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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in VT » VERMONT (all topics) » Montpelier Comes Alive: Shopping
Montpelier Comes Alive: Shopping

Montpelier, Vermont

By Mike Dunphy | November 09, 2011

Ladybugs at the Artisans Hand Craft Gallery
Carvings at the Artisans Hand Craft Gallery
Stone Pipes at the Artisans Hand Craft Gallery
Hunger Mountain Coop
Bear Pond Books
Montpelier Farmers Market
Maple Syrup from Morse Farm
Scarves at at the Artisans Hand Craft Gallery
Goddesses at Katie’s Jewels

Previous Article in this Series

There’s a common refrain one hears in Montpelier, if you take the time to eavesdrop on the tourists (especially the elderly) moving up and down Main Street—a variation on a theme that says “this reminds me of my youth,” or “this was like my hometown when I was growing up.”

It’s not that Vermont’s capital is mounting a stiff resistance against modernity or its digital henchmen that keeps companies like McDonald’s outside the city gates, but instead a recognition of the forces that have destroyed so many small towns since World War II. If you need proof, look no further than Williston, 32 miles north, to see effect of big box stores on a small town. Its name may still be on the map, but the old community has gone.

The Artisans Hand Craft Gallery

Because money does indeed talk, “Montpeculiers” work hard to keep it in the small, local businesses that flourish around the eight-block town center, primarily clustered along the intersecting State and Main streets. For a tour of some of the best, start near the gold capitol dome at the western end of State Street, cross the road and head east.

Hang a right into the parking area just past the Christ Church Parish House to find the Montpelier Farmers Market, where up to a hundred vendors sell their wares. In addition to seasonal produce, you’ll find goods (each of which must include at least three local ingredients) from local weavers, bakers, florists, beekeepers, and artists. Live music adds much to the fun. In winter, the action moves up the hill to the Vermont College of Fine Arts and gets significantly cozier.

Head back to State Street, cross the road, and go north up Elm Street one block. Hang a right at the bridge and stop into Global Gifts, where proprietor Yvonne Babb reminds Montpelier that Vermont is still part of the globe. In addition to a selection if international knick-knacks from India, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey, she sells a variety of local products including ultra-soft, crochet, acrylic blankets ($95–$165 depending on size).

A Handmade Blanket at Global Gifts

Complement them across the street at Onion River Sports by picking a pair of Vermont-made Darn Tough socks ($15–$22). What makes ‘em so darn tough? Merino wool, high density knitting, elastic arch support, and ring toe construction—overkill for city folk perhaps, but perfect for a city in danger of snow seven months of the year, and a mud season following.

Leaving Onion River, go left to Main Street and then cross over to the Artisans Hand Craft Gallery, where Vermont artists display and sell a dazzling array of work in clay, fiber, paper, glass, metal, wood, glass, bronze, gold and silver. For 33 years, owner and weaver Maggie Neale has been celebrating Vermont’s craft community as part of her mission to keep Montpelier alive. Local work includes Mary Stone’s eight-note, stoneware whistles, shaped as various animals ($25–$165), Steve Bronstein’s metal-forged lady bugs ($160–$180), and Neale’s own hand woven rayon chenille scarves ($75–$88).

To satisfy any literary hankerings, go a few steps down Main to Bear Pond Books, a downtown staple since 1973. The well-worn wooden floor emits a nostalgic old New England aroma and extends to the back of the building, shotgun style, past racks of paperbacks and hard covers that reflect the literary passions of the staff. Across from the counter, you’ll find the Vermont section with area fiction writers like Linda Urban, Will Lange, and Katherine Paterson, of Bridge to Terabithia fame.

Standing outside at the intersection, cross back over to State and stop in a few doors down at Katie’s Jewels for some local bling. Jeweler Jeannemarie Schinhofen brings 36 years of experience and design sense to her gold, silver, and platinum creations including her “goddess” line of goddesses, crescent moons and spirals (price depends on metal and stones). Custom work is also available, as is wax carving, antique restoration, stone setting, fabrication, stringing, and beading.

An Array of Goods at Morse Farm

For some people, especially on tourist busses, such handcrafted work can be cost prohibitive or difficult to carry.   For those who simply want the classic chachki fridge magnets, snow globes, and chocolate, stop into Capitol Stationers on the south end of Main Street. Run for three generations by the Bigglestone family, the shop also carries organic t-shirts ($20) made by JC image, a Vermont company in St. Albans.

For the next stop, you may need a car, not just because of distance, but because of portage. If staying in the area for longer than a couple days, you’ll need some groceries. For a Montpelier frame of mind, go down Stone Cutters Way to the riverside Hunger Mountain Coop—a member-owned, natural food market “committed to building a dynamic community of healthy individuals, sustainable local food systems, and thriving cooperative commerce.” In short, you won’t have to examine the labels of what you buy; they’ve done it for you.

Wherever you shop, make sure you save a little for the Morse Farm, sitting atop Country Road, just north of the city. Follow Main Street until its ends and take the fork to the left. This iconic Vermont maple sugarworks represents a 200-hundred year family tradition of craftsmanship. Its large gift shop is also maple heaven and infused into nearly every product, like bacon, kettle corn, pancake mix, candy, cream, and spices. I personally recommend the collection of short stories and farm musings Golden Times ($19.95) by owner Burr Morse—the perfect balm for homesick Vermonters stuck in flat lands.

Join us in our next article for a complete tour of the Morse Farm and other Montpelier tourist attractions.

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