Buxton’s, located at 499 main street in the town of Orwell, has the rare distinction of being a general store in a building that was always intended to be a general store. While some stores were post offices, farm suppliers, hotels, or any number of other things prior to remodeling, Orwell Country Store was built in 1910 for the explicit purpose of commerce.
The current owner, Andy Buxton, has a strong family tie to the building. Andy grew up just five houses down from the store. His grandparents were long time owners of the store and he (and his many, many cousins) grew up in the business of retail. He learned very young how to place an order, operate a register, cut meat, and all the other things that go with a small store. You’d think that a lifetime of store work would have pushed him towards something else, but Andy had the store in his blood and he knew from his early days that he wanted to one day own it.
With the knowledge and background, Andy sat down with his grandparents and told them that he wanted the store. They said absolutely not. They sold the store outside the family and encouraged Andy to go out and experience life beyond Orwell. Andy took the cue and went into the culinary industry, working for local Middlebury favorite Two Brothers Tavern as well as Fire and Ice. There, he learned the things he didn’t at a family business. How to manage a large group of employees, using things like QuickBooks to manage inventory, ordering and invoices, the art of cooking. Andy was then uniquely positioned with the store and restaurant experience. Andy approached the owner who had purchased the store from his grandparents and, in 2017, brought the store back into the family!
Soon after purchasing the store, Andy joined VRGA. Through his membership, he was introduced to the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores. This subgroup of VRGA members focuses on building bridges between independently owned country and general stores around the state. He’s found the connection to other stores invaluable. It’s easy to put your head down and focus on what you’re doing, so having easy ways to reach out to other stores around the state and connect with others in the industry has been excellent. It’s also nice to see what others are struggling with around the state, not just to forecast but also to feel a little less isolated. He also appreciates the legislative work done on his behalf by the association.
As a more seasoned business owner and operator, Andy has some advice for those just jumping into the game: stay true to your business plan. Maintaining a focus on who you are and how you can serve your customers is the most important piece of running a store. Without the customers you don’t have a store, you have a collection of goods. New owners should also always keep in mind that they have a responsibility to create a safe atmosphere for employees, to mentor them and to help them succeed. Most importantly, you have to be prepared to make the hard decisions. As the owner, it’s up to you to keep the business alive. It may not always mean doing what you want or what you hoped you would be doing, but it’s your job to keep people employed and the lights on.
One thing he’d be remiss not to mention is that you need good people to keep the doors open. Andy has three amazing people that he wanted to shout out. His store lead, Angie, works countless hours and goes above and beyond the call of duty. Always willing to drop what she’s doing on a weekend off and come to save them, Andy is extremely thankful for her always being there. It’s the same with his Dad, Rick Buxton. He’s always put the hours in, fills coolers, talks to vendors, talks to tourists, and provides some life to the store. Finally, Sylvia has been with the store for thirty years, working nights six days a week. Andy would put a thousand dollars down that no one will ever get by her with a DLC sting or a fake ID, she’s 100% on top of that. An incredible asset for the team, each of the employees above help to keep things running smoothly even in rough waters.
If you're near Orwell, stop in and say hi. Andy, Rick, Angie, Sylvia or any number of other employees will be happy to greet you. Andy’s favorite part of the business is being a positive force for the community and you’ll feel that positive energy as soon as you step in the door. If you can't make it in person, follow them on Facebook here!