Finding the hard-to-find secret to store's success

12/22/05 12:00AM By Lynne McCrea
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(Host) Those in search of a hard-to-find gift this season might take a lesson from the Vermont Country Store.

The mail order company and store in Weston is known for being able to find anything, from old fashioned candy to a copy of Dick and Jane.

So how does the store find the hard-to-find'? As VPR's Lynne McCrea reports, that's the secret to the company's success.

(McCrea) Judy Copping becomes almost cagey when asked about one of her finds' for the Vermont Country Store. She and some co-workers are checking out a board game called Park and Shop , a game that became popular in the 1950's, but disappeared from the market some 25 years ago.

(Copping) "Yes, we found this board somewhere... probably in an antique store. Well, (coyly) we did find it somewhere else, but I don't want to say where because it's a secret." (laughter)

(McCrea) As a researcher at The Vermont Country Store, Judy Copping's job is to search for the long-lost products that customers often ask for.

(sounds of getting in car, driving...)

(McCrea) Her hunt takes her to libraries, museums and antique stores. Today, she's driving across a winding mountain road to the Stone House Antique Center in Chester.

(Copping/in car) "Maybe we'll have good luck today."

(Coping in store) "Look at all these fun Christmas things."

(McCrea) Inside the antique store, Copping peers into glass cases to check out the latest displays thinking, all the time, about what has potential as a revived product. And there's something else she does.

(Copping) "I'm a huge advocate of eavesdropping - just seeing how people respond to all the old things that they're seeing. And sometimes that's just the clue that I need to start doing more research on that type of product. So, yeah, eavesdropping is the best. But that's a secret too." (chuckle)

(McCrea) It was at this store a few years ago that Judy Copping found a popular item from the 1940's and 50's: Christmas caroler candles'. She says she got a chill when she spotted them, remembering them from her childhood

(sounds of the store)

(McCrea) Back at the store in Weston, Copping is holding one of the candles that the company was able to bring back on the market last year

(Copping) "Choir boys with open hymn books very earnest looking faces they have an innocence about them that just strikes a chord."

(McCrea) Copping walks through the rambling store which opened 60 years ago this spring. The business is now largely mail order, and the store has expanded since 1946. But the building still has a country store feel, with worn wood floors and rooms crowded with all sorts of things.

(Copping) "These are little country cow (cow mooing toy makes sound) noise makers - a really old product that's timeless!"

(McCrea) Products are recreated by working with the original manufacturer, something that can take as much as a year, or even longer to do.

(Sound of bottle cap, unscrewing)

(McCrea) One of the store's most requested items is Woodhue Cologne'. Hundreds of customers have been asking for the fragrance, which was first introduced in the 1930's.

(Copping) "Ooooh. I like that."

(Linda Spink) "I've been searching for it, literally for years, for my mother, who wore it for decades."

(McCrea) Linda Spink of Westchester Pennsylvania is one of those who wrote to the company last year about the perfume her 80-year-old mother treasures. A few weeks ago, Spink spotted it in the store's latest catalog.

(Spink) "I almost fell over! This is going to be very exciting for her. It really was a factor in her life, and it was her favorite fragrance for years and years and years."

(McCrea) The Vermont Country Store found the cologne and re-created the formula and the bottle, with its distinctive wooden cap. Judy Copping says the letters she's received reflect an emotional tone.

(Copping) "I remember being a teenager and feeling like the whole world was before me. I wore it with my first boyfriend who ended up later becoming my husband. One woman writes: How can you put a price on memories'?"

(McCrea) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Lynne McCrea
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