Meat the Singletons: Purveyors of whiskey, guns, ammo and the best meat you’ve ever had
Every pocket of Vermont has its own royalty. The families everyone knows. The families who’ve been around a long, long time. The families who’ve made their mark. Some produce maple syrup. Some produce cheese. Some are loggers. Some are skiers. They are Vermonters who do Vermont things particularly well and, as a result, earn local stardom. Sweet, Green Mountain stardom.
In Windsor County, the Singleton family epitomizes such downhome royalty. They’re proud owners and operators of Singleton’s General Store in the village of Proctorsville—perched between Route 131 and the Black River, four and a half miles from Okemo Mountain. The one-floor store extends 7,500 square feet in a rectangular fashion, with a covered walkway out front and a backward-sloping roof, almost like a Western saloon. But make no mistake, this place is 100%, no-doubt-about-it, Vermont.
The heir and owner of Singleton’s is Mr. Tom Singleton. Clean shaven. Full head of white hair. Subtle smile. Normally seen wearing a plaid, tucked-in button-down and impeccable blue jeans. The kind of guy who just emanates wisdom without saying a word. You can see it in his eyes.
Tom’s parents, Bud and Mary, opened their family business in the nearby farm town of Reading. The year was 1946, the war had just ended, and the troops were home. But money was scarce; some customers would offer their old guns for groceries, which Bud and Mary happily accepted.
“At that time, guns weren’t of very great value. It wasn’t until the ’70s, probably, that people started saying, ‘Wait a minute! Where’s Gramp’s old gun?’” says Tom, who still owns many of those grocery-trade firearms today.
By 1973, Bud and Mary decided to sell the store and find different work lives. But, five years later, it became clear that Singleton’s General Store was always the best venture imaginable. So they bought three acres in Proctorsville and, with the help of their growing family and other locals, the new and improved store was built. It wasn’t 7,500 square feet like today, but it was the perfect size for that time, and particularly inviting for new customers.
“It’s kind of strange that my grandfather chose this place, but it’s such a blessing he did because it’s such a gold mine,” says Dan Singleton—Tom’s son—a tall, sturdy man with a beard, tattooed arms and subtle smile just like his father’s. He’s a classic Vermonter with a lot of pride for his home, and a new father of twin boys, Gunner and Grayson.
“Something about Proctorsville drew him in,” Dan continues.
“And, today, maybe it’s something about being more a hole in the wall—not all blown out—that people love so much.” Dan is absolutely right. In the ’70s, nearby Ludlow was the obvious town of choice for new business owners due to the increasing popularity of Okemo Mountain and its influx of skiers. But, when a place becomes too well known, locals and visitors alike want a more genuine and unique alternative—even if it’s four and a half miles down the road. And that’s where Singleton’s fits right in.
The store is one big, open space with a handful of shoulder-high aisles packed with all the necessities, and then some. Your milk. Your eggs. Your bread. Your cheese. Your maple syrup. Your wine. Your beer. (Your really good, wide variety of Vermont craft beer.) The saying in town is, “If you can’t find it at Singleton’s, you don’t need it.”
The official saying of Singleton’s—the phrase found on all of its merchandise, and the phrase it’s best known for—is “Whiskey, Guns, and Ammo.” And when you venture beyond the aforementioned food and beverage section, you see why. The store has two additional areas filled with guns, bullets, fishing equipment, hunting apparel and an endless supply of liquor. It’s these offerings that make Singleton’s a local’s favorite—a place for hunting and fishing licenses, the best gear for such activities, and the right drinks to top off long days in the woods. Outside of the store is the scale, where folks gather after long days, evaluate their keep and exchange stories of the pursuit.
And this brings us to Singleton’s most famed product: the meat. Since its start 72 years ago, this store has carried a reputation for top-of-the-line chicken, beef, pork and more (elk, alligator, you know, meat). These days, Dan is mostly in charge of the meat department. He’s spent many a day driving around the East Coast searching for the ideal farms to work with, and many a night browsing the Web for the ultimate preparation techniques—techniques that he takes and then improves upon.
“We’ve got an awesome variety,” he says, waving his arm in a circular fashion around the back of the store. “You know, there’s locals who want to spend $5.99 on a steak, and then you’ve got people who want to spend $38.99 on a steak. We can offer both of those people something and we’re proud of that.”
A good portion of Singleton’s meat is sold simple: raw and untouched. Among this category, Dan and the team are currently fired up about their wagyu and dry-aged beef, which are beyond mouthwatering. But, over all these years, what’s really made Singleton’s famous—arguably the real keys behind the family’s Green Mountain royalty—are the marinated and smoked meats. This stuff is addicting; customers cannot, and will not, ever get enough of it. Locals stock up on it like there’s a daily apocalypse, and visitors take pounds of it home in coolers. And with all of this demand in mind, Singleton’s is selling its less-perishable options online, a venture that’s taking off faster than ever expected.
Out behind the store, toward the river, Tom gestures lovingly toward a small, picturesque structure. “Right here is where it all takes place,” he says. “The Smokehouse.” The structure is made of rich barn wood, complemented by a small, fogged window, a fl at metal roof, a wagon wheel and an old American flag. The rough the oversize door are walls of thick, recycled refrigerator panels that suff ocate the space.
And hanging between the walls, Tom’s pride and joy: smoked pepperoni. Smoked jerky. Smoked bacon. The works. Tom stands beside the Smokehouse for a moment, not saying a word. Just looking it at. You can sense his calmness. You can sense his pride. Behind him, mounted on the old barn wood, is a sign with one word that tells a million stories.