Imagine the first-time visitor to Dan & Whit’s in downtown Norwich, VT. Crawl into his mind when he attempts to walk in through the right-hand door, like he would do if he were at any other store, only to be almost rammed by the electric door, triggered open by a customer coming down the exit ramp.
Perhaps he came here today seeking a simple item, like a roll of paper towels or a pair of work gloves. He wasn’t sure that the store would carry the item, but it looked like the type of place that has a bunch of stuff. So he took the leap, and found himself in the midst of tens of thousands of products ranging from the utilitarian (trowels) to the modern (phone charging cords) to the nostalgic (licorice).
Once inside, what do his virgin eyes spy? What is normal to the regular customer -- lice shampoo just above some baby food; Dramamine next to the dental floss; a 2017 calendar, ostensibly still for sale in April 2018, commingling with a canister of gourmet pancake mix -- must overwhelm him. What does it mean when someone says, “I’ll sign for it”? At some point on his maiden voyage inside this country store, he may wonder if the cat food next to the staplers was put there by a misunderstood genius or someone who simply ran out out shelf space.
Eventually, our hero recognizes what many D&W’s veterans already know: there is magic inside these walls. If you’re not convinced, consider some of the items nestled throughout 319 Main Street:
Magic Mesh can be installed without tools, and gives you a hands-free screen door.
A label on a bottle of Gloves in a Bottle brags that it is “like an invisible pair of gloves.”
Who, pray tell, can survive without an invisible pair of gloves?
Someday, somewhere, someone used something called Blackcurrants Smoke Refresher.
When they need Wonder Dust, wizards and veterinarians alike know where to go.
A local author's book entitled Encounters With Witchcraft is on the shelves.
Our charmingly naïve protagonist entered thinking that nothing could trump an ordinary concave utensil when it came to gourd prep. But then he discovered Maudie’s Super Squash Scooper: “better than a spoon.”
If our man needs an escape, he can always grab a Houdini Pocket Flask, surely the choice of the famous escapologist, with the screw cap that is guaranteed never to get lost.
Naturally, this sampling of products is nothing more than a clump of authentic dust in a small bottle against the immense mosaic of offerings. At some point, our newbie will ask himself how a company in Arkansas penetrated the exciting Upper Valley market with Poison Ivy Soap. It sounds like a losing proposition, until one reads that, instead of giving you the itchy rash, the product in fact removes the plant’s oil before it has a chance to cause a reaction on your skin. Our friend picks it up, dreaming of summer temperatures and bushwhacks, and then puts it down, unsure that warmth is ever coming this year.
He meanders beyond the deli counter, astonished to enter what can only be described as a second, separate store from the bustling action out front. Deeper investigation yields the dark side of the store, where promises of the apocalypse pervade the stock. What type of mood are you in when you make the decision to purchase EndALL? Those capital letters are a little unsettling, even though you know it’s only for insects. Maybe he will decide to add an edge to his cooking with gluten free Flavor Bombs dominating his recipes.
The man has started to notice that the employees sport the ubiquitous-but-apparently-not-mandatory uniform of t-shirts emblazoned with “If We Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It.” He is beginning to understand, even though he thinks the slogan should be tweaked slightly to “Even Though We Have It Doesn’t Mean You Need It.”
Our friendly first-timer, ready to get back to the real world, looks at the conveyor belt, which has graffiti chiseled into it, like wrinkles on his grandfather’s forehead. He cannot help but chuckle at his first experience in the store as he walks down the ramp with his head down. Unfortunately for him, he bumps his noggin on the opening electric door, noticing, belatedly, that he walked down the up ramp and has caused a human traffic jam.
Luckily, the locals are forgiving. “The exit is on the other side,” they say, sending this man out into 05055 with something that has no price tag: a story to tell about a place that sells bobcat urine, chicken salad, Neatsfoot Compound, Pinot noir, and Buss Bed-ding (Keeps Bait-o-Worms Alive!) under the same roof.
Now, go back inside your own mind. Do you remember what you saw the first time you came into the store?
Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories about Dan & Whit's. Previous stories are available here.