« Return to list

H. N. Williams Store

  • Street: 2732 Route 30
  • Town: Dorset, Vermont 05251
  • Contact: Ruth Brownlee, Dennis Brownlee, Billy Brownlee
  • Telephone: 802-867-5353
  • Website
  • Get directions

Running the family business, even if it is a Dorset institution and Vermont treasure, was not in Billy Brownlee's future when he graduated from Burr and Burton in 1994.

 But after getting his degree in business administration from the University of Vermont in 1999, he began to think about it in a new light.

The family business began in 1840 when William Williams expanded his tannery business on Route 30 in Dorset to include the sale of shoes, boots, and leather harnesses. When his sons took over the business after the Civil War, George ran the tannery business while his brother Charles oversaw the grain and feed business. George's son Herbert changed the name to H.N. Williams Department Store, adding bicycles, sleighs and wagons to the burgeoning numer of items customers might find in the old store.

Herbert was also responsible for moving an old barn from the valley and attaching it to the existing building, thereby doubling the amount of selling space. The arrival of automobiles made the harness business obsolete, but the Williams Department Store carried on, meeting the needs of its customers by adding basic home and farm products the community needed. The next generation to take over was Herbert's son William Williams (from 1937 to 1947) and his daughter Ada Williams Rumney and her husband Austin. Ada's daughter Ruth Rumney Brownlee and husband Dennis helped her to keep the business running smoothly.

The building retains the feel and smell of another century and ancient advertisements adorn the rough walls. A wood-burning stove retains its prominent position, though its years of service have ended. One can still wander through a succession of small rooms, looking in amazement at the sheer variety fo goods for sale, including everything from garden tools to winter boots to groceries. Upstairs is the large open loft where rugged country clothing hangs tightly packed on long rows.

There is clearly a method to the distribution of inventory but this is not always apparent to the customer. George Williams established the character of his business by telling customers if he did not have an item, he would get it for them as soon as he could. Ada continued to run the store the same way, down to the leather pouch she had slung over her shoulder, the only cash register in the store.

Billy had no plans to change all this, but the store is clearly not a museum. "We like tradition," he says holding up his own leather pouch, "but we have lots of room to grow." Using the applications he learned at UVM to run the business successfully in the twenty-first century is his goal. "I put in inventory control and we are using computers to our advantage," he explains. Billy does all the buying, which for a store with so many units is a daunting job. "We have a great location, and people are always coming in who remember the store from twenty or thirty years ago." But he knows that building customer confidence takes more than nostalgia.

Williams is open seven days a week with five full-time and five part-time employees to keep everything humming. "Some people might be surprised at the changes, but it's still a big maze with sloping floors." Billy says this with a warm smile and the look of a man who has found his bliss.


« Return to list


Vermont Magazine Features Country Stores

Vermont magazine

Each issue of Vermont Magazine generally features an interesting article and profile one of the state's country store gems, many of which are member of the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores. Our thanks to editor & publisher Phil Jordan for sharing a few with us:

Adamant Co-op

Wayside Country Store

Buxton's Store

Putney General Store