Weston celebrates its big small-town cornerstones

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WESTON — It was a typical small-town parade. Except most towns can't boast to an anchor Main Street merchant — in this case, the Vermont Country Store — ringing up annual sales of $100 million.

Or the Weston Playhouse, the state's oldest professional theater company, launching another summer season of Broadway hits while raising $10 million for a year-round second home.

Or U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and almost every other candidate seeking local, county or state office showing up to shake hands with seemingly each of its 566 residents.

And so it went Saturday as this less-than-typical small town celebrated the store's 70th anniversary and the playhouse's 80th.

Leahy and Welch joined Vermont Country Store patriarch Lyman Orton and 90-year-old Weston Playhouse actor Sam Lloyd in a march that also featured children pedaling decorated bicycles and adults steering horse-drawn wagons, tractors and classic cars.

"Weston is a treasure," said Leahy, who stepped onto the bandstand to share how, visiting the set of the 2008 film "The Dark Knight," he heard all about the town and its playhouse from the late Oscar-winning actor Heath Ledger.

"You have a wonderful reputation," Leahy told locals.

Welch continued the theme as he addressed a crowd spilling with young thespians.

"I see a lot of future Heath Ledgers," said the congressman on a weekend break from Washington. "And it feels a lot better here than the place Patrick and I are going to return to."

Native son Orton sparked the most applause when he recalled growing up next to the playhouse as Lloyd moved to town in 1952 to appear in the magical village musical "Brigadoon."

"Sam Lloyd already had arrived in Brigadoon," Orton said. "He just didn't know it yet."

Indeed, Lloyd would become town moderator for 35 years, as well as a state representative and Environmental Board member, town planning commissioner, zoning administrator, volunteer firefighter and owner of the former Weston Bowl Mill.

On Saturday, he watched neighbors swarm the central green for birthday cake, ice cream and an afternoon of bandstand concerts before an evening performance by playhouse alumni. The blue sky overhead appeared as bright as the promise of the community cornerstones being celebrated.

The theatre company will continue to rely on the 300-seat playhouse for summer productions. But since the space is too expansive and expensive to operate in colder months, the nonprofit is about to break ground nearby on a $6 million second home — set to feature a 140-seat studio theater — for year-round performances and play development by both local and visiting production teams.

The store, for its part, keeps selling the stuff of childhood memories. Back when the late Vrest Orton established the business in 1946, he was inspired by his father's turn-of-the-century general store in North Calais. Vrest's son Lyman and grandsons Cabot, Eliot and Gardner still stock such notions and lotions as balsam-needle door draft stoppers and Bag Balm moisturizer. But they also sell trinkets and toys — Gumby and Pokey, anyone? — from the 1960s and 1970s.

As long as there's a past, it seems, this place will always have a future.

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.


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