A Taste of Vermont
Do you think of Green Mountain Coffee? King Arthur Flour baking products? Simon Pearce hand-blown glass? Jed's nuts?
Maybe you've heard of these brands, but if you haven't, you won't have to travel as far as Vermont to experience them.
Bob Vetter has brought them here to Southern Pines in his new business, Vermont Treasures.
The store, located in the Broad Street Plaza on Illinois Avenue, offers visitors a series of rooms to explore, each with its own title, theme and decoration. The emphasis is on quality products.
"We have tried to provide the best that Vermont has to offer," Vetter says.
Neither Bob nor his wife June hails from Vermont. Their daughter, Deborah Jantzen, has lived in Norwich, Vt., for 16 years. Vetter says that on his visits to Vermont, he and his wife, who loves to cook, would save room in their suitcases for the products they would buy at the Norwich King Arthur Flour store.
"King Arthur, it's sort of the Maserati or Cadillac of flour," Vetter says.
It was the time Vetter spent in the store's lounge while June shopped that inspired Vermont Treasures.
"I would sit in the lounge with croissants and muffins, drinking Green Mountain coffee," Vetter says. "All of a sudden, after three years, it clicked with me: This is a transferable business."
Vetter became a distributor for Green Mountain coffee five years ago, operating out of the back of what is now the Vermont Treasures store. About three years ago, "once we saw the coffee was getting good brand acceptance, good recognition," Vetter started thinking retail.
He contacted Green Mountain and King Arthur Flour, and from there, the number and variety of Vermont products grew, June Vetter says.
"It's just kind of mushroomed, and from there it expanded to other products," she says.
Jeff Beran, Vetter's landlord and an investor in the business, got a group of five investors together to finance Vermont Treasures. Beran knew of King Arthur Flour and Green Mountain by reputation, and Vetter's idea caught his attention.
"I just kind of fell in love with the concept," Beran says.
Beran appreciates that what the store sells aren't everyday, run-of-the-mill products for this area.
"I think it's quality products and something that they can't buy necessarily in a grocery store," Beran says.
Beran describes the renovation of the building as a collaborative effort. Vetter says 13 doors were removed to open up the space, and a retail consultant suggested bold colors for the decor.
The store's colors draw from the products. The main room at the front of the store features the colors used in a Green Mountain poster -- deep greens and blues against cedar paneling. A bold red serves as the backdrop for a room full of Simon Pearce's hand-blown glass. The King Arthur Flour room, stocked with a variety of the company's mixes and flours, mimics the gold from the brand's packaging.
"It's, in a sense, eclectic," Vetter says of the decor.
Other rooms include the Emporium, which spotlights consignment art and antiques from local artists and collectors; the Little Theater, which will have a flat-screen television and DVD player for videos from the suppliers about how products at the store are made; the Cheese Locker, which will maintain a limited quantity of cheese until the weather becomes more conducive for shipping dairy products; the Basket Barn, which will stock pre-made gift baskets and baskets to be filled by customers with their choice of products; and the King's Kitchen, set to open later this summer or fall, which will serve as a location for cooking classes.
Selecting products for the store has proved a family venture. While Vetter and his wife choose some products, Jantzen and her 17-year-old daughter, Elissa, contribute by seeking out and researching small farms and producers.
The result, apart from King Arthur Flour and Green Mountain, is a range of products with names most likely unfamiliar to non-Vermont natives, such as Jed's maple syrup and nuts -- a deliberate choice by the Vetters.
"We want to have the smaller farms," June Vetter says. "Even the nuts we have are from small farmers."
Customers also have made suggestions for products to stock and, Vetter says, even the appearance of the shop.
"One woman says, 'You can't be a Vermont store if you don't have lights in your window,'" he says. "So, now I have lights in my window."
One of the key components of the store is the coffee. Vetter is passionate about coffee and says his coffee is for coffee-lovers.
"We're just going to be strictly pure, good coffee," he says.
Vermont Treasures has about 32 varieties of coffee, including whole bean coffee or ground coffee and different roasts or flavors. In addition to Green Mountain, the store stocks some teas and hot chocolate.
Most varieties also come in single-cup serving sizes that work with the Keurig single-cup brewers Vetter stocks at the store. Customers can come in, choose their coffee, then put it in the machine and brew it themselves while Vetter guides them through the process. A single cup of coffee brews in a matter of seconds.
"We want the customer to have that experience of the single-cup machine," Vetter says.
Vetter is confident that his coffee business will withstand the eventual arrival of Starbucks in the area.
"Just do a taste test," he says. "If you're a coffee lover, you'll come back to us."
Vetter may be right. Ferrell Condor, of Southern Pines, was drinking Hazelnut Cream-flavored Green Mountain coffee one evening at a reception held in mid-July. It was Condor's first time at the store, and he was impressed with the variety of products available.
"It's unique because there's so many different things here," Condor says.
But what Condor says will tempt him back through the door is the coffee.
"I'll be back for a hot cup of coffee," Condor says.
Judy and Joe Lenard, also at the reception, enjoyed the King Arthur Flour samples being passed around.
"The mixes, the King Arthur, her samples were delicious," Judy Lenard says.
Lenard thinks Vermont Treasures is a welcome addition to Southern Pines.
"It's really nice to see a nice business like this go in this shopping center," Lenard says. "It really adds to downtown Southern Pines."
While neither Condor nor the Lenards had ties to Vermont, Vetter says Vermont Treasures has attracted some natives -- more than he expected.
"People from Vermont are coming out of the woodwork like termites," Vetter says. Six or seven a day have been coming in, he estimates.
June Vetter, who is from Boston, says that even though she wouldn't want to live there again, she misses aspects of living in the North. To her, Vermont Treasures can bring native Northeasterners some comfort.
"I feel we'll be a little touch of home for them," Vetter says.
But the Vetters' plans reach further than a little home comfort. They want Vermont Treasures to draw people from even farther afield than Moore County.
"We see this in time becoming a destination store," Vetter says, where people come to Southern Pines to experience the best of Vermont.
For now, the Vetters are using the summer to get the store on solid footing before the store's grand opening, planned for mid-September.
The store's hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. They plan to expand their hours during the fall and before holidays.
In the meantime, Bob Vetter is enjoying sharing the treasures in his store. For right now, that's enough for him.
"It's fun," he says. "Hopefully, we'll make some money."
Kirsten Beattie, an intern from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, can be reached at 919-619-4327.
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