Trip report - Northfield (Vermont) sock sale - 16 Nov 2008

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LewLasher
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Trip report - Northfield (Vermont) sock sale - 16 Nov 2008

Postby LewLasher » Sun Nov 23, 2008 6:42 am

[This is from last weekend, but I just now finally finished the trip report. My apologies for the delay. Today is the last day of this year's sock sale.]

Last weekend I went to the annual sock sale in Northfield, Vermont. This is apparently something of a big deal on the local calendar, but it is absolutely not promoted for tourists. All it would take would be one article in, say, the New Yorker, and that would surely ruin it for years.

Vermont Public Radio, several years ago, had a feature about the sock sale by someone who, not having grown up in Vermont, had an outsider's perspective. Moreover, she came from some significantly-warmer place where, she reasoned, socks were not as important as they apparently were in Vermont. Her reaction to the big-deal sock-sale, if I may paraphrase, was essentially along the lines of "it figures."

I tried a Google search as recently as a week beforehand and couldn't even confirm the dates for this year's sale. After I got home from the sale I was able to find a blog entry, published just a couple of days before the sale, whose author also noted that they couldn't find any online references. But eventually, it dawned on me that the annual sale is timed to coincide with the two weekends of deer season, which is generally understood to mean rifle season, and everyone in Vermont knows when that is.

The sockmaker (shouldn't there be some antique English word for sock mongers?) that runs the big sale is Cabot Hosiery Mills. The name gives the impression that the company was founded a century ago or so by relatives of the cheese folks in the town of Cabot. But, according to an article I found online, the sockmaking Cabots just started the company in 1978. They did have previous sockmaking experience in New Hampshire and North Carolina, and their first location in Northfield was in an old sock mill (which, I would assume/hope, had been originally built so as to take advantage of the hydro power provided by the Dog River running through Northfield). So there is at least a semblance of a long tradition. Anything worth writing about in New England always must involve a "long tradition". The big sock sale is, itself, on either its 27th or 29th year, depending on whether you believe what you read on the Web, where I found articles from both 2005 and 2007 proclaiming the 26th edition. Either way, that would be long enough, anywhere outside of New England, to constitute a "tradition."

The current Cabot Hosiery Mills factory building, opened in 1995 (when, according to Business People/Vermont magazine, then-Governor Dean did the ribbon-cutting honors), is not near the colorfully-named Dog River but it is, at least, on colorfully-named Whetstone Drive. The generic light-industrial building is completely without character, or, for that matter, anything so vulgar as a sign or other indication of what it is about. Fortunately, it is the only light-industrial building on Whetstone Drive. For the two weekends of the sock sale, temporary makeshift signs marked "sock sale" get you from the state highway (route 12) as far as Whetstone Drive and then it's up to you to figure it out from there.

I had scouted out Whetstone Drive on Saturday evening so I had a pretty good guess as to where to go, but, by 9 a.m. Sunday, when I arrived to start shopping, all I had to do was follow the crowds. The sale had started at 8:30, so I was able to score a parking spot surrendered by an earlybird. Others told me that what I was experiencing was not a crowd but, rather, the Sunday morning lull. (Indeed, a Web article from 2006 reported an hour and a half checkout wait.)

It is immediately apparent that the factory building is not ordinarily used for retail sales. They didn't have any shopping baskets, so, instead, they hand you a white plastic bag in which to accumulate your sock selections. Scotch-taped paper signs guide you through a maze of machinery and stacked boxes to the makeshift sales area, where additional makeshift paper signs indicate such product categories as "Men's" and "Ladie's". As a first-time sock-sale shopper, I managed to get overwhelmed by the handful of categories. They actually did have a helpful map of the sales area, but, oddly, it seemed, just one copy of it, lying on top of the so-called "sort table". This is where you go if you are struck by buyer's remorse and decide to unload some of your ill-thought-out impulse purchases from your white plastic shopping bag, at which point the staff descends and instantly sorts the socks for reshelving.

The socks that seemed to be going the fastest were the "performance" sports line under the "Darn Tough" brand. This is Cabot's biggest brand, and perhaps its only brand - most of their output is channeled to private labels for the likes of L.L. Bean. "Darn Tough" socks are listed on the Web site of yuppy retailer Eastern Mountain Sports in the $13-20 range, so, by comparison, the $4-6 range might seem like a good deal. But not to me, given my curmudgeonly resistance to ever paying more than $5 for a pair of socks. A helpful sales assistant must have read my mind, and directed me to the military surplus section, which was indicated by not only a couple of American flags on the wall, but also a guy (an employee, I assume/hope) dressed up as Uncle Sam, with, you know, the big funny hat. In the military zone, I scored a 3-pack of sturdy wool socks for $9. I would have gotten 6 pair for $16, as indicated on the makeshift sign on the wall, but I didn't realize until I was already at the makeshift checkout counter that it was my responsibility to take two 3-packs to get the 6/$16 deal.

I found even cheaper socks, but only with the help of other, more experienced shoppers at the "sort table", who helped me interpret the floor plan by explaining that "shot socks" designated the super-clearance table, way in the back of the room. Once you waited or pushed your way through the crowd, you could scrounge through a mound of socks that could best be classified as "assorted", without anything so vulgar as a label that might indicate the composition, size, or intended gender. For $1.50 a pair, I scrounged for a few minutes and scored a couple of pairs of colorfully pattered socks out of the mound.

The absolute cheapest socks were the ones in the large plastic pre-packaged (no-scrounging) grab-bags of a couple dozen pairs of unclassified "shot socks". However, the grab-bags did not seem to garner anything close to the level of interest of the free-for-all scrounge/mound table.

The most expensive socks were cashmere ladies' (or, to use the local dialect, I should say: "ladie's") socks, which were being sold for $15/pair but were indicated as being a $39 value.

The most novel socks were in the earthy/crunchy corner, where you could (but I did not) get socks made from organically-grown cotton, bamboo, or hemp. I think the hemp models were 3 for $7, but I preferred the colors available in the non-organic, environment-devastating regular cottons, 3 for $6.

All in all, I escaped with 8 pairs for a total of $18. (I sensibly experienced buyer's remorse and unloaded a couple of $4 colorfully patterned socks that I had selected before discovering the "shot sock" scrounge/mound.) They did take credit cards. One oddity at the makeshift checkout area: they dump out the white plastic bag that served as your shopping basket, but then, after concluding the sale, repackage your purchases in a red plastic bag that you get to keep. The white plastic bags are re-used for other shoppers. I neglected to inquire, but I'm sure there must be a reason for this system.

Northfield also had a t-shirt sale the same weekend (no doubt feeding off of the fame/prestige of the more traditional sock sale), but I decided to quit while I was ahead.

LewLasher
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Joined: Sun Dec 03, 2006 8:23 pm
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Postby LewLasher » Wed Jan 01, 2014 1:17 am

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This topic was supposed to be about socks, not sex.

addseo1115
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Re: Trip report - Northfield (Vermont) sock sale - 16 Nov 2008

Postby addseo1115 » Thu Jul 28, 2016 2:21 am

which is generally understood to mean rifle season, and everyone in Vermont knows when that is.

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