Vermont: Daring To Be Different, To The Surprise Of No One

As anyone who has ever ventured to Vermont can affirm, it’s a very particular place for some very particular people. Despite being nearly geographically identical to its neighbor to the east, New Hampshire, Vermont is very much its own place. Perhaps it’s all the farm-to-table food, the eye-popping number of Subaru Outbacks driving the highways and byways or the faint smell of maple syrup that always seems to be hanging in the air, but Vermont is one of those places one knows one is in the minute they cross the border.

By The Store Front Numbers 

Store front businesses in Vermont have done a bit better than in regional counterparts in three out of the four categories tracked, but then again, the region itself was fairly lagging behind the overall nation. So, the outperformance is a bit of scant consolation.

The overall growth for the state came in at 2.7 percent, but a deeper dive with the number shows that the real wages trailed badly, at 3.2 percent for the state, with the overall nation at 4.9 percent. That was likely enough to pull the overall reading down, with employments and establishments up only roughly 20 basis points year over year in the second quarter.

On The Ground

Vermont store front businesses were definitely the most different group we talked to, insofar as they spoke to us at all. We found that Virginians were garrulous, Massachusetts residents were pretty chatty and 90 percent of the time South Carolina’s merchants literally offered us she-crab soup to eat while we talked, whether or not the business they ran was actually a restaurant. Vermonsters, not so much — with many noting politely, but firmly, that they had a longstanding policy of never speaking to the press about politics. When we noted we didn’t want to talk about politics but about how their business was doing, they just chuckled mildly and walked away.

Which we took as a “no,” mostly because we had no choice but to do so.

All in, we attempted to speak to 27 separate store front merchants in Vermont — 19 of which turned us down cold and six of which agreed to speak on background without listing their names and their businesses.

“We’ve had a better couple of years, but we are really hit hard by seasonality and how hard it is to manage cash flow when, for all intents and purposes, you are a three-season business, but you have to be open for all year,” one merchant noted.

The “on-background” gang we spoke to all named “the environment” as a concern, particularly citing concerns about water safety and quality.

“I think Flint proves that, once the water is toxic, it’s pretty much game over, and I think that’s a big worry for anyone who owns a business because you just think about how fast you would be out of business,” one entrepreneur said.

Vermont, other than its environmentalism, was politically different than most of the states we spoke to. Insofar as merchants would talk to us, almost all were Sanders supporters.

Unsurprisingly, since he is their senator.

“Oh yeah, we’ve been feeling the Bern since before the college kids made it cool,” one septuagenarian Burlington area merchant noted. “Off the record — I don’t want my friends thinking I’ve gone political. I threw Don Lemon out of the store over the summer, you know. Kept harassing the tourists.”


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