To say that the native Vermonter is frugal is something akin to suggesting that a Scotsman has a passing interest in plaid. That is to say, it so understates the depth and breadth of the Vermonter’s frugality that it belies the essential truth, which is that Vermonters are so tight they squeak when they walk. Consider —

  • Those pristine white clapboard churches that line the village green? Step around back. Chances are, the back of that church is red — painted with cheaper barn paint. Quintessentially Vermont, indeed.
  • Talk around the Vermonters’ water cooler may consist of topics the likes of how to get the last bit of toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, or which gas stations in a 50-mile radius offer a nickel off their pump price every third Tuesday.
  • And there may be some truth to the rumor that the boards of growing Vermont companies have to import flatlanders for the chief financial jobs… when it comes to funding big expenditures native Vermonters simply cannot bring themselves to the write the check.

The Vermonter’s tendency to pinch pennies is an ingrained trait. For decades the Green Mountain State was largely isolated and, for the most part, dirt-poor. The Vermont farmer (and most all of Vermonters were farmers — of sheep, dairy, wheat, corn and maple sugar) led a hard-scrabble life. It’s only far more recently that Vermonters have added bumper crops of leaf-peepers, hikers, mountain bikers and snow skiers to their bounty.

I note all of this only to help explain a curious phenomenon that seems to go hand in worn-leather-glove with the Vermonter’s frugality, and that is his love of a bargain. And in Vermont, bargain is spelled t-e-n-t s-a-l-e.

The tent sale is an event whereupon merchants secretly pitch palatial pavilions in dead of night, to find legions of Vermonters waiting in line at first light, stamping their feet in the pre-dawn cold, and craning their necks for a better view at the potential bargains within.

Nobody knows just how Vermonters learn that a tent sale is to take place… they just know. Nor does it particularly matter whether the goods inside the tent are, indeed, bargain-priced. The logic goes: it’s in a tent, therefore it must be a good deal.

This has led to a thriving business in tents in the state. And, in fact, you will find architectural marvels akin to the spinnaker sails of the Sydney opera house or the onion domes of the Taj Mahal, albeit rendered in canvas and steel and capable of being both raised and razed in 30 minutes flat.

So, a wise word to the traveler. If you intend to visit Vermont this autumn, and should you choose to camp in the arboreal splendor of our mountains and valleys, have a care. Firstly, consider sleeping in the open air… the stars are lovely. But if you absolutely must raise a tent of your own, think small — think very small — lest you find a herd of restive Vermonters at dawn’s door, looking for a deal.

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