Chester, Vermont is one of those towns you can drive through and admire, or dive into and discover.  I’d recommend the diving route, as it was the perfect place for me to tackle some pressing holiday shopping without feeling rushed, worried or overwhelmed.  It is eclectic, full of hidden treasures, and quaint without being frilly. Seasonal white lights have already gone up on the trees at the town center where a fantastic array of small stores surrounds the village green.  I always stop first at the Moon Dog Café to fuel up with curried chicken salad and a hot drink.  The long, soft-colored room has a small grocery section and an extensive collection of body care products, as well as scarves, tableware, and various odds and ends.  For those who love the organic, natural side of things, this place will hold your attention for a while.  At the far end of the café is a set of stairs leading to a vast playroom for young children called the SongYard.  The SongYard hosts events and arts ‘n’ crafts, and features a children’s clothing thrift rack.

Next down the line of Chester’s main street stores is Country Treasures, a quilting shop.  My mom took a beginner’s class there and made a gorgeous baby blanket.  Though I am not one for sewing, I still love looking at their creative fabrics and use them to wrap my Christmas gifts in a more personal and sustainable way.  Misty Valley Books is probably the best place to find something for everyone on your holiday shopping list.  This small bookstore often hosts local or visiting authors, and has a great selection of including a shelf full of Vermont and New England based fiction and non-fiction.  I found a small book full of early photos of my hometown, Springfield VT, to give to my parents for Christmas!  Other unique stores include a Polish Pottery shop, Mountain Leather Design, and DaVallia, a jewelry and home accent boutique a bit pricier than the rest of the plaza.

If you head east through the center of town, you’ll come to Meditrina Wine and Cheese and Pear Tree Home and Garden. I have not been to Pear Tree, but Meditrina is an intimate space with very knowledgeable staff. Continue east to get to the Vermont Country Store, an ever-bustling hotspot for Vermont products of every imaginable sort.

If you head north on Route 103, even more surprises await! Vermont Institute of Contemporary Arts, or VTica, is an absolute gem that sits across from the gas station. I recently attended a gallery opening and was not only in love with the artists the owners chose to feature, but also the affordability of the entire collection. ‘Something to Celebrate,’ their current collection, shows the work of Vermont artists who have a high level of finesse comparable to those featured in high end galleries in New York, said President Robert Sarly. One does abstract glasswork that hangs like clouds from the ceiling. Another paints poppies on top of roadmaps of Chester and surrounding towns. At the back of the exhibit was the star of the show, a collection of 33 top contestants in an abstract challenge set up by both VTica and the VT Water Color Society.

Across from VTica is a combination antique gallery and seafood restaurant called Austin’s Antiques and the Wheelhouse Restaurant. I have yet to explore it, and am so curious to find out what the place could possibly look like inside! The chef has a weekly column called ‘Catch of the Week’ in the local paper with seafood recipes to try at home. (This week was lobster quiche – yum!) Continue up 103 and you’ll find a thrift store and a massage therapy office, followed by a woodworking business that hosts an annual chainsaw carving festival and competition every October! I attended the festival and was surprised at how affordable some of the carvings were. Beyond the creative displays of wooden statues and benches is Lisai’s market and grocery near the train station. Bonnie’s Bundles Dolls is an especially unique store, which hand-crafts old-fashioned Vermont dolls. They are gorgeous to look at, but certainly an investment. Finally, you’ll find an open-air roadside market selling Christmas trees and wreaths. In the spring they feature flowers and in the summer and fall are chock full of Vermont produce.

Though we are in the last week of availability for our I Hate Malls package, we are likely to make it an annual occasion! Keep us in mind next Christmas if the consumerism and advertisements are starting to get to you.

-Sophi Veltrop, Golden Stage Inn