one point, in which they were later paid back, however when the store first opened, 14 people ran it. Now, Schmidt and Loudenslager are godmothers to Hathaway's grandchildren.
Loudenslager met Schmidt when Schmidt worked at the Dorset Inn and Loudenslager had started coming to Vermont on the weekends to work at the store until she finally stayed and retired from banking. Schmidt left the inn after some time as well.
"We're just stewardesses until someone else takes over," Loudenslager said, smiling at Terri Hathaway. "It looked like a fun thing to do."
Hathaway's husband passed, but was a community man and maintained the storefront while Terri did behind-the-scenes work upstairs. They first came to Dorset in 1974 to sell antiques across from the Dorset Quarry. In 2001 she bought a house on the Dorset Green and lives there still today and works in real estate.
"Our goal was to keep everything similar but more functional. The floors are the same," Loudenslager said. "The deli was here but it was in the middle. The shelves for the mailboxes are still the same."
The Vermont Store Fixture Corporation installed cabinets but because they looked too new, they had to be weathered to stick with the old country store theme. Community members still get their newspapers delivered to mailboxes in the store, too.
Even though the Hathaways and Loudenslager were outsiders, appealing to the community wasn't hard, especially with the help of Schmidt. The owner of the H.N. Williams General Store down the road labeled the Hathaways locals in their second year of business.
"She said, 'Jay and Terry aren't flatlanders,' she called us locals," Hathaway said. "I realized what a culture this was."
When Loudenslager and Schmidt took over, the Great Recession was in full swing.
"There wasn't a big business here, so we had to build it back up," Loudenslager said. "People were so used to going somewhere else. Now, there's something here for everyone. Sandwiches, and dollar sliders, but there's still a $40 bottle of olive oil on the shelf over there. Sales go up every year now."
The store has a full kitchen in the back with a deli, wine and beer, perishable food items, fresh produce, soft serve ice cream, baked goods and other Vermont made items. The kitchen used to be where dry cleaning was picked up and dropped off and there was also an area for movie rentals. It also houses a grill and smoker outside with to-go dinners made ready to order.
There are now 24 consistent employees.
On July 9 there will be old-fashioned games such as hoop rolling, with prizes, food, and banjo and fiddle music. The store will honor the Vermont Make-A-Wish Foundation and Unplugged Vermont, an organization to get children to not depend as much on technology and instead go out into nature. Both groups are close to the owners and Hathaway.
The Dorset Union Store is located at 31 Church St. and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.