Tradition alive at Norton House
WILMINGTON — The metal historical markers next to and affixed to the street side of 30 West Main St. do not show the year 1967. One of them notes the house was moved to its present location, via oxcart, in the 1830s. And the wooden sign screwed high into the chocolate brown clapboards shows 1760 as the date of construction.
In the commercial timeline of Norton House Quilting, 1967 was when the building unexpectedly went from a residence to a place of business.
"We're actually standing in Mildred's kitchen," Emily Hammer said recently.
Hammer, the owner of the shop, was in a room behind the sales counter. Across from her, many bolts of fabric were arranged for sale on tables. These were leaned against each other at an angle, beneath quilt pattern kits displayed on the walls.
The 34-year-old owner of the 260-year-old building pointed at the mantle of the room's honeycomb fireplace, where some candles and quilting blocks were available for sale in the section of the house where Mildred Norton used to prepare meals.
"This fabric was originally upstairs in the sale attic," Hammer said. "We brought everything downstairs to help everyone to be able to see all the fabric."
In 1967, Hammer's grandfather, Albert Wurzberger, just retired from the military, was operating the 1836 Country Store, next door to the Norton place. His wife, Suzanne, was also on the staff and she oversaw the store's stock of quilt supplies.
Suzanne Wurzberger became friendly with Mildred Norton, the elderly owner of 30 West Main St. One day in 1967, according to Hammer, while her grandfather was off buying baskets in Putney, Norton and her grandmother discussed real estate.
"Mildred said she needed this amount of money to go to the old ladies' home in Bennington and asked if my grandmother would buy her house," Hammer said, recounting a story she has heard and retold many times.
When Albert Wurzberger returned with the baskets, his wife informed him that after she closed on the purchase of Mildred Norton's house, she was going to move the store's inventory of quilting supplies next door.
"She said I am going to compete with you and I'm going to open up a quilt shop," Hammer recalled, smiling.
Fifty-three years later, both enterprises remain in family hands. Hammer bought Norton House Quilting four years ago, following the death of her grandmother. The owner and one employee staff the shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
Hammer said sales have increased since she acquired the store, and online purchases have become an important part of the business.
Despite Suzanne Wurzberger's vow to put her store in competition with her husband's retailer, the 1836 Country Store, the two shops have never been rivals.
"If you were to go over to the general store right now," Hammer told a visitor, "you will not only meet my grandpa, you will also meet my mom and my twin boys."
Norton House Quilting sells fabrics and related quilting supplies, and items used for wool applique projects. Some customers favor doing many smaller projects, such as a table runner, instead of working on a large quilt. The majority of customers are female, according to Hammer, but their ages range from elementary school students to great-grandmothers. She is pleased whenever she sees youngsters browsing inside the shop.
"I feel like quilters are going to keep creating," Hammer said. "The projects are definitely changing, and the colors are definitely changing."
Hammer became interested in quilting when she, at age 12, had a large collection of Beanie Babies. Suzanne Wurzberger showed her granddaughter how to quilt tiny sleeping bags for the stuffed toys. Working together, the two women crafted dozens of miniature sleeping bags.
"We're not just selling fabric here," Hammer said. "We're selling memories as well, because people have memories of sewing with their mom or their grandmother or aunt, and they now want to return that to the younger generation."
Of the store's revenues, about 85 percent come from sales of sewing-related products, Hammer explained. The remainder is earned from sales of puzzles.
An entire room in the old Norton house is devoted to puzzles, because many quilters turn to these when arthritis makes it difficult to continue with the intricacies of sewing fabrics.
"We always had puzzles here, but I really expanded that part of the store," Hammer said. "I couldn't imagine not being able to sew."
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