Waitsfield’s Merchandise Mart

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Elements of designer boutique, country store and antiques shop combine to make The Store in Waitsfield a one-of-a-kind place to shop

Jacqueline Rose jokes that she opened her retail shop on the mountain at Sugarbush 41 years ago as therapy, because she was bored. After 22 years, she moved The Store down the mountain to an 1834 Methodist meeting house in Waitsfield, where it has become an institution.

Jackie Rose is a piece of work — in the best possible meaning of that phrase. An intelligent woman with a wry sense of humor and a sharp eye that doesn’t miss much, Rose is the owner of The Store in Waitsfield.

She opened The Store about 41 years ago in 100 square feet of space up on the mountain at Sugarbush. “I started it with Pat Burley,” she says. “Her husband is an architect up here. We started this because we were bored.”

She chuckles as she recalls “a very sophisticated accountant in New York. He’d call up my husband and say, ‘How’s your wife’s therapy going?’”

Rose moved, with her husband, Robert, and their three children, to Vermont in the early ’60s. “We had moved from New York City to the suburbs,” she says, “which was deadly. My older daughter was then 4 or 5, and everything was done with pools.”

Pools? Interviewing her, it soon becomes apparent, could cause whiplash from the mental double-takes required to follow the story of this indomitable woman. 

“They had car pools; dance pools; somebody called me up one day and said, ‘Would you like to be in the shot pool?’ I said, ‘Beg your pardon?’ She said, ‘Shot pool as in allergy shots.’ I called my husband and said, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m out of here!.’”

Without getting to know her a bit, it might be tempting to assume that Rose’s life before Vermont and The Store was that of a typical housewife of the era. Boy, would that be a mistake! 

Born Jackie Sherman, Rose grew up on Chicago’s Near North Side. She attended Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., and spent time in New York City before returning to Chicago, eventually transferring to the University of New Mexico to complete college.

“During the war — my war,” she says, referring to World War II, “I joined the WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots) that Jacqueline Cochran started.”

Established in 1943, WASP was a select group of young women pilots whose work as pioneers, heroes and role models has become the stuff of legend. During the war, they flew every type of plane in the U.S. Air Corps inventory in non-combat roles, including training male Air Corps cadets. 

Rose had earned her private pilot’s license — a requirement for any women joining the WASPs — when she was in college, and hoped to help the war effort. She traveled to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, to learn to fly the military planes.

“I thought I had it all worked out,” she says, “but my father became ill, and after about six months, I had to go home to Chicago.”

Kathy Rose, Jackie’s daughter, works with her side-by-side. She’s pictured surrounded by the large array of linens and tableware the shop carries.

Back in Chicago, she says, she did “oddball things, then moved to New York,” where she worked as a publicist. “I worked with companies, freelanced a little, worked for a summer theater in Chicago, which was quite popular in those days. Then I met a woman called Rosemary Clooney through her manager.”

It was 1949. Clooney had been singing with her sister, Betty, who eventually returned home, leaving Clooney to continue as a solo. 

“Rosemary and I became friends and roommates,” Rose says. “I did her publicity and drove her car and did all those kinds of things for years. Then she got married, I got married, and we went our separate ways, but we always remained friends.

She had met Robert Rose at a party in the Hamptons. They married in 1955, and in the spring of 1962, they moved to Waitsfield, where they had skied for a couple of years.

Robert owned a business dealing with plasticized custom awning material, which he could manage from Vermont. “His choice in life,” says Rose, “would have been to be a farmer, so we moved up here and he became a farmer.”

They bought land right away so they could start farming. “We raised Hampshire sheep for a long time,” says Rose. “They were beautiful. Then when the shepherds went to college, we got belted Galloways, designer cows. Ours were black and white”

Belted Galloways are beef cattle native to Scotland. Each one has a wide belt of color around its middle. “Robert was a breeder, so everything had to look exactly alike,” Rose says. Shortly before his death in 2003, Robert gave the cattle to the Belted Galloway Foundation. A few, now owned by Hadley Gaylord, the farm manager, remain on Rose’s land to keep the grass cut.

Rose opened The Store in 1965. In the early years of the business, it was housed above Chez Henri, the French restaurant that had opened the year before.

“I hated that indoor-outdoor carpeting, but people would ski over from the village, so I put down stones. Bill Cowles was the architect up there. He came in, and I said, ‘Can I put this down?’ He jumped up and down a couple of times, and said, ‘Yes.’”

Rose says she could sit downstairs having coffee at Chez Henri, “and if somebody would come in upstairs, we could hear them walking on that floor, and go upstairs.”

The first couple of years, the shop closed during the summer, she says, “because there was nothing up there in the summer; nothing up there, period.”

Lara Peterson (left) handles the shipping and receiving and makes up gift baskets for customers. Her record is 27 gift baskets in one day. She and Kathy Rose stand in the storeroom at the back of the building.

Eventually, Rose realized that if she planned to stay in the business, she needed to move. She bought and refurbished an 1834 Methodist meeting house in Waitsfield, which is still home to the business.

“When Pat and I opened the store up on the mountain, if you wanted a glass in the Valley, you had to take the jelly or peanut butter out of it — really — and there was a hardware store that carried very thin tin pots. We thought there was a need,” says Rose.

“By the time I moved downtown, almost everybody had a pot, a pan and a glass, so I got into table things: tablecloths, a little flatware, higher-end stuff, and it just grew like Topsy.”

About a year after moving to the village, Rose opened up the second floor to antiques. “I may be wrong, but I think people like to walk upstairs at my type of business,” she says. “We had a choice of going into art, crafts or antiques.” She and her husband found a couple of dealers to work with them finding antiques. 

“I love that stuff,” says Rose, referring to the antiques. “I love going to auctions. It’s not a very profitable business, but it’s fun.”

Other products joined the glassware, pots, pans and linens on the main floor. “Tabletop” became its own category, and includes “everything you put on a table,” Rose says. A wide selection of cookbooks was added, along with an entire children’s section, including children’s books. Funky pet products have their section of the store. Food and wine tastings became a regular occurrence. Vera Bradley handbags sit alongside The Store’s private label maple syrup and pancake mix and high-end Japanese knives

“Everything we like, I get into,” says Rose, who has a savvy marketing nose. “Before, we were so concentrated on gadgets, on cooking, and if you buy it right now, you won’t need another one, but you could run out of napkins or candles.

 “Candles,” Rose continues. “That’s a big category in the gift business. It’s like coffee: You have to buy another pound.”

Occasionally, a product will take her by surprise. One such was a julienne-making gadget she saw at a gift show. “I loved it because the instructions were all in Japanese,” she says. “The first year, we sold 4,000 of these things. I’d call every week and order another four dozen. They couldn’t believe it. We’re still selling it.” 

Rose’s daughter Kathy, formerly vice president at Bruegger’s in Burlington, has worked full-time at The Store for the last four years. She can often be found in the stock room, working with longtime employee Lara Peterson, who handles shipping and receiving and makes up gift baskets. 

Jeff Parker, who does administration work, was hired 20 years ago by Robert as the numbers guy, “I was always termed as Bob’s conscience down here,” he says. “Bob was not involved in the day-to-day operations, and he would turn to me for the pulse of the business.”

Even in Waitsfield, the challenges presented by the encroachment of big box stores is being felt, says Kathy, “because even the premier brands are starting to show up at Costco, for example, when smaller operations used to have protected territories.” The Internet and sites such as Overstock.com have contributed their share of challenge as well, she says. “People can price anything now, even antiques, on the Web, and there are a lot of knock-offs out there. We’ve got the real thing.”

Their continual search for new products has become harder and harder over the years, says Rose, “but it’s kind of fun to ferret them out.” As an example, she points to a set of silicone ties that can be used to tie roasts, then washed in the dishwasher and reused.

Rose can be found at The Store six days a week, when she’s not attending the trade shows or traveling for recreation. She recently came home from a trip to the forests of Costa Rica, and last year, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the Galapagos Islands. She no longer skis, but she has developed an interest in bonsai. Every few weeks, she travels to Palm Springs to visit her 100-year-old mother. 

Her trip to the Galapagos inspired her to take Spanish lessons once a week. Her longtime friend Cheryl Patty, the owner of Sportive in the village, studies with her. “She’s been my mentor ever since we met in 1971,” says Patty. “Just look at her, how active she is! Jackie does something because she loves it, not because she has to.  

“She is inspiring. I look at her and say, ‘Jackie does it; I can do it.’”