Shopping in Burlington means thinking outside the box. The big-box, that is. Sure, we've got chain stores, but not many — and isn't it all about supporting the little guy, anyway?
"Putting money into your local economy can have a really huge ripple effect," explains Nicole Carey, owner of Winooski's Birdfolk Collective. "If you're supporting us, it means you're buying items made by hand. And the better our sales are, the more money we can put back into the artists' pockets, and it correlates to how many jobs we can create."
To help you find the area's coolest indie retailers, we asked some in-the-know shopkeepers to spill the beans on where they like to shop. Driving customers elsewhere may not make the best business sense, but everyone participated willingly. (We promise.) That's just the kind of neighborly place Vermont is.
Hole-in-the-wall skate shop Maven carries everything to outfit skateboarders from head to toe, focusing on skater-owned brands that are truly passionate about the sport. Owners Trina Zide and Brendan Foster opened their doors in 2005 to create "a cultural hub for skateboarding in Vermont." These days, they're right in the thick of it, less than a mile from the waterfront's Andy A_Dog Williams Skatepark (and with a retail truck parked by the bowl seasonally). Check out the shop's cool collection of painted skateboard decks hanging on the wall by the register — not for sale, just for enjoyment.
Lunaroma, an aromatherapy and body care business. "I call owner Leyla Bringas the mad scientist," says Zide. "She'll take risks and chances to create something you've never heard of before. The lavender body balm is my go-to. And I like any of their face serums, especially the youth elixir."
Old Spokes Home, a bike shop dedicated to making transportation more accessible. "They're a nonprofit and very community oriented," says Zide. "I'm a firm believer in listening to the needs of the community, and they do that really well." She also loves the attic, which is filled with used bikes.
Trinket, an accessories boutique. Says Zide: "I think owner Rachel Cloutier does really unique buying. She listens to the voids in the community. Whenever I need a birthday present, I'm going to Lunaroma or Trinket."
Expressions is a Church Street staple that caters to women who value both comfort and aesthetics. Owner Lorre Tucker opened shop back in 1979 — right across from the original Ben & Jerry's — after graduating from New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology. Her daughter Katherine has since joined the family biz as manager and buyer. Express yo'self with Expressions' stylish assortment of drapey sweaters, chic coats and funky accessories.
Common Deer, which carries American-made home goods. "You feel and know that each item was carefully chosen and displayed," says Katherine Tucker. "Supporting small merchants and artists is important to us, and coming here, you have the best selection."
Phoenix Books, a local indie bookstore with branches in Burlington, Essex, Rutland and Chester. "In a time when you see a lot of online shopping, we love supporting this shop. And if they don't have a book, they will order it for a quick delivery," says Tucker. "Plus, there is something comforting in being able to walk in, see the books in person and feel them in your hand."
"If you walk into Expressions, you will most likely see all of us wearing shoes purchased at Dear Lucy," says Tucker. "Their staff is helpful, knowledgeable and accommodating, and they have a great selection of comfortable and stylish footwear that lasts from season to season."
It's not technically in the Queen City, but Birdfolk Collective is well worth the short trip to Winooski. (Or Waterbury, if you feel like driving farther to the second location.) The cute store is a mecca for gift items, from artisan-made jewelry to soaps to beautiful ceramics. Don't miss the assortment of handmade clothes from couturiers including owner Nicole Carey. She opened the store at age 29 in 2015 to celebrate indie designers — and this year earned the title of Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace and Barge Canal Market, both based in Burlington's South End. "They're really good at curating a selection of vintage goods," says Carey. "I always leave with something, whether it's for the store or for my house."
Outdoor Gear Exchange. "It's been cool to watch it grow from that little store on Cherry Street to their current location" on the Church Street Marketplace, says Carey. "I get a lot of really functional items for living in Vermont: winter coats, hiking shoes, coats for my dog."
"For someone who's seen everything in my store," Carey suggests, "I'm into the new shop Thirty-odd on Pine Street," which — true to its name — stocks works by 30-odd artists. "It's all handmade, mostly local, and the vendors rent their space, so it's a totally different business concept."