One-stop shop for wine, cheese, chat and more

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WILMINGTON — The manager of the Red Fox Shop was struggling to answer a visitor's question when a woman placed a bottle of Croatian wine and three hand-painted signs on the store's front counter, and then stepped away to continue browsing. The customer left the items near a display of dog biscuits.

The question asked to Story Adams: What kind of store is the Red Fox Shop?

"It's a hybrid, this place," she said, looking out onto the retail floor. "You can call it a wine shop, but there's so much more to it now."

Beyond the counter were racks of wines, coolers full of cheeses and beers and hard ciders, and shelves stocked with crafts, clothes and other items made by local artists.

Adams has two subordinates, and one of them, Gale Palladino, announced how she describes the store: "It's a wine and cheese shop with all kinds of other things," she said. Adams listened and nodded.

"We laugh a lot in this shop," Palladino said. "We have a good time. If you're in a bad mood, come on over, we'll fix you up quick."

Just before noon on the last Sunday of 2018, a dozen people were looking around inside the store. Christmas shopping season was over, but many patrons from nearby ski slopes were walking and driving around the town's commercial district.

The Red Fox Shop opened at 4 S. Main St. in August 2017. Elizabeth Walker is the proprietor.

"Elizabeth owns the business and her friend owns the building. They were renovating the building and wanted to put something in here to help the town,"

Adams said. The manager is a Wilmington native, and was hired before the store opened.

"We have things from everywhere, but we try to focus on Vermont," Adams said. "Elizabeth wanted to do something that was supporting Vermont and the locals."

The manager estimated that 10 percent of the wines were bottled in the state, but all the cheeses, beers and hard ciders were Vermont-made.

The Red Fox Shop operates from a long and narrow building that is painted red with white trim. The colors help catch the eyes of passersby. Skiers, second-home people and vacationers are the primary customers.

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"We do have a good local clientele that do come back repeatedly," Adams said. "That's nice, and we're trying to grow that segment."

Products from Vermont, particularly the wines, are less popular with area residents, according to Adams. She believes the novelty of buying something produced locally is lost on people that live in the state 52 weeks a year. For skiers that may visit only once or twice per winter, a bottle of Vermont wine makes for a nice souvenir of their time in Wilmington - even if the beverage is not consumed until weeks or months after the trip.

The arts and gifts section of the store contains items sold from inventory and pieces sold on consignment. The recent selection included hand-poured soy candles, knitted baby clothes, quilts and a sled with metal runners onto the seat of which had been painted a scene with two snowmen.

"We do a good consignment business," Adams said.

The store has been open for two December shopping seasons, and Adams said revenues for December 2018 were ahead of those for the previous December. She is surprised by the demand for some of the shop's items.

"The pet stuff - the dog bones, dog collars, dog bandanas - those are huge. Everything dog is huge," she said. "I wasn't expecting that stuff to be as much of a hit as it is."

Adams is the store's chief buyer, but the owner, Walker, also searches for new things to add to the shelves. Walker is wintering in Florida, and Adams said her boss will attend a merchandise show in Atlanta later this month to "see if any fun things are available."

The customer that had left the signs and the bottle of wine on the counter returned from a back room with a hunk of artisanal cheese.

"The wine was not from Vermont, but that cheese was," Adams said, after the woman had left.

For Adams and Palladino, wine tastings are the most enjoyable events conducted at the Red Fox Shop. The two like watching locals and skiers — people unacquainted until they began sipping wine — initiate and maintain a conversation.

"People will hunker up to the counter and talk for half an hour, or longer," Adams said.

Sometimes the conversation continues outside the store.

"I match-make," Palladino said. She laughed. "I've been putting people together in this place. They don't pay me extra for that, either."


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