Vermonters have a special admiration and affection for longevity. We know and appreciate how difficult a task it is to endure through harsh winters and changing economic conditions. So it is with great respect that we visited the seventh-generation, family owned and operated H.N. Williams Store in Dorset.
Founded in 1840 by William Williams, the current structure consisting of nearly 13,000 square feet on three floors is pleasantly and efficiently managed by Billy Brownlee, who has worked in the store since he was 12 years old. After graduating from Burr and Burton Academy in 1994, Billy attended the University of Vermont, graduating with a Business Degree with a concentration in management and information systems. That education has certainly paid off, as Billy has continued to enlarge and improve the store while updating the computer system, bringing the store into the future with products and services for today’s consumer. Environmentally sensitive, Billy explained that much of the store is still wood heated, using very little propane and only as a backup in the depths of winter.
Still in its original location on Route 30 about a half-mile south of Dorset village, the store has recently undergone an extensive expansion and renovation. Billy managed to oversee and accomplish the addition and remodeling while having to deal with the pandemic that brought a shortage of both contractors and staff.
Walking around the oldest part of the store with its original beams, talking history with Billy, one can feel the dedication and pride of the families that shepherded their store through more than 170 years. Today, Williams is more vital than ever serving more people than ever, both locals and visitors. While justifiably proud of its long and successful history, Williams will continue to thrive well into the future. Billy has somehow managed to remain true to the past while acknowledging and welcoming the future.
As a true general store loyal to its roots, Williams provides a full line of animal feed, wild bird supplies, hardware as well as gardening necessities such as soil and mulch. Children’s toys are also available.
In addition to carrying quality products like clothing from famous brands such as Carhartt, Columbia and Lacrosse, Williams has an incredible selection of shirts, jackets, gloves, coats, pants and gear for all seasons. Whether it’s those fabulous socks from Darn Tough made in Northfield, Vermont, winter hats from Burlington’s Skida Headwear, boots from Australia’s Blundstone, sustainable outdoor apparel from Cotopaxi, handmade artisanal skin and hair products from sixth-generation Dorset Daughters, boots, hikers and sandals from Canadian company Kamik, performance outerwear from Kuhl or footwear from Vasque, it’s all here, both in quality and quantity.
While Billy has substantially expanded the general store part of the operation, he has at the same time established Williams as a go-to place for food. Open everyday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Williams is a place to enjoy your morning coffee from Tall Cat, a Dorset micro roaster, while sitting at one of the outside tables, enjoying a breakfast sandwich, reading from a wide selection of local and national newspapers carried by Williams.
In addition to local, fresh produce from Danby’s Yoder Farms and Shaftsbury’s Mighty Farms, there is delicious bread delivered almost daily from Rupert Rising or Manchester’s Earth Sky Time. Outstanding cheeses are available from Blue Ledge Farm in Leicester, Neighborly Farms in Randolph Center, Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill, in Greensboro, and Maplebrook in North Bennington. Williams offers a wonderful selection of sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices.
Williams provides a vast beer section, with a superb selection from local breweries including Frost from Hinesburg, Lawson from Waitsfield and Fiddlehead from Shelburne. The wine section is similarly thoughtful and well-stocked.
For those of us with a sweet tooth, Williams comes through once again. Try nationally award-winning caramels from Big Picture Farm, a goat dairy farmstead in Townsend; Lake Champlain chocolates; Grandma Miller’s pies from Londonderry or our favorite Scottish shortbread made in Manchester by Angus.
Williams is also the summer home of the fabulous, better-than-ever Dorset Farmers Market, now open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. So go and enjoy the iconic H.N. Williams, a true Vermont experience.