For Baby Boomers from upstate New York, a trip to Vermont was an annual pilgrimage that a family made to take in the quaint towns and beautiful countryside, not so different to New York state, but less overrun with strip malls and fast-food restaurants. The town of Manchester was often the primary destination on these trips as it is reasonably close to the state border with popular attractions nearby like the scenic drive up Equinox Mountain and Stratton and Bromley, popular ski resorts with activities throughout the year. The Jelly Mill, a huge old barn, originally a jelly and cider mill, was often the trip’s highlight. It had four floors filled with antiques, artifacts, and products on sale, including handmade crafts, jewelry, souvenirs, collectibles, clothing, homewares, local foods, and treats.
In 2005, the Jelly Mill closed when the owner retired and sold the building. Past visitors still lament the closure, and there is even a popular thread on TripAdvisor, “The Jelly Mill is no more.” The building is now home to an Orvis outlet store, and the new owners developed factory outlets in the surrounding area. While factory outlets are an attraction for visitors, they can also be a distraction for those looking for the nostalgic experience from the 60s and 70s.
Venture past the outlets into the center of town to discover several locally-owned businesses that all have a passion for providing quality, authentic products with a genuinely personal service. During the pandemic, these businesses have demonstrated the resilience needed to meet customers’ changing needs and the required safety guidelines for themselves and the public. While all of the shops offer online shopping, it is well worth spending at least a day browsing around the approximately one-half of a square mile that makes up the “downtown” area.
Here is a suggested “trail” of shops and businesses that will take you in a perfect loop around Manchester Center:
— The shop at Manchester Woodcraft features high-quality kitchenware, furniture, and gifts made by their talented team of woodworkers. Ferdinand ‘Nundy’ Bongartz opened the shop in 1950 “with a love of Vermont, design, and the community around him.” Daughters Lauren and Jenny, who took over in 1996, own and operate the store today with several longtime employees. Their experience allows them to develop products that are “timeless, functional pieces for every home at any budget.” Owning a small business is no small feat, particularly in a male-dominated industry like woodworking. According to Jenny and Lauren, “We have relied on our reputation, community support, and honest prices to keep Manchester Woodcraft the way it has always been — a faithful reminder that some things never change.”
— Anne and Ron Houser, originally from Virginia, discovered Manchester on a bike trip through the area to Canada. They returned and opened The Mountain Goat in 1987, offering outdoor clothing, as well as gear sales and rentals “for serious adventurers and casual wanderers alike.” Ron, a certified pedorthist, provides assessment and sale of custom footbeds and orthotics. The couple, along with their knowledgeable staff, provides guidance and tips on routes, gear maintenance, snow conditions, and local information.
— Pastime Pinball is a “hands-on” museum of retro arcade games worth a mention among these shops. There are games for all ages and skill levels, including 65 pinball machines, a 1950s shuffle bowler, a 1960s shooting game, a 1970s basketball game, and other arcade classics including Ms. Pacman, Galaga, Frogger, Donkey Kong, and hundreds of more titles on their “multicade” video tables. They carry on the retro theme with the snack bar’s food, including hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, etc. Currently open every Friday and Saturday, starting Memorial Day weekend (as long as vaccinations continue to make progress), they plan to expand the hours and the number of days open.
— For a book lover, entering Northshire Bookstore is like entering the Wonderful World of Oz. Founded in 1976, Ed and Barbara Morrow, following their passion for books and paying attention to the public’s demands, built the store into one of New England’s largest and most popular and independent bookstores. While Ed and Barbara have retired from their daily duties, the store continues to be a family affair with their son Chris as general manager. With over 10,000-square-feet to explore, allow yourself at least a couple of hours to take in the many sections of books and carefully selected stationery, music and media, gifts, clothing, homewares, and Vermont foods. The Main Cafe is an excellent place for lunch, a snack, or even just a coffee while you read one of your new purchases. They also host related events, currently all only virtually. Social distancing means that a limited number of people can be inside the shop simultaneously and maintain distance while browsing. Still, the friendly and knowledgeable staff have maintained the quality of the shopper’s experience. As Chris Morrow notes, “We have been able to survive the pandemic due to our amazing staff. Their flexibility, hard work, and resilience have been amazing. And they are the reason we have succeeded all these many years.”
— Battenkill Bicycles sell electric, fitness, urban, road, and mountain bikes. They also offer parts and a range of repair and tune-up services. Unfortunately, their rental service is not available in 2021 due to the pandemic.
— Patti Fortuna-Stannard, whose grandparents immigrated to America more than 100 years ago with their “great Italian sausage recipes with old-world techniques,” owns Fortuna’s Sausages & Italian Market. Today the sausages are made the same way — in small batches, using only the finest hand-trimmed pork, spices ground moments before blending, tied with pure cotton twine, stuffed into natural casings, and hung to dry — not cooked. “Our niche is all natural salami. They didn’t use nitrates and preservatives in the early 1900s and we certainly do not need to add them now.” Fortuna’s signature salami, SOUPY, has won several awards and was named “America’s Best; aged like a fine wine” by the Los Angeles Times. Fortuna’s also stocks artisan cheese, olives, olive oil, vinegar, and other food and kitchen items. They have been offering online ordering with delivery by mail or curbside pick-up.
— Owner Bill Strecker was inspired to open Arson in 2019 to share his lifelong passion for skateboarding and its culture. “First and foremost, we are here to support and build our skateboard community. Our shop is here to nourish and cultivate the next generation of skateboarders and to guide parents on what’s best for their little rippers.” As well as skateboards, Arson carries all types of accessories, shoes, sunglasses, and apparel including its own branded clothing, some of which is custom-designed by Strecker. The shop also features locally made goods by Kava Threads. Arson is a big supporter of Manchester Skatepark, another necessary stop for skaters coming to town, and regularly holds classes and events to promote skateboarding in the area. In response to the pandemic, they started online courses for all levels and ages. Arson offers a free Intro to Skateboarding class to anyone that purchases a complete board in person or online.
— Opened in 2000, Manchester Hot Glass is a glassblowing studio and gallery that features handblown glass of all types, including drinkware, ornaments, and lighting. They also hold classes in glassblowing (book in advance). Owner Andrew Weill particularly enjoys the classes where he can share his love for the art. He grew up in New Jersey and started working with glass as a teenager. “Right from the start, I learned a great lesson in humility. Glass is an amazing material – it can be hot and malleable and cold and delicate all at the same time. There is nothing like it. The surprises it can produce are equally as unique. Needless to say, it is a very humbling experience to watch as your work hits the floor or cracks in the process of being made.” In response to the pandemic, Manchester Hot Glass closed its doors from March to July 2020 and opened back up slowly, first with only virtual shopping, either online or via Facetime, and then visits by appointment only. Now the shop is open its usual hours with safety precautions in place.
— If you are hungry or just need a break from shopping, you don’t need to venture away from this area to find something good to eat. There is a wide range of restaurants, cafes, and delis with Italian, Mexican, Thai, Sushi, and American cuisine.
— While you are in Manchester, it’s worth the short drive to The Kitchen Store at J.K. Adams in Dorset. Founded in 1944, J.K. Adams is a second-generation family-owned company committed to producing high-quality kitchen and housewares products by hand from North American hardwoods. Known best for their carving and cutting boards, their products regularly feature in food and home publications, including Bon Appetit, House Beautiful, Brides, and Martha Stewart. As well as their own products, The Kitchen Shop stocks a wide range of other high-quality necessities for professional kitchen and amateur foodies, including professional quality Hammer Stahl knives, just about anything you need for home baking, and some lovely home decor items. In the wake of the pandemic, J.K. Adams retooled their facilities to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), and their face shields are available on their website. The Kitchen Shop is open to the public with new heightened health and safety precautions. “Our ability to pivot and adapt during such a tumultuous year solidified our 2020 year-end success. We have positioned ourselves for sustained strategic expansion, and fulfilling these positions is key to our continued growth. At JK Adams, we reward success, promote personal development and seek to ensure upward opportunities for all team members within our company,” said CEO Daniel Isaac.
While outlet shopping may not be reason enough to visit the area, but if you do have the desire or need to browse the brands, the above “trail” of shops ends adjacent to the factory outlets, where you can also find a handy place to park the car.
The Jelly Mill is indeed no more, but you will still find a memorable day out in Manchester, Vermont. The range of quality and authentic locally-owned shops, restaurants, and attractions, along with friendly, old-fashioned service, should be enough to entice visitors from the 60s and 70s back over the border and bring a return of this annual tradition for the next generation.
345 Center Hill Road, Manchester Center, VT 05255
99 Bonnet Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
Fortuna’s Sausage & Italian Market
4349 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
The Kitchen Store at J.K. Adams
1430 Route 30, Dorset, VT 05251
Manchester Hot Glass
79 Elm Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
175 Depot Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
The Mountain Goat
4886 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
Northshire Bookstore 4869 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255
4802 Main St, Manchester Center, VT 05255