Work took me to Boston for a conference last week. And I know that when in Boston, one should walk the Freedom Trail, absorbing the history of our nation. But I had little free time—random hours here and there between meetings and events and other duties—leading me to look close to my hotel for inspiration. Turns out that my hotel, connected to expensive shopping malls and near the convention center, was only a few blocks away from Newbury Street, a beloved Boston destination for quirky shopping. As I discovered, it can also be expensive shopping, but there are treasures on this street for all tastes. And because it was so close to my hotel, I could run over for an hour here or there, tackling a different block each time. The results of my exploration are below—the time estimate is probably on the low side, but come on, if you really have more than three hours at a time, you should probably be doing something patriotic, no?
This all started because I heard that an Etsy Pop-up shop was open on Newbury Street. As an Etsian (don’t forget to visit my shop, craftylawyer27 on etsy.com) I had to check out a brick and mortar shop devoted to artists and crafters. The Newbury Handmade Market, open til August 3, 2014, was filled with handmade jewelry, photography, painted glass, beautiful scarves and more. As much as I love Etsy, the chance to touch items and talk to their makers in person was too much fun to pass up. On a whim, I stopped at a nearby salon, Viselli Santoro, to see if I could get my hair cut before my organization’s big fundraiser—nothing that evening, but one early morning appointment the next day.
Thus, I came back to Newbury Street for a second time, getting a great cut and lots of advice from Colleen Coen Finley, a native Bostonian. Colleen has lived all over the city, makes her own furniture, and collects skeleton keys. She gave me a bit of background on Newbury Street, sharing concerns I heard from several independent merchants. Like so many popular places, their beloved Newbury Street , with its 1880 and 1890 brownstones, had changed over the years, with more major chains and high end stores snapping up the spaces once occupied by one of a kind boutiques. Newbury Street is a highly desirable Boston address—back in the day it was one of the THE places to live in Boston–and that prestige continues. All of this makes it harder for the smaller shops to keep their doors open.
Fortunately, one of those unique shope, Lunarik Fashions, was near the salon. It’s a dangerous place, filled with hundreds of handcrafted bags. Let’s just say that the longer I talked to the owner, Rik, and petted his beautiful dog, the more I realized I probably wasn’t going to leave the store without a new bag. Turquoise leather tote? HOBO (one of my favorite brands) shopping bag, gorgeous small bag with the cottonwood textile pattern? In the end I chose a beautiful South End bag, made by an artist whom Rick has worked with for years—who does great shapes and unusual color blocked patterns, marching to her own design drummer. Rik promised me that no one in Washington was likely to have this bag—and that people would stop me on the street when they saw it. While the latter hasn’t happened, within days of purchasing it a savvy Bostonian said—”That’s a South End bag—you definitely found something they won’t have back home.” So trust in the Rik, I think.
Anyway, another wonderful, gorgeous place on the street is Prem-la, a lovely collection of Nepalese wares. Pralhad K.C., who owns the store, has held court in half a dozen Newbury St addresses since he bought the business as a college student in the 1980s. He, too, bemoans the changes on the street that make it tougher and tougher for independent businessmen like him to keep his doors open. Fortunately for shoppers, Prem-la is a labor of love. Go in there and be transported to Nepal—bring home some prayer flags or beads or the gorgeous silver pendants that he carries. He warned that these elaborate pendants and prayer scroll necklaces are also becoming a lost art, so don’t miss the chance to talk to someone who is happy to share his history and culture with you.
No matter how long you may be on the street, you are definitely going to need yummy treats. I was struck by the pretty cupcakes at Sweet, but even more by their ingenious frosting shots. As someone who believes cake is a vehicle for frosting, I was lucky that the sales clerk had not yet set cups of frosting out for sale. I can handle cake or pie for breakfast, but a pure infusion of butter and powdered sugar is too much for even me! On an afternoon visit the next day I succumbed to a new pizza place–Scissors and Pie, where they cut their Roman pizza with big kitchen shears. The tremendous advantage of this method is that you can customize your meal, getting a few small squares of different flavors. My pick: prosciutto, mozzarella, potato, and rosemary. Also, try the iced tea made from cocoa husks at Hotel Chocolat or anything from the French pastry shop, Patisserie on Newbury.
A few other exciting places to visit: The extremely sugary and sparkly Robin’s candy store that sells childhood favorites, sophisticated treats, and gigantic gummy candies. Knowing just how tempting their sweets can be, every
You will need one of Robin’s toothbrushes after working your way through this lot!
purchase comes with a tiny Robin’s toothbrush. The Second Time Around (reminds me of the theme song for Orange is the New Black) (STA) consignment stores. Several locations on the street. Yes, a chain, but good deals if you have money to burn or are willing to dig. One of the stores has a $35 floor, where I picked up a gauzy black vest for $5. My colleague, Amy, on her own trek to Newbury Street scored a Coach bag for $35. I remain jealous, even if I do have my cool, nobody- else- in -Washington -has -my -bag, bag. And I probably could have spent three hours alone in the Society of Arts and Crafts store. Birch bark bathed in copper wall hangings blew me away, and I immediately embraced their motto–“Keep Calm and Buy Craft.” (My husband would probably say I invented that motto).
Maybe the best surprise of all , if you head to the beginning of the street (I started in the middle), is that you can also get in a beautiful one-two punch of history. First, stop in to visit the exquisite Emmanuel Church, a progressive, forward thinking church from the time of its founding in the 1860s — with interiors designed by the Tiffany Studios. A gorgeous, gigantic Tiffany pendant lamp, multiple stained glass windows, wood carvings and mosaics are all inside. The church is said to be the largest ecclesiastical collection of Tiffany and a reminder of Boston’s place in high society.
A few steps away lies the Boston Public Garden, a beautiful Victorian oasis, even if you can see the skyscrapers from virtually every direction. The gardens, home to the ducks of Make Way for Ducklings (or their great great great great great great you get it, grand kids)
also house one of the cheapest and best forms of entertainment in Boston—the Swan Boats. Take a ride on these people powered giant paddle boats, watch the ducklings and the swans, and drink in Boston. A great way to end my time on Newbury Street. And if I had a little more time, I could have even walked the Freedom Trail, which starts on the other side of the garden. Or, I could have headed the other way and tackled the remaining blocks of Newbury Street. Next time I am in Boston, I’ll let you know what I decide!
Boston is one of my absolute favorite cities to visit, maybe my number one favorite. I love everything about it, from the quirky shopping areas you described to Fenway Park to all the historical attractions. And I adore Bostonians. They are justifiably proud of their city, and very kind (if a bit patronizing) to tourists. You and I should plan a girls’ getaway some weekend and meet up in Boston. 😉
I would definitely love to go back when I have more time–and can bring the family