Left in Andover: The Macy’s of Southern Vermont

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

New York City and Boston can keep their Macy’s and Filene’s. We had Furman’s Department Store. The brick veneer building just past the library on Springfield’s Main Street was destination enough for me as a second grader.

When Grandma came to visit, it was a ritual for her to take my big sister and me there to purchase brand new outfits. Especially memorable were the matched bathing suits she selected for us one year.

Sometimes we went on family outings to Hapgood Pond. But mostly we girls paraded our swimwear through the hayfields for refreshing dips in the frog pond on the other side of the road from our house.

Furman’s Dept. Store building still stands in Springfield, with new uses. Photos by Susan Leader

Dad led the way, stark naked atop his vintage Allis Chalmers. Double checking for cars, he goosed the tractor top speed from our driveway straight into the screen of birches on the other side of the road.

He never got caught, but it seems Dad could have used a fitting at Furman’s as well.

In the days before big box stores eviscerated Main Street, Furman’s offered home essentials as well as clothes for the whole family. It featured tuxedo rentals and custom tailoring as well. At one time, the owner, Al Pinders, who answered to “Mr. Furman” with good humor, operated four downtown commercial establishments including a shoe store.

When Furman’s closed shop for good in 2000, I salvaged a glass topped clothing carousel from the store’s lower level. It now sits in my attic in Andover, laden with my ersatz collection of winter coats. Some are useful, others not so much.

One choice item, which I recently scored in the free store at Springfield Recycling, is a vintage wool child’s coat complete with fur collar and matching fur cap. It came hanging on a Furman’s hanger.

Although my 7-year-old self would have delighted in it, it seems itchy and impractical to my granddaughter now of that age. But I still haven’t given up selling her on it.

The free store at recycling is my current top choice for one-stop department store style shopping. A couple Wednesdays ago, having disposed of my trash, I paid a visit.

Dad, fully clothed, on his vintage Allis Chalmers with Popplewood in the background.

After perusing the book, shoe, game and kitchenware sections, I headed for women’s wear. Though neatly labeled S-M and L-XL, the contents of the two bins often overlap.

I grabbed my spot in a circle with two other women. The three of us methodically dug through the bins, churning the contents like worms in a compost pile.

A camaraderie developed. We were each a different size, shape and age with different tastes. There was no competition, unless for success at selling each other on certain items.

We dug deep, hoping to reveal items not yet exposed to the light of day. The shopper to my left, it turned out, recently lost a lot of weight. She was an extra efficient digger, bringing loads of new items up to the surface.

I nudged an attractive blue and white Columbia brand blouse her way. It was way too small for me. It disappeared into her bag.

The younger, medium-size gal fishing away opposite me was dressed casually. Would these impeccable shorts I just discovered suit her fancy?

Furman’s hanger with coat find from free store.

The conversation took a confidential turn. Our skinny friend had not lost weight completely of her own volition. She was about to go on vacation though, and had been catching up on family birthdays.

In short order, she acquired a versatile new wardrobe. Nothing was going to hold her back from enjoying this summer.

I was trying to fit several of my own family members of different sexes and age groups. I hoarded my stash of anything linen in a nearby plastic tub tucked under my new sheets and pillowcases.

It was truly a fun time. I hated to see our little party end. The group fizz, aka collective effervescence, was palpable. I complimented the gal to my left on her efficiency sorting clothes. “I was at Furman’s,” came her laconic reply.

Then I was left alone, bubbles starting to dissipate, to mine the piles of shmattes (Yiddish for rags). Suddenly the younger lady darted back to me from menswear, where she had wandered off. “These jeans would be a perfect fit for you,” she gushed. She had sized me up just right.

I accepted the Levi’s with a hearty thank you. The price was right, though donations are gratefully accepted. And the returns policy is a breeze.

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Filed Under: Left in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Sharon Mueller says:

    Susan, I love the blending of past and present in this story. It gives depth to this present moment!

  2. Jayne Moye says:

    Delightful as usual, Susan !