Shopping Stroll 2019
With six days to go before the big event, shopkeepers all over downtown Block Island were busy in their shops on Saturday, Nov. 23. Arranging merchandise, hanging lights, decorating window boxes, they’re all getting ready for the big event — the annual Holiday Shopping Stroll, Block Island style. So, as we do each year, The Block Island Times took a pre-stroll stroll to see what’s new and give our readers a preview of some of the delights waiting visitors and locals alike.
Bags in the window at Solstice say it all: “Eat. Shop. Drink. Local. Block Island.”
Giving directions in Rhode Island usually starts something like this: go straight until the Dunkin’ Donuts, and then …On Block Island, they usually start with “go to the Statue of Rebecca.” So, we’ll start there.
Clustered around the lady in the middle of it all are several stores. Nestled behind a grand porch is Strings & Things and Island Dog. Owner Rae Lyn Dutra Burns packs a variety of clothing, jewelry, housewares, gag gifts, and more in this fairly small space. Besides the casual there are clothes for special occasions including reversible and glittery shawls. “I was on a sparkle binge,” says Dutra Burns of some of this year’s merchandise. But what really caught our eye was not the shawls themselves, but a type of brooch designed to keep them from slipping off the shoulder. Called The Magic Scarf, it’s not really magic, but a simple feat of engineering that makes you shake your head and wonder, why didn’t anyone think of that sooner? Instead of being held in place by a pesky pin, there’s a magnet that holds the brooch in place. And, we are told, it can securely hold four layers of fabric. No more holes in your fine knits! At just $11.95, it’s sure to be a perfect gift.
Across the street is the boutique The Tipsy Mermaid. Inside this light and airy space, there is pink all over the place, from the décor to the merchandise. We find snuggly pink fleece jackets, pink prints for the wall, and pink bikinis. If pink isn’t your thing, this year merchandise from the decidedly nonpink store Wave will be combined with Tipsy Mermaid’s, as the Wave undergoes extensive building renovations.
Mahoney’s Clothier has something new this year. Outside on the sidewalk is an a-frame with a playful Block Island poster. Inside, besides the Vineyard Vines merchandise for men and the women’s sweaters are greeting cards and playful children’s dresses featuring the artwork from the same artist – Gretta Benson of Maryland. The cotton dresses are handmade, reversible, and each comes with a matching hairband. At $45, they’re a little retro and a lot adorable.
Star Department Store has one of the most scenic storefronts on the island. Neither the inside nor outside has changed hardly at all over the years. And that sort of goes for the merchandise too. Classic and basic rules here, whether you’re in need of a Block Island sweatshirt, beach buckets and shovels, or a Whiffle ball set. This is the place for old-fashioned post cards and those refrigerator magnets with names on them.
Once you have your post cards, head up to the post office building to not only mail them but to visit Island Bound Bookstore and Jessie Edwards Gallery.
At the Jessie Edwards Gallery you’ll find some of the finest art on Block Island. There are classic prints by Sandra Swan, and new works by several artists including Kate Knapp, Sarah Bird, and maritime artist William Hall. What’s catching our eye this year? Handcrafted Landrum tables, some of which are made from driftwood collected right here on the shores of Block Island.
Downstairs is Island Bound Bookstore, which has, this year, started a new tradition — their very own lobster pot Christmas tree. Smaller than the one down the road, it is hung with presents and is topped with a sign reading “Trapped in a book.” Of course, books are what you’ll find inside. The latest works by Margaret Attwood, Malcolm Gladwell, Ann Patchett, and Anonymous are just waiting to be picked up and read. For kids there’s the latest in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, and many Find Out! books. But there’s much more – art supplies, cards, old-fashioned board games, and puzzles. This is the third year that Island Bound has commissioned a puzzle featuring the artwork of Sharon Lehman and this year, wait for it, it is a painting of Block Island’s signature Lobster Pot tree.
Stroll back down to Rebecca and head down Water Street where you’ll find something new this year: “pop up stores.” Housed in the building that bears its name with Odd Fellows Café, where you can grab some coffee and a snack, are four mini-stores. Two of them are satellite stores for Adrift Eco Boutique and Wildflowers. One features locally made beauty products from Island Mist — try the lip balm — and one is the brand-new venture of Emma Rose Frageau, Stems Gourmet. Stems Gourmet will feature canned, homemade pestos and sauces, including Apple Dragon and Smokey and the Pineapple barbeque sauces. She’ll also bake you a custom pie or other dessert. Call her at (854) 541-6686 to place an order.
After indulging in a sugary treat, you might want to brush your teeth. Adrift Eco Boutique has just the thing — a bamboo toothbrush. We’ve heard about these elusive, eco-friendly (read non-plastic) brushes, but never actually seen them in a store. At $6 for a child-sized, and $7 for adult, this one is a sure stocking stuffer.
Like many others, Glass Onion owner Mary Anderson makes the most of what, from the outside, looks like a tiny space. Even in the dimness, something particularly colorful jumps out. Mittens! Some are wool. Some are silk, and all come with a cozy fleece lining. Made in Nepal, there’s a variety of color combos, and some have matching hats. At $18.99 per pair, they’re perfect for a winter walk.
“Silver and gold, silver and gold,” that’s what you’ll find at Jennifer’s Jewelry. Suzy Garneau and Marty Milner may be familiar faces from over the years at Jennifer’s Jewelry, but this year they have a big announcement. They’ve bought the store! Closing happened just after Columbus Day, and the two have been busy painting the walls, refinishing display cases and planning big for next year’s inventory. Just as in years past, Jennifer’s unveils a new Block Island charm, especially for the stroll. This year they’re excited by their newest design, a Block Island snowflake, available in either sterling silver or 14k gold. If you’ve had your eyes on something at Jennifer’s, make sure to snap it up. Garneau and Milner are retiring several designs as they concoct new ones for next year.
Under the porch of The National Hotel are sister stores Solstice and B.I. Tees. Owners John and Sarah Cullen have added to the variety of goods in Solstice this year, incorporating inventory from their toy store that closed early this year. For the little ones we particularly liked the “Name Trains,” wooden block letters with magnets for attaching one to the other. Besides all the other tempting gifts, from Block Island ties to jewelry and glassware, we are filing the fact that they have reading glasses, otherwise known as “cheaters.” Made by Peepers, the lenses are nice and clear, and more unusually, some come in sunglass form. Peepers with clear lenses are $22. Sunglasses are $24.
If you are looking for Block Island Hurricanes gear, B.I. Tees will have some in stock during the stroll. The Hurricanes are the team name for Block Island School sports, and all proceeds go to the Friends of the Block Island School, who raise funds for field trips and extra-curricular activities. John tells us the gear is particularly popular this year — even among non-locals, on the heels of the Varsity Girls Volleyball team’s spectacular second season and appearance in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Division III play-off championship.
Turn the corner onto Dodge Street and there is another cluster of stores. Beachcomber also has new owners, Kristine and Thea Monje, but they still have Fresh Produce clothing. Thea is a talented artist herself, and this year designed a special embroidered Block Island patch. It’s colorful and catching, and somewhat rare — you won’t find Block Island patches elsewhere. Another perfect stocking stuffer!
Watercolors next door is the store with no sign, but inside are many gift items including glassware, candles, jewelry, clothing and decorative items. Most all adhere to the color scheme implied by the store name — sea glass colors. Owner Mary Lawless likes to stock unique designs, and as many as possible crafted by local artisans. We’re particularly impressed by the modern take on stained glass.
There’s not much modern at Red Right Return, Block Island’s only “antique store,” but there sure is a lot to love. Here is where treasured objects seek a second home, whether they be old chandeliers, vintage Pyrex, or figurines and jewelry gathered from all over the world. But not all here is old. There are works by contemporary artists including William Hall and glassblower Eben Horton, who creates orbs for the Glass Float Project. This year owner Judy Clark has been busy crocheting up her own hat creations for sale, and brand-new sweaters featuring an embroidered Block Island, knit by Gail Cahill, a regular Farmers Market vendor, are available in the store.
Just down the street is the new D. Chatowsky Gallery. This beautiful space, that looks old, with floors and beams of reclaimed wood, is actually the newest building in downtown. Several artists besides Chatowsky are represented here, including John Fournier (photography), Clair Marschak, and Chatowsky’s sister Mary. Currently there are also scarfs, hats, fingerless gloves, and shawls from North Light Fibers, Block Island’s micro fiber mill located at the top of the Abrams’ Animal Farm. While there is also a selection of yarns, it is limited. But knitters are in luck — the mill store will be open during the stroll also.
Don’t forget to circle back into town and head down Chapel Street. Just a block away are a trio of stores you won’t want to miss. East of the River Nile is not usually open for the stroll, but this year, despite owner Ron Munschy traveling the world gathering goods in far-flung places, this little boutique will open its door. Inside is a remarkable variety of wooden boxes, jewelry, hemp backpacks, and bags made from antique Indian and Afghani fabrics. There are also hand-painted ceramic serving bowls from Morocco, and puzzle boxes from Vietnam. The children’s felt slippers from Nepal though, really jumped out at us — especially at $14.95 per pair.
Off the beaten track a little bit are the paintings of acclaimed artist Bernard Lamotte. Theresa Sisto has a collection at her house on Old Mill Road. Born in 1903, Lamotte studied at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris. Call Theresa at (401) 741-0656.
Across the street is the mother store of Adrift Eco-Boutique, where you’ll find a broader selection of goods than at its satellite store at the Odd Fellows Hall. If you’re looking for a baby Block Island onesie, this is your place. Also, soap-on-a rope, which apparently is experiencing a resurgence, as we saw it in several places.
Next door is the jewelry store Golddiggers. Here the selection ranges from elegant and refined to somewhat silly. There are classic gemstones set in gold, a Block Island pendant sparkling with multi-colored sapphires in white gold, and belly button rings. Some of the jewelry has a decidedly pirate theme, some represent the deepest depths of the ocean. There are sterling pendants and cuff bracelets of – is that a squid or an octopus? “Well, it’s a cephalopod,” says owner Vaux Finnimore. And it has onyx eyes.