Caviar to Cow Manure – This 200-Year-Old Store Has it All
Depending on how spry I’m feeling, FH Gillingham & Sons General Store is either a hop, skip and jump or a short stroll from our Sotheby’s office. This is handy on days when I need a quick snack mid-day, a duplicate key, an interesting and useful gift for a client or when I just want to pop in and see some friendly faces.
Gillingham’s is the type of place that has what you need when you need it and they’ve had my back for things like last minute gifts and various hardware items whenever they were needed.
Walking into Gillingham’s is like walking back in time, floors creak and chirp keeping you company as you shop. The long thick boards have a patina earned honestly by bearing up under the trod of shoes, boots, and sneakers over a hundred years. It reminds me of Little House on the Prairie with the sweet aroma of wood and spice I imagine the show’s general store to have (Oleson’s Mercantile, for the curious few). Sarah and Ada, the resident mackerel striped cats make sure that nobody leaves without a smile on their face…not exactly Wal-Mart greeters, as they are a little picky about who they talk to.
I imagine that as a kid, visiting Gillingham’s has to be a little slice of heaven. The first things you notice are the jars of candy lined up on the shelves (they have, bar none, the most delicious caramels ever to gum up a set of baby teeth). Adults may be more interested in the make-your-own peanut butter, fresh produce, hardware, and remarkable selection of fine and well-priced wines.
Gillingham’s has been at the center of the Woodstock community since the late 1800’s when Frank Henry Gillingham opened his doors and proclaimed “your money’s worth or your money back.” The store has occupied the brick building at 16 Elm Street ever since then and has flourished under family ownership. It is currently operated by F.H. Gillingham’s great-grandsons, Frank and Jireh Billings.
The store’s success is due to their uncanny ability to keep up with the times, both new and old. They maintain strong ties to the store’s rich history and offer consistently good service and high-quality products. I believe that another reason for their success is community involvement, which includes partnering with local cheese companies, working with the Woodstock Business Alliance and Chamber of Commerce, and operating town water system under the aegis of the Woodstock Aqueduct. Gillingham’s has supported local farmers long before it became fashionable…over a hundred years before!
Gillingham’s still delivers groceries. They figured out a workable system long before there were “apps” and internet food sites. According to Frank, this goes back to the early days when people who wanted a delivery (mostly elderly but not always) would place a blue card with a “G” on it in their window. Someone from Gillingham’s would ride around the community, in the company horse and buggy, and distribute the goods to houses sporting the “G.” They still do this today (though the use of the blue card has fallen away and the ‘infernal’ combustion engine vehicle replaced buggies).
The description you will find on the Gillingham’s website refers to the store as: “One of Vermont’s oldest general stores, where you can buy everything from caviar to cow manure – accompanied by a farmstead cheese and a bottle of Corton Charlemagne!” That ‘bout covers it…oh, and they sell clothes and Muck Boots too.