Vermont's biggest city shows how it's done

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"Yes, but imagine how good you'll be if you keep using it for the next year," I told him.

"Yeah, you're right!" he said.

And then it struck me: That's a pretty idyllic concern to have as a 9-year-old on a Thursday afternoon.

Back I went up toward town, passing an array of storefronts that are just what you'd expect: vintage clothes, outdoor gear, more vintage clothes, more outdoor gear, the crystals-and-incense store, two record stores (that actually sell vinyl), a head shop and, proving that the city has long been the way it is, Old Gold, a costume and vintage-clothes shop celebrating its 40th year.

The city's annual Mardi Gras celebration — held a few weeks after the proper date, when the Vermont weather is kinder — was approaching, so the mannequins were outfitted in extra sparkles and feathers.

On Church Street, the brick pedestrian walkway cutting through downtown, the offerings are more evenly split between local funkiness and the more vanilla — and not just the inevitable Ben and Jerry's. (The original Ben and Jerry's, at the corner of St. Paul and College streets, is now a parking lot.)

There, amid the pedestrians, sit several national chains the town doesn't always embrace. With one obvious exception.

Speaking of which, should you really need that McDonald's fix while visiting Burlington, you can find it on your way back to the airport — in the town of South Burlington.

If you go

Getting there: Burlington gets direct flights from Atlanta (starting June 7); Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; Newark, N.J.; New York; Philadelphia; Toronto; and Washington.

Eat: There are more worthy dining options than can be mentioned here, but these will get you started. American Flatbread (home of Zero Gravity brewery, 115 St. Paul St., 802-861-2999,; Farmhouse (a lot of buzz, 160 Bank St., 802-859-0888,; Bluebird (a Burlington classic, 86 St. Paul St. 802-540-1786,; Zabby & Elf's Stone Soup (a popular and vegetarian-friendly lunch spot, 211 College St., 802-862-7616,; and Misery Loves Company (just outside Burlington owned and operated by former Bluebird folk, 46 Main St., Winooski, 802-497-3989,

Stay: The hotel landscape is as underdeveloped as the food scene is strong. Many of the major chains exist in downtown Burlington, but cozier and more locally accented stays can be had at Hotel Vermont, a boutique hotel set to open in June (41 Cherry St., 802-864-4700, and Willard Street Inn (349 S. Willard St., 800-577-8712,, a Victorian-style bed and breakfast. For those on a budget, Burlington Hostel (53 Main St., 802-540-3043, is immaculate, peaceful, and its 48 beds top out at $40 per night.

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