QUECHEE — Scotland by the Yard, on its hilltop location in Quechee, has been a familiar landmark to area residents and returning tourists for almost four decades.
But this summer there’s an additional sign that’s been getting attention, which reads “Retirement Sale.” Owner and merchant Don Ransom put the store’s inventory of fine Celtic imports on sale in May — and business has been booming.
Ransom, who will turn 70 this year, is selling as much of the store’s merchandise as possible before he closes the doors on the business in August. The store’s selection of Celtic goods includes Irish Mohair and Scottish Tartan blankets, Irish and Scottish jewelry, worsted wool Tartan fabrics, kilts and kilt accessories including sporrans (a pouch made of leather or animal fur worn in the front of the kilt), and an extensive collection of gift items and more.
“The response to the sale has been really great,” Ransom said. “And we still have a great inventory left.” The sale began in mid-May. “The finish line is in sight. We want to be finished by the end of August.”
The “we” Ransom refers to is Susan Inui, his wife, who had a successful business career as co-owner of Williamson Group Sotheby’s International Realty (with business partner Laird C. Bradley) until she retired about a year and a half ago. Since then, “She’s been involved in the store and gets a big charge out of being a merchandiser,” Ransom said.
Watching the two of them at work in the store, they both seem to take pleasure in the little things, enjoying the tasks at hand — and each other. As for retirement?
“Our plans are to not make too many plans. I know there’s going to be a transition, so we’re going to have a quiet winter and focus on things we enjoy,” Ransom said.
The couple are both involved on various committees and boards and active in volunteer work in the area, including their involvement at the North Chapel Unitarian Universalist congregation in Woodstock.
“I’m a big gardener,” Ransom adds, noting that they’ll be moving to Woodstock, where he’ll have gardens to tend to. “And we’ll do some traveling.”
In August, the five-acre property along with the commercial building, a barn/garage and a house, will go back on the market. Previously they had sought a buyer for the business but without success. Ransom attributes it to today’s risk-averse culture that may prevent people from following an entrepreneurial dream. While any retail business comes with risk, Scotland by the Yard has thrived for most of its years in business. It was originally opened in 1953 as a small Celtic shop in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) by Lezlie Arthur, who sold the business to her daughter, Deborah Laughlin, in the 1960s. Laughlin moved the business to Vermont in 1970.
Ransom began working at Scotland by the Yard in 1975 when he was introduced to the then-owner by friends. He first came on board to merchandize at 15 different Scottish Festivals, but quickly became immersed in other aspects of the business.
From 1980-87 the business quintupled in size. In 1986 he bought the business, and has had a good run since.
“I wear a lot of different hats in the course of a day,” Ransom said. “You need to enjoy people, and you need to enjoy serving them. Being a waiter might have suited me too.”
Ransom knows that owning a specialty retail shop isn’t for everyone. But for the right person (or couple), there is a store, a website, a great reputation and history of customer service, and 65-plus years of value.
For Ransom (and, more recently, Inui), it’s a seven-day-a-week enterprise. It doesn’t have to mean the owner is there every day of the year, however, with the right employees. Ransom has been fortunate there too, as several employees have worked at his store for more than 20 years.
When asked if people today don’t buy these goods online, Ransom said, “If we can create a nice place for people to come, selling quality goods not made in China, I think there is a business niche for this type of business today. [There’s a business in] gently educating people about alpaca, merino wool — where you can feel the materials, touch it, try it on. The business has just kept building and building on that.”
Ransom is proud of his business and the quality products he’s sold over the decades — and rightly so. Still, competition from internet sales and lower-priced knockoffs which have no connection to the traditional, high-quality fiber arts is undeniable.
“At a shop like this we really serve people. We listen a lot. That’s really been an emphasis,” he said. “People really yearn for that, but they’ve become unaccustomed to finding it.”
Ransom and Inui are not the type to look back.
“We’re very optimistic and very happy,” Ransom said, putting an arm affectionately around his wife, “because we understand if you have authentic love in your life and people who care about you and who you care about, it’s all good.”
Scotland by the Yard is located at 8828 Woodstock Road in Quechee. Contact the business at 295-5351 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the store online at www.scotlandbytheyard.com. The shop is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.