Parking your bicycle in front of Hero’s Welcome, a classic Vermont general store on North Hero Island, is a tricky business. Two long benches, perfect for leaning one’s bike against, sit out front, one labelled Democrat, the other Republican. These two benches are kind of famous, and meant at least partly as a joke, I think.
People think of Vermont as a solidly blue state, famously progressive and liberal minded, the home of Bernie Sanders, for God’s sake. But it’s not all blue. There are pockets of Trump support in parts of the state, mostly the rural, less affluent, un-solar-paneled areas. So you never really know, even in Vermont, who sits where.
As we rolled up to the store, a man sitting on the red bench eyed us warily as we approached, staring right at Matt, in the lead, daring him to claim the blue bench, it seemed. After thinking it over for a few seconds, Matt chose a diplomatic approach—a very Canadian approach, I dare say, for a New Yorker, no less—and parked in the middle, a wheel on each side.
Inside, Hero’s Welcome looks, at first glance, like a regular café and deli, until you see past the pastries and breakfast sandwiches to the general store area further back—bulk candy, kitchen wares, an aisle of groceries, maple everything, and souvenirs, lots of souvenirs. And not just your typical ones—quirky, ironic artifacts, like the Bernie Sanders action figure, Vermont-made dog biscuits, and the Hillary Clinton talking doll (complete with unsettling laugh).
But it doesn’t stop there. The store just keeps going seemingly without end, like some magical wardrobe. And the further back you go, the quirkier the stuff gets. Dental instruments? Sure, a whole shelf. Bass bottle openers? Check. Cycling bugles? Got ‘em. When I finally got to the back wall, I saw stairs that go up to a kind of mezzanine, filled with books and puzzles and even more goofy gadgets. The place is a wonder.
We lingered far longer than we needed to at Hero’s Welcome. Our phones were fully charged and our bellies stuffed and still we didn’t feel like leaving. It had a cool vibe, part social hub, part nostalgia storehouse.
A few days after our visit, when we were in Middlebury, I read a newspaper article about Hero’s Welcome being up for sale, which made me a little sad. I sure hope the store survives, with all its weird, sprawling glory intact.