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Established around 1816, today’s Dorset Union Store is an extraordinary food and shopping experience enjoyed by both residents and visitors. Its past is worth noting as Vermonters have a special relationship, filled with respect and admiration, with our general stores, especially those that have lasted for more than 200 years.

The role played by Vermont’s general stores is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. More than supplying eggs, milk and the newspaper, our general stores have stepped back into the starring role they have played for centuries, providing townspeople with moments of social interaction in a time of isolation and distance. The Dorset Union Store, in addition to offering quality food and general supplies, provides the opportunity for friends and neighbors to catch up, share smiles and gossip and maybe, most valuable of all, makes everyone feel like part of a community.

Much of the following historical information is thanks to the painstaking research of local author Tyler Resch, who wrote the engaging and enduring 1989 book “Dorset: In the Shadow of the Marble Mountain.”

Although records from that far back are somewhat sketchy, the building itself is believed to have been relocated from East Rupert by its owners, thought to be Norman Blackmer and Harvey Holley. For several years, it was known as the Dorset Union Store, operating like a co-op with members owning shares. Sounds like it was ahead of its time. It was associated with the New England Protective Union, which offered uniform bookkeeping and inventory recording, also ahead of its time.

In 1839, the store was bought by Moore Holley & Co., a six-man partnership. Going through several identities, in 1845, according to documents found in the store attic, the store was known as Underhill and Gray. In 1851, its name went back to Dorset Union Store. In 1894, Gilbert Sykes made space for a library above the store and Henry Baldwin, who lived in adjacent quarters, became the librarian.

In 1926, Perry Peltier and Kimball Tifft began a partnership operating the store. This relationship lasted until 1955 when Tifft sold his half of the business to Peltier. In 1977, Perry Peltier, then aged 81, sold his store to Jay and Terri Hathaway. The Hathaways did a remarkable job owning and operating the store for 27 years. Jay would become the unofficial “mayor” of Dorset, warmly greeting all who stopped by the store. We had the pleasure of knowing Jay and always looked forward to chatting with him.

In 2007, after several years of ownership by others, current owners Cindy Loudenslager and Gretchen Schmidt purchased the store and once again returned it to its original glory, as well as its original name, the Dorset Union Store. Cindy and Gretchen have surely honored the memory of those who came before them. The prior owners would be proud to see what an incredible job they have done making the Dorset Union Store a destination not just for Vermonters, but for all who appreciate a skillfully managed business with exceptional service and who have a regard for history while enjoying the finest and freshest prepared meals.

Cindy, who works yeoman hours, greeting just about everyone by name, spent 30 years in wealth management in New York City after attaining her Master of Business Administration from Columbia University. Gretchen, as many of you will recall, was co-owner of the Dorset Inn for many years. So this experienced, knowledgeable and winning partnership has created an oasis that attracts people from near and far who want to be part of the Dorset experience.

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The remarkable kitchen staff, led by talented and accommodating head chef Rick Warnecke and consummate chef Connie Sturgis, produces a wide variety of mouthwatering appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts. Rick, with 40 years of cooking experience in New Jersey and Vermont, and Connie also with 40 years of kitchen experience in Nantucket and Vermont, team up to make shopping for lunch or dinner a delightful pleasure for the senses. Rick’s son Dan manages the front of the store with a cheerfulness and a calm ease that is both welcoming and efficient.

While Dorset Union Store stocks the usual provisions along with the much-needed kitchen staples, sparing locals from having to travel to the supermarket, it also offers an extensive and smartly chosen wine and local cheese selection. Local fresh breads are offered daily, as are morning croissants, muffins and pastries along with an ample collection of various coffees.

But where Dorset Union really excels, in a way that few other general stores do, is in its prepared foods which seem to flow continuously from the kitchen for most of the day. How such a small kitchen can produce so much top-notch food remains a mystery. All part of the magic of Dorset Union Store. There are too many fabulous offerings to mention them all, but the soups, especially the old-fashioned tomato, the sides, including broccoli tots and hummus as well as the apple walnut slaw, are simply fabulous, as is the Dorset Reuben. For mains, we heartily recommend the shrimp scampi, meatloaf with bacon, cod cakes, salmon tournedos and the barbeque ribs, all of which are wonderful.

As often as possible, Dorset Union uses locally sourced products, including from Danby’s Yoder Farm, Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury and Peru’s Bromley Farm. Make sure to try the ice cream from Shaftsbury’s Chocolate Barn. Vegetarian, vegan and wheat-free options are available, as are fresh shrimp, salmon and strip steaks. Rick is happy to make food to order and Dorset Union will deliver locally. Catering for small groups may be arranged.

We would be remiss not to mention baker Lori Roberts, who somehow manages to make the tastiest pie crust, whether its apple or seasonal fruit pie. From actual experience, we can recommend Lori’s made-from-scratch scones, muffins, carrot cake, fudge brownies and banana bread. We favor her ginger molasses and Toll House cookies. Her quiches are light and delicate yet satisfying. If you like creme brulee, try these beauties, made specially by Gretchen.

In the true spirit of Vermont, Cindy, Gretchen and the Dorset Union team give generously to community efforts, such as the annual Easter Egg hunt on the green. The team also volunteers to raise money for clothing and toys for the Dorset United Church and delivers groceries to the elderly.

Yes, we love the Dorset Union Store and its staff. We think you will, too. The store, on the Dorset Green, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The store can be reached by phone, 802-867-4400.

David Meiselman and Myra Packman are food and restaurant columnists for Vermont News & Media. They can be reached at davidandmyravt@gmail.com.


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