Sometimes, we look to the sky to ask big questions about our existence. Inside Dan & Whit’s General Store in downtown Norwich, Vermont, we look up to pose different sorts of queries: Who was Linda and why does she have a coffee corner? Why is a wine box inscribed with black magic marker saying, “Start Aug 8 2003 10:30am end Oct 6-03” up on top of that shelf in the hardware department?
Of course, there are commercial treasures up there, too. If you wear glasses, have 79 cents in your pocket, and the courage to look up, you can get a Frame-Lock that will “Stop Eyeglass Slipping,” solving one of the great scourges of the 21st century for under a buck. Ice fishermen wanting to solve a different kind of problem will find comfort in the Heat-a-Seat hanging from a hook like an unexpected pinata. The sophisticated customer knows to look in the rafters for ladders or brooms or canoe paddles or snow rakes or 224 ½ gallon milk jugs. Savvy regulars look above the freezers for Swift Sweeps and above the biscotti for electric wine openers. Really, where else would they be?
Often, you can spot things that have a special kind of Upper Valley appeal to them. There’s a sign outside warning that there is NO ROLLERBLADING OR SKATEBOARDING. But the thing you notice, when you finally spot the sign, is that it is nowhere near where any teenager’s eye would ever go. It’s way up high, away from all the visual traffic that attracts that demographic. So, technically, those activities are prohibited. The manner in which the warning is posted, however, seems to say that no one is really worried about it, and it’s not a problem that one needs to be warned against anyway. After all, Upper Valley people tend to follow the rules, even when they aren’t posted in public.
If you look closely, there is humor, too. As you complete your shopping, you glance in a top corner where a small sign hangs, with language going perpendicular to the floor.
It says, “Don’t question your wife’s judgement. Look who she married.”
So what’s the upshot? In the store, on the road, in your life, look up, people, look up.
Note: This is the first in a series of stories about Dan and Whit’s General Store to give Upper Valley residents a flavor of the history, practices, and unique characteristics of this Norwich institution.