Despite having a strong taste for, and sentimental attachment to, Hershey bars — because my father used to bring me a Hershey bar and a comic book when I was home from school with strep throat, back in prehistory when children spent sick days staring at the ceiling and listening to the world going on without them in a distant stream of car mufflers and neighbors calling for dogs — I believe nothing is more depressing than the “festival” of “fun” that goes on at Hershey’s Chocolatetown in Pennsylvania.
Have you been to Hersheypark? If you are not already on board with the universally undeniable truth that corporations and international consumer capitalism are reducing basically everything to a monoculture (varieties of candy, varieties of banana, varieties of spoken accent, varieties of canned soup), I direct your attention to Chocolatetown. At Chocolatetown, the vast panoply of the sugar-dusted universe, in all its majesty and glory, has been reduced to a small cast of overfamiliar corporate candy brands — candy characters — that dance menacingly in mascot costumes and, oddly, kill one another in a confusing animated-candy murder mystery called “The 4-D Chocolate Movie.” I don’t want to see Hershey Kisses with pink lips. I don’t want your M&Ms. Give me jewel-like Chuckles, pastel Merrimints, dotted Snowcaps, dappled B-B Bats. Give me Satellite Wafers. Give me Beemans Black Jack Gum (which my grandfather Arnold Rattray chewed defiantly, in solidarity with the working man, despite social norms and over the objections of my grandmother).
This is why I love the Vermont Country Store so much: It stocks items you cannot find anywhere else, in great variety, many of them — not just the aforementioned penny candies but candlewick quilts, curvaceous 1940s-style iced tea glasses, Tangee lipstick that changes colors to match your complexion — from small-time American manufacturers. Apparently, there are people in this world who don’t like novelty and variety, people who eat the same chicken sandwich every night, but I am not one of them. I would even eat the brown-bread-in-a-can available at the Vermont Country store, tinned by the Maine baked-bean company B & M since 1867. I’d eat the “Amish noodles and meat.”
Some of you may remember the topic of this column three weeks ago, in which I wrote about the founding of the Anchor Society, a new nonprofit dedicated to bringing a general store to East Hampton Village. . . ? It’s a 501(c)(3) and, for those of you just getting this news, it’s on. It’s happening.
Sag Harbor can come together to build a movie theater and we are going to come together to create a general store that will serve the practical needs of East Hampton’s actual, living, breathing, human-being residents — a place where you can buy shoelaces and needle and thread, and drop off your trousers for hemming and your leather shoes for repair, then sit on a bench for a cup of morning coffee while leafing through the headlines. A general store like they have in Maine or Vermont. “Commerce That Serves Community” is our brand-new motto. (Or maybe “Fostering Commerce That Serves Community.” What do you think?) We don’t have a logo quite yet, but it will probably involve a nautical knot and the sailor’s injunction “Hold fast!”
We have set our sights on Main Street and Newtown Lane. You may immediately wonder why we don’t aim a bit lower, go a bit farther afield, and plant the seed of such a store in the presumably more-affordable environs of North Main or out beyond the train station. The answer — and here I go, finally wrapping this narrative around to the point I seemed to be making up in the lede paragraph — is that our project will not succeed on merchandise alone. It will only succeed if it is an attraction, the sort of place you want to go. It has to have a charming, appealing, warm ambience. We need an older-stock building; we need it to have curb appeal. East Hampton’s general store will be the sort of general store that’s a pure sensory pleasure to enter. Let the wooden floorboards creak, let light come in through the broad windows of the shopfront, let there be a couple of benches for the early birds bickering about politics. Let the shelves be crammed not just with practical and humdrum necessities (as you all know, disturbingly scarce in Gucci Gulch), but with all manner of useful and consumable items that you can’t find everywhere else.
If you have opinions about any of this — or a desire to help — please email us at [email protected], and we will forward to you a personal invitation to our inaugural gathering, on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. We’re meeting in front of the movie theater, then breaking into clutches for a fact-finding stroll about the business district, during which we will take notes on the retail scene, survey each building’s current use, and dream big.