Vermont Retailer Predicts Strong Season, Despite Fire and Power Outage

The Vermont Country Store in Weston credits its hardworking staff with helping the company bounce back from dual emergencies

One of Vermont’s most iconic businesses — with a national reach — is bouncing back from two sizable challenges that both hit during the key fourth quarter for retailers.

With just a week left until Christmas, the company said Tuesday that 2018 will end on a high note, business-wise.

“I can say that it will have a happy ending,” said Geof Brown, the chief storekeeper of the Vermont Country Store. “We’re having a very strong year.”

The Vermont Country Store’s Weston location is one of the state’s most-visited spots by travelers. You can find products you never knew you needed, from Lemon Up shampoo, which was popular in the 1970s, to a spoon specially designed to get every glob of jelly from the jar.

“We’re stocked to the rafters,” Brown observed.

The bright store displays in Weston are a welcome turnaround from the mountains of ruined merchandise left by a late-night warehouse fire in Clarendon in October.

More than $2-million worth of inventory, including many of this year’s Christmas products, was lost in the fire, along with the 16,000 square foot structure itself, according to Vermont State Police.

It took 11 departments to control the blaze, which was blamed on a faulty heating unit.

“There’s a lot of combustible materials,” Sgt. Thomas Williams of the Vermont State Police said at the scene of the fire during an investigation on October 22. “It’s all cardboard boxes and pallets stacked high full of stock, and there’s 16,000 square feet of it, so there’s a lot of fire load in there.”

CEO Jim Hall noted in October that there was enough time before Christmas to get reorders from long-time vendors, ahead of Black Friday.

“I think everyone is relieved,” Hall said in an interview with WPTZ-TV on October 22. “It was a setback for us, but nobody was injured.”

The company scrambled to get new stock from vendors, to change catalog listings and to photograph replacement items for the website.

Extra staff was brought in to handle all the emergency changes, the company said.

“If you walk around the store, it’s as if there was no fire at all,” Brown told necn & NBC 10 Boston Tuesday.

Then, another challenge came from Mother Nature. The store recently had to close for several days after heavy, wet snow knocked out electricity to wide swaths of the southern Vermont region, and made power restoration difficult.

Despite those lost days, Brown said the Vermont Country Store still expects sales to be up over last year, thanks to growth in online and smartphone shopping. Brown said the catalog continues to be a major driver for business, including with millennials.

In all this, there is a lesson for companies everywhere, this third-generation, family-owned retailer said: treat your employees well, so they’ll rally behind you when you need them the most.

“If you have a good strong organization that believes in its people early on, this is when they come to make a huge difference for you,” Brown said.

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