Dan & Whit’s

by Sonya Friedman

Country stores are a cherished tradition in New England and in Norwich, Vermont, this is no exception. Except that this store, Dan & Whit’s, is exceptional. Famous throughout the region, even rating as a tourist attraction, the store sits on Main Street, housed in a non-descript building, fronted by a parking lot on cracked asphalt and two gas pumps. A sprawling outdoor message board displays personal notices and news of events in nearby Vermont and New Hampshire towns. There’s a battered upright piano (anyone’s free to play it) and buckets of flowers for sale. On Thursdays, a knife-sharpener sets up outside. And often, fiddlers show up for free concerts, or to support some benefit.

The large window is plastered with ads and advice:

Fresh Vermont milk, Propane Tanks – No roller blading or skateboarding – Night Crawlers and Worms – Trout Flies – Shotgun Shells (no guns sold since 1972) – Hate does not grow in the rocky soil of Norwich, Vermont – Black Lives Matter.

But the proudest sign of all proclaims Dan & Whit’s motto:


Inside it looks, at first, like any country grocery store: worn wooden floors, narrow stacked aisles. But upon inspection, you’ll find all manner of fresh, local produce – fruit, vegetables, dairies, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream of course. There are also dental, skincare, and basic health products, vintage cheeses, and a large selection of wines. And wine-tasting events. (Dan & Whit’s even has its own label at $6 to $10 a bottle.) At the back, there’s a deli fully stacked with meats and, if you like, cooked on a sizzling grill. Other side aisles offer a large selection of additional necessities – sponges, measuring cups, candles, and back scratchers.

Many unfamiliar with the store will not notice a small passageway beside the cooking operation. But follow it and you find yourself inside a huge barn-like structure, a vast warehouse. Someone nicknamed it “West Norwich” referring to its immensity. Here, you discover all manner of garden, plumbing, and home construction supplies: toilet seats and martini glasses, horse and sheep feed, lobster pots, post-hole diggers, espresso machines, ammunition (locked up), and firewood. There are also services for glass-cutting, key-making, and film-developing.

Prices for the same item may vary, since they keep the sale price the same as when they bought the item. Stuff they purchased in April may have a cheaper sale price than the same item they bought in September. You have to look.

Another hidden store treasure can be found by cautiously climbing up the very rickety stairs to the second floor – to a trove of clothing. Barn jackets, boots, bathing suits, replacement boot liners, wool pants, snowshoes, fishing waders, flannel wear, and pet supplies. If they don’t know you, you’ll have to be accompanied. Because a while ago, when you opened a box of boots, there might have been an old pair in there. People had put on the new boots and left their old boots in the box.

Wire was put up on the outside of the upstairs window after an employee downstairs saw a pair of boots flying out. Apparently, the hurler counted on picking them up on his way through the parking lot: he never did, the sheriff was waiting for him.

Many children in the area get their first summer, or after-school jobs at Dan & Whit’s. All employees are well paid.

This amazing store was started in the 1800’s.  In 1955, two men who’d worked in the store for years bought it:  Dan and Whit.  (The current owner is a young man named Dan – grandson of the original Dan Fraser.)  The store has long been a community center where locals socialize and gather to discuss important issues.  Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Senators, always make it a campaign stop.  Even the price of local real estate is determined, in part, by proximity to the store.

One June day during the Covid-19 summer, barber chairs miraculously appeared, wheeled out onto the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. The townies, all wearing masks, treated each other to free haircuts (many, sorely needed). And phone orders to the store result in home deliveries for the sick and the elderly.

Customers can bring in a broken lawn-sprinkler or wrench or whatever and get free advice on how to fix it, rather than a sales pitch on buying a new one.  Casual drop-ins may ask directions to the Interstate and leave with a home-made apple pie.

The great tradition of the great Dan & Whit’s goes on:


As a writer/translator, for decades I wrote subtitles for foreign films (by Fellini, De Sica, Godard, others). Then, I introduced “supertitles” to the world of opera, and worked for the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Seattle Opera and many other companies. For the past 50+ years, I have vacationed in Vermont, summer and winter.