People & Places

Vermont Country Store is feelin’ groovy

The Vermont Country Store in Weston is attracting holiday shoppers by bringing back such ’60s and ’70s throwbacks as Hai Karate aftershave. VTDigger Photo by Kevin O'Connor
The Vermont Country Store in Weston is attracting holiday shoppers by
bringing back such ’60s and ’70s throwbacks as Hai Karate aftershave. VTDigger Photo by Kevin O’Connor
The Vermont Country Store — a three-generation family business
offering old-fashioned bargains in Weston, Rockingham and mail-order
catalogues nationwide — has plenty to keep a winter-weary man warm in

Flannel pajamas? Check. Hot water bottles? Check. Hai Karate
aftershave? Yes, lovers of the Day-Glo green, Feelin’ Groovy-era,
fight-off-the-affection cologne, the self-described “Purveyors of the
Practical and Hard-to-Find” now have that, too.

Back when the late Vrest Orton established what’s now a $100 million
annual enterprise in 1946, he was inspired by childhood memories of
his father’s turn-of-the-century general store in North Calais.

“Most of the men came in the evenings to wait for the horse-drawn
stage that brought the mail from Montpelier, 13 miles away,” the
founder is quoted on “It smelled of
harness, coffee, smoky kerosene lamps, tobacco, and sugar maple wood
burning in the big stove.”

Vrest’s son Lyman and grandsons Cabot, Eliot and Gardner still stock
such notions and lotions as balsam-needle-filled door draft stoppers
and Bag Balm moisturizer. But when most customers enter the store
today, they don’t have memories of the 1860s and 1870s, but instead of
the 1960s and 1970s.

That’s why, on the 50th anniversary of television’s “A Charlie Brown
Christmas,” shoppers will find Slinkys, kaleidoscopes and wooden tops
displayed underneath what Peanuts character Lucy extols as “a great,
big, shiny aluminum Christmas tree!”

“Silver Tinsel Christmas Tree — In 3 Sizes!” reads the catalog
headline for models ranging from $34.95 to $99.95. “Remember the
silvery tinsel trees from the 1950s and 1960s, so shiny, so
wonderfully unnatural, so full of sparkle and light? So many of our
customers wanted to re-create that magical look that we found these
sparkly replicas — complete with bursts of feathery soft, silver
plastic needles and ready for your finishing touch.”

(Or perhaps the “Make Holiday Magic With Our Rotating Color Wheel” for
an additional $34.95.)

If embracing Charlie Brown’s clanging symbol of commercialism isn’t
enough, the Vermont Country Store also is bringing back — good grief —
the same Hai Karate aftershave known four decades ago for its campy television commercials.

“Wow, what’s that aftershave you’re wearing?” an aroused woman shouts
in one ad as she rips off a mild-mannered man’s Clark Kent glasses.

“Hai Karate aftershave is so powerful,” an off-screen announcer
explains, “it drives women right out of their minds. That’s why we
have to put instructions on self-defense in every package.”

“Hai Karate,” the voice concludes. “Be careful how you use it.”

A ’60s era “tinsel tree” shines over shoppers at the Vermont Country Store in Weston. VTDigger Photo by Kevin O'Connor.
A ’60s era “tinsel tree” shines over shoppers at the Vermont Country
Store in Weston. VTDigger Photo by Kevin O’Connor.

How would the store’s founder react to all the commotion? Eliot Orton
recently told CBS News that his grandfather’s objective was “not all
that different than what our goal is today — in helping to revive
products from long ago.” And customer reviews on the store’s website
confirm the aftershave’s “exotic blend of lavender, basil, geranium,
bergamot, rose, and patchouli” incites business.

“Just a little of this aftershave goes a long way,” an Illinois man
calling himself “Vintage Fan” comments. “And, as soon as I splashed it
on, I had to fight off my wife (okay, just a little).”

“This product is, molecule for molecule, the same aftershave that I
bought my old man for his birthday so many years ago,” an Oregon
purchaser seconds. “However, the karate instruction sheet which was
placed in the original package is missing here.”

“My father used to wear this scent & I love it!” a Washington woman
named Mackey adds. “I bought it for my husband, but would have
purchased it for myself if there was no man in my life to give it to.”

Memories, it seems, are priceless — or in the case of Hai Karate,
$45.95 for a 3.4 oz. bottle. As for customers who prefer “warm and
fuzzy” over “hot and bothered,” the store suggests its exclusive
Peanuts flannel pajamas, sheets, robes and slippers.

“The most vital evolution of the Vermont Country Store lies in its
ability to delight new generations of future customers with engaging,
appealing, useful aspects of the past,” the family concludes in a
recent statement to Parade magazine (the old Sunday staple that’s now “For us, bringing back long-lost brands is a true calling
and a real joy.”

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Kevin O'Connor

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  • Tiffany Doré

    I’m purchasing some Hai Karate right now for my husband’s Christmas present. I wish we had a Vermont Country Store in Santa Barbara!