WESTON, Vt. Even if you havent crossed the border into Vermont, you still have some Green Mountain scenes in your mind. You know you do. That image of a town with candles in windows and swirling nighttime snow. Trees tapped for maple sugaring, a ski hill or two. Images from classic Vermont country stores pop to mind as easily as anything else: the potbelly stove, the barrels of pickles and crackers, the ring of pipe-puffers sitting around jawing about mud season or the dopey things city folk do. The Vermont Country Store is one of the few places left where people remember that these village stores were once the hub for both shopping and socializing. Though it has expanded to two locations the original store in Weston and a second in Rockingham and though it sells mostly through its catalog and over the Internet, the store is still owned by a local family: proprietor Lyman Orton and sons Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot. When Lymans father, Vrest Orton, startedthe business in 1946, he tried to bring back whatever products he could find from the North Calais store the family had run in the late 19th century. This makes The Vermont Country Store, according to its website, the fi rst restored rural store in the nation and one of the inspirations behind other big-time hawkers of nostalgia. Since The Vermont Country Store goes by the principle that everything sold must be useful, work, and make sense, we thought it might be fun to test out a selection of their old-time products to see if they are as good as (or better) than some contemporary brand names found in Wal-Mart or CVS. Heres a hot-off-the-stove report:
ORIGINAL BOZO THE CLOWN 3-D BOP BAG ($19.95)
OK, so this isnt your classic country store item. Last seen in the 1960s, not the 1860s, Bozo is still a lot more interesting than the infl atable or canvas punching bags found at Sports Authority, so I couldnt resist. It took me almost an hour to huff and puff Bozo into prime boxing condition, but once I did he measured an imposing 46 inches tall and it was a pleasure to nail him again and again on his squeaky 3-D nose. Take that! My cats, Sam and Betty, enjoyed the sound of Bozos sand-fi lled base, which swung him upright again and again to receive more punches. Sports Authoritys Everlast inflatable punching bag at $19.99 didnt even come close. Wait! Betty, stop! Bozo is NOT a scratching post! POP! Warning: Keep Bozo away from household pets.
IPANA WINTERGREEN TOOTHPASTE (three 3-oz. tubes, $4.99)
This tasty old-fashioned toothpaste pretty much went off the radar after the 1970s and I, for one, am glad its back. Hate to brush? Using Ipana Wintergreen Toothpaste is a bit like cleaning your teeth with a Life Saver. Im told that some Ipana fans have to remind themselves not to swallow, though to be honest I dont recommend eating it. Its hard to find any other wintergreen fl avored pastes, so I took a crack at comparing Ipana with Crests Cool Peppermint, which costs $2.49 for a 6.4-oz. tube. Although The Vermont Country Store catalog copy says that Ipana doesnt rely on confusing, newfangled additives, the tube tells you its full of the same stuff Crest is, including sorbitol, hydrated silica, fluoride, and the like. Still, Ipana foams a lot less in your mouth and, yum ... I wonder if they make this stuff in butterscotch or wild cherry?
VINOLIA BORACIC & COLD CREAM BATH SOAP (3 bars, $14.85)
Loaded with cold cream and some stuff you cant pronounce (boracic is British for boric acid), Vinolia brags that it was the one and only bath bar supplied to first-class cabins aboard the Titanic. Some marketing angle, snapped my wife as she filled our tub for a showdown versus Dove (2 bars, $2.59) and Camay (3 bars, $2.99). Its probably unlucky soap. As things turned out, Vinolia lathered better, felt smoother, and had a much less sickly scent than either of its modern competitors. And while Titanic passengers had only a couple of days to benefit from Vinolias complexion pampering formula, my wife is now convinced that this mammoth (5.9 oz.) slab is worth ordering again if it ever runs out. (A bonus: Since boric acid kills ants, it should keep the bathroom insect-free.)
HOBO SOUP (3 cans, $9.90)
According to legend OK, the storys on the cans label Hobo Soup was discovered in 1953 by a small-town newspaper reporter from Minnesota who was scouring hobo camps in search of a story. Instead, he got soup: this almost frosting-thick concoction of beans, more beans, potatoes, bacon, carrots, tomatoes, celery, onions, and turnips. Yep, I know hobos are hungry, very hungry, and its essential that a good hobo soup stick to the ribs. But all this mush topped off with the Added Smoke Flavoring kind of got to me partway through the 15-oz. can. This is sure to bring angry letters from hobos coast-to-coast, but I ended up preferring the Campbells Select Vegetable Medley I tried ($1.60 for an 18.6-oz can). A boring soup, but no navy beans and, well, the stuff slides down.
SCOTTIE DOG LICORICE TIN (1 lb., $10.95)
Scottish terriers are big at The Vermont Country Store. If you click the Scottie Dog Licorice Tin on the stores website (www.vermontcountrystore.com, click Food and Candy, then Licorice Shop), it informs you: You might also like our Lanz of Salzburg Scottie dog pajamas in 100 percent cotton flannel or our Magnetic Scottie Tricky Dogs. We say you cant have too many dog-themed products, and when a friend tried feeding one of these little black licorice treats to her West Highland terrier, it was snarfed down without any breed jealousy. We liked the taste, too, though some of the candies are slightly disfigured and theres a too-soft, Gummy Bear texture. Compared with the Twizzlers name-brand licorice we tried ($2.49 for a 24-oz. bag), the Scotties are spicier. The shiny tartan tin should keep these Scotties fresh for years, unless you discover (like we did) that youve reached the bottom in a couple of hours.
Contact Peter Mandel of Providence, author of childrens books including Say Hey! A Song of Willie Mays (Hyperion, 2000) at firstname.lastname@example.org.