Shopping the Way It Used To Be

By Claire Stuart

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest shopping day of the year and the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season. It has also turned into the beginning of a season of parking lot rage, shopping cart collisions, and fights and near riots over sale merchandise. This has spilled over into Thanksgiving, with people lined up for hours and even camping in parking lots.

Not so long ago, people looked forward to taking their kids “downtown” to see holiday decorations (and maybe Santa Claus) and doing some leisurely shopping, strolling from store to store. This didn’t just happen in Norman Rockwell prints—it was true all over America in the days before malls and big box stores.

We can give thanks this holiday season that it is still true in many small towns. They have walkable downtowns and they have managed to hang onto stores with unique character and proprietors who know and love their merchandise and take time to tell you about it.

Shopping locally gives you the opportunity to find items that you do not find in the big chains. Small towns are the places to find specialty shops, antique and curio shops, thrift and consignment shops, galleries and artisan co-ops with work by local people. And, you’ll find dining options other than the usual fast food.

You can make some wonderful discoveries in little shops. Truly thoughtful gifts are not necessarily new or expensive. Someone you know might just love to have that vintage bomber jacket, that blue apothecary bottle, that set of 1950s era tumblers, that old book of fairy tales or that Harry Belafonte calypso album.

Berryville holds a lot in its small downtown. There are gift, antique, artisan, florist and consignment shops. Specialty shops offer local art, collector’s coins and coin equipment, custom gilded picture frames and restoration, used books (especially military history), and children’s and dolls’ clothing (some handmade). You can get custom leatherwork and repairs, and custom embroidery/screen-printed logos or designs on clothing for your organization. And remember that you will find amazing bargains and help Blue Ridge Hospice when you shop in their local thrift shop.

Dining choices in Berryville include Chinese, Greek, Italian, Mexican and, of course, American, as well as cookies and other sweets. Parking meters will be covered for the shopping season by the whimsical creations of local folks. And you can register at participating merchants for the annual cash giveaway—the drawing for prizes will be held December 18.

The Barns of Rose Hill presents live musical performances every weekend, ranging from classical to country fiddling. The Christmas Tree Lighting and free Community Band Concert will be held at the Barns on December 4, and the Downtown Christmas Parade at noon on December 5.

Take a short drive over lovely some Clarke County country roads to Millwood for some antiquing. While you are there, be sure to stop at the historic Burwell Morgan Mill. It will be open weekends through November 29, and they grind on Saturdays. They have buckwheat, yellow corn, whole wheat and other grains to grind, and freshly ground flour, corn meal and grits are available for sale.

It is worth another short drive to visit nearby Shepherdstown, oldest town in West Virginia. There are galleries, antique, gift, florist and curio shops. Specialty stores offer comics and related games; new and used vinyl records and cassette tapes; yarn and notions for knitting, crocheting and fiber arts; healthy running and walking shoes; bikes/canoes/kayaks and accessories; wine and beer; crystals and herbs; and oriental rugs. Dining options include Mexican, Thai/Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German and American.

There is free parking in Shepherdstown on weekends at metered spaces and in the Shepherd University parking lot. Take a walking tour of historic Shepherdstown (map available at the Visitor’s Center). Interested in more exercise? You can walk or bike on the nearby C&O Canal and even go as far as Washington DC or Cumberland, Maryland. The Visitor’s Center can also provide information on musical and theatrical events in town.

Winchester has no doubt outgrown the “small town” label, but its small town heart is still beating in Old Town Winchester. The Pedestrian Mall and historic buildings have been beautifully restored, and just about anything can be found in the many interesting shops. It still boasts the basic stores that used to be found in all downtowns, including fine men’s and women’s clothing, high-quality footwear, furniture and flooring. In addition, besides galleries, gift, antique, and consignment shops, you will find specialty shops with pet foods and supplies, dancewear, Himalayan handicrafts (including singing bowls), stained glass, flags and banners, musical instruments, home brewing supplies, and even a silversmith.

The Pedestrian Mall is lined with pubs and restaurants, including Italian, Mexican, Thai, sushi, and American food (from hot dogs and burgers to fine dining), with outdoor seating as long as the weather holds.

Rediscover how enjoyable shopping can be. Take a stroll in a small town downtown and browse through the shops, have a bite to eat, and maybe catch some live music, and go home relaxed!