Minding the store … since “Hee Haw”

The Lincoln General Store has a mighty impressive inventory for a three-room emporium half way up an east-west mountain road that closes to the east in the winter. In all fairness, there are also a lot of things you cannot find there. For example, the store does not stock the $300 CatGenie, the self-washing, self-flushing cat litter box with a robot arm that scoops and scrapes and cleans and I would have to presume — scares the heck out of any cat that is even thinking of letting down his guard and squatting inside it. But the shop does have plenty of cat litter.
And while the Lincoln General Store sells T-shirts and sweatshirts and ball caps, it doesn’t sell shoes. So, if you are in the market for a pair of Rene Caovilla beaded slingback stilettos ($1,250), keep looking.
And, yes, the illustrious little deli and grocery does sell ice cream lots of ice cream. But you’ll need to go elsewhere if you want a swirl of soft serve in a cone, because it lacks a creemee machine. (My wife has always been a little relieved that it doesn’t sell creemees, because she fears she would live at the store if it did, and by now would be roughly the size of a Volkswagen.)
What the store does have in indisputable abundance is loyalty. For over a decade and a half now, Vaneasa and Dan Stearns have owned the store and run it as if they were related to every single human being who lives in Lincoln, hunts in Lincoln, or has merely passed through the hillside hamlet on a bicycle or leaf-peeping jaunt.
In all fairness, the two of them actually are related to a sizable percentage of the community. But, still, their store has always been a hospitable port in a storm. . .or a blizzard … or (in 1998) a flash flood that rumbled through the town. Apparently, it takes more than black ice or chasms in the asphalt that were 40 feet wide to keep them away, since the store has never once failed to open since they took over back in October 1991. In 1998, their store was one of five to be awarded Storekeeper of the Year by the Preservation Trust of Vermont.
How long ago was 1991? Well, George Bush was in the White House the other George Bush. Minnie Pearl was on “Hee Haw.” And a lot of the cast of “High School Musical 2” was in diapers.
Now after nearly 16 years of manning the registers, Vaneasa and Dan have announced to the community that they are putting the store up for sale. An era is coming to an end.
And what an era it was. Priscilla Presley shopped there. Paul Newman dropped by. And every autumn whole bus loads of tourists would descend upon the store in search of maple syrup and cola: The syrup was to take back to the flat lands and the cola to settle their stomachs after traversing the tortuous switchbacks of the Lincoln Gap in a bus.
Vaneasa and Dan were the switchboard for a town that still doesn’t have cell phone coverage. They relayed messages about hungry llamas and roiling septic tanks, they told us whether the schools were open or closed, and they informed us when we asked why the fire trucks had just raced north on Quaker Street.
Why are they are packing it in and selling the store? Because, pure and simple, it’s time. The store has been open nearly 64,000 hours on their watch (and counting), and it’s time to find a job that doesn’t demand their attention seven days a week. They want to be able to spend time with their teenage daughters, before the girls disappear completely into adulthood.
And while Vaneasa and Dan will be a tough act to follow, they are leaving behind a store with a devoted following and the monopoly on Slim Jims for a solid five miles. Sure, you couldn’t sell many pairs of slingback stilettos there. But adding a creemee machine? Now that would be progress.
Thank you, my friends, for being there these many years.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 16.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Minding the store … since “Hee Haw”

  1. Country Stores Are Great says:

    That’s a very nice story of a store, the kind of country store that is iconic in the imaginations of people like me who live in the ‘burbs of an overdeveloped state. It sounds like a wonderful place! I hope the new owners Definately add a creemee machine – if it has sugar-free, fat free ice cream, you can fool yourself into a lot of guilt-free treats! As for beaded, sling-back heels, no one should be wearing any kind of shoe with a heel higher than 2 inches. Just because one’s gender is female is no cause to wreck one’s feet in dumb-ass shoes. By the way, I just saw the first High School Musical movie. I hated it. Truly, I did. It makes Grease look like Shakespeare. (I did enjoy Grease, however, at the tender age of 13, so I’m *not* against every musical; not by a long shot). If the blogger likes HSM, however, kindly attribute my cranky reaction to this movie down to being forced to live among too many people and not enough trees. Believe me, those two aspects of one’s daily living can bring out the grump in anyone.:)

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