Refuel on the Vermont Gran Fondo at Historic Country Stores

April 28, 2016

Think Vermont and your mind will likely wander to things such as covered bridges, maple syrup, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. And certainly our little state features such sweetness, but adrenaline-charged sporting events like the Vermont Gran Fondo provide a spicy contrast. The Vermont Gran Fondo is a non-competitive ride criss-crossing Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Gran Fondo is an Italian phrase that means Big Ride. And Vermont’s Gran Fondo is big! GranFondoGuide.com named it one of the top ten Gran Fondos in the country to do in 2016. The 103.7-mile Gran course features 10,495 feet of climbing, two Category 2 climbs—including sustained grades of 20% to 24% on Lincoln Gap, the steepest paved mile in the U.S., a Category 3 climb, and two Category 4 and Category 5 climbs. Somewhat more approachable but also daunting, the 64-mile Medio course and the 43.4-mile Piccolo course feature fewer and less arduous climbs. Those who muster the gusto for any of these climbs will be handsomely rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas.

But the Vermont Gran Fondo is not all mindboggling beauty and leg-numbing climbs; it actually includes some wonderful opportunities for comfort. Beyond the support of expert bike mechanics, numerous well-placed rest stops, support vehicles, and great refueling stops for drinks, snacks, and first aid, the route passes three quintessential Vermont general stores: the Lincoln General Store, the Warren Store, and the Northfield Falls General Store.

You could find what you need and quickly zip in and out of each of these iconic little mom-and-pop establishments, but why would you want to? In wonderful historic buildings with squeaky wood floors, the atmosphere of each of these stores beckons you to grab a coffee, put your feet up, and linger. If you want to really know Vermont, you’ll discover it right here at a general store, the crossroads of Vermont.

The mere existence of these stores is a testament to Vermont character. These tenacious mom-and-pop stores hang on and even thrive in a time of national chains because customers do so much more than simply shop here. They find community.

lincoln general store

Let’s start with the Lincoln General Store. From all accounts, it has been here forever. Locals come here for news—and we’re not talking about the New York Times. Storeowner, Vaneasa Stearns is the mother of all information; she knows everything that is going on with everyone in town. If you want to know anything at all about Lincoln, just ask Vaneasa.

The Lincoln General Store is known for its outrageous baked goods but it also has everything from beer tastings to breakfast sandwiches to baseball hats. Behind the counter, you’ll find photos from the recent buck pool, a time-honored Vermont tradition, featuring proud local hunters and their quarry. The store also celebrates the renaissance of local with local produce, local meats and cheeses, local beers, and even local books by local novelist Chris Bohjalian, who describes the store as a “wonderful, eccentric emporium, with sumptuous, creative baked desserts and an extensive selection of wine.” (http://tinyurl.com/zpbx54u) Piccolo riders will see the Lincoln General Store at Mile 25; Medio riders at Mile 43; and Gran riders at Mile 83.

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The “Almost World Famous” Warren Store has a similar vibe. Store manager, Jack Garvin calls it, “the social hub of the universe.” Apparently it has always been such a hub. Though the universe might be a somewhat broader than documented audience, the Warren Store has been the center of it since 1839. Today, the Warren Store has become something of a destination. Patrons return to the quirky country store daily for coffee and connection and have done so for decades. Known for their oversized sandwiches (suitable for sharing) and homemade soups (everything made from scratch), the Warren store also has a magical walk-in beer cooler brimming with award-winning local Vermont craft beers. Gran riders will find the Warren Store at Mile 35 and again at Mile 74.

northfield store

Northfield Falls General Store is a little newer. Originally a mercantile that sold household staples, such as butter and flour in bulk, the store was built in 1892. Purchases then were measured out and weighed as they were sold. (Norman Rockwell might have made a painting of these transactions if he’d lived a little farther north.) Current storeowners Vince and Norma Rooney have improved and renovated the building. They reopened two summers ago in a much more contemporary incarnation that is part co-op grocery, part bakery, part gourmet deli. The philosophy here is ‘be well, eat well.’ They embrace a wholesome, slow-food model of cooking and bake their own breads, grind their own meats. The Northfield Falls General Store is at Mile 58 of the Gran course.

Upon reopening, Vince and Norma stocked the shelves based on the needs of their patrons. Today the store stocks local produce and meats, has a full restaurant-kitchen, and serves espresso. Vince has become known for his cannoli and chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookies.

The communities created among these proprietors and their patrons are tightly knit, but not so tightly knit that there is not room on the porch for a few hungry cyclists. Though with all the calories you’ll burn climbing the Vermont Gran Fondo, you might not want to share your sandwich.