25th Anniversary

Holiday Shopping Stroll Preview

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 10:30am

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the annual Holiday Shopping Stroll, a three-day event that will have some 30 stores and art galleries decorating their windows and opening their doors for a unique Block Island shopping experience — one that often comes with a cup of hot cider, cocoa and a cookie.

The Stroll is scheduled for Nov. 28 to Nov. 30 and the Night Shopping dates will be on Tuesdays — Dec. 2, 9, 16, and 23 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

It’s a great escape from the mainland mania that occurs just after Thanksgiving. There is lots to select from, most deeply discounted, and much of it unique. There’s also the chance to win some prizes. The Block Island Chamber of Commerce will be raffling off many items donated by local businesses. To enter, and be eligible for a prize, pick up a form at the Chamber’s office at the top of the ferry parking lot before you begin strolling. Visit each of the stores on the list and have the proprietor either stamp or initial next to the name of the store.

You needn’t purchase anything — and don’t be surprised if you see some local youth making a mad dash from store to store just to get their entries stamped. The raffle takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 30, (although you don’t need to be present to win), so be sure to get your form back to the Chamber on time.

Each year there’s something different, so on a recent weekend afternoon we went out for a preview of some of the stores that will be open.

Strings ‘N Things, located near the Statue of Rebecca, always has some fun and witty gifts and all of them will be a whopping 50 percent off — as will be the jewelry and summer clothing. Newer additions to the inventory, such as fall/winter sweaters and hats will be marked down 20 percent. It’s not all hippie chic, either. There are some sleek, inventive organic cotton knit dresses that would look just right at a cocktail party in Manhattan, and the black felt fedora pictured here is positively elegant. There’s even a “holiday corner” where you can find a sparkly top just right for New Year’s Eve.

What’s hot for this year? The owner of Strings ‘N Things predicts it’s the reversible wrap-around skirts from Zand Amsterdam. Some are tapestry-patterned on one side and a retro-style floral on the other. Some are corduroy. All come with copious numbers of snaps around the also reversible or otherwise manipulative waistband, making them truly “one size fits all.” Some of them have “D” rings attached at the hip that can hold a removable handbag, which is also included. Pair one with some printed leggings and you can create quite the fashion statement.

A fashion statement of an entirely different sort can be made with apparel from Mahoney’s Clothiers. Mahoney’s carries the famously preppy Vineyard Vines line of clothing and accessories, cashmere sweaters and Columbia jackets. Just right for posing by the fireplace. In your library. With the pipe. Locals should take note: If January comes and you decide you really can’t hack a winter on Block Island, Mahoney’s has luggage, too.

Nearby is the Star Department Store. At this time of the year, the inventory is somewhat depleted, but they are often considered the “go to” place for a Block Island sweatshirt or tee and there are plenty to choose from. Star is also the “go to” place on Block Island for Crocs. If you bought a pair of Crocs years ago when they first became popular it may be time to replace them. “But they’re not worn out yet,” you might say, and that may be true, but they may have become somewhat compressed over the years, or you may just need a new color. Hot pink anyone — with big feet? If so, it was noted that there was a pair on sale for just $5.98. Just saying…

Working our way down Water St., we find Jennifer’s Jewelry, located under the porch of the Harborside Hotel open. Jennifer’s usually debuts a new jewelry design during the stroll and this year will be no different. They hope. They couldn’t give me a preview of next season’s new Block Island-with-a-fish-hook bangle bracelet because it hadn’t yet arrived.

Rounding the corner where Water Street turns into Dodge, there are three stores open. First up is Beachcomber, with its delightfully decorated window display featuring gifts swathed in bows of burlap and ribbon, nestled amongst pinecones and balls made from grapevines. The Beachcomber has had cuddly looking hats and scarves all fall, no doubt luring in the tourist who got off the boat and found Block Island rather raw and windier than expected.

Now, we’re not talking just any old hat — we’re talking one of a kind XOB hats. They come in all different shapes, colors and sizes. They’re “up-cycled,” a state of being achieved when you recycle other things. In this case it is “gently used” sweaters, cut apart and stitched together in all kinds of inventive ways. With a nod to the wind, they are lined around the ears and brow with recycled polar fleece and some have earflaps that can be folded up when not in use.

Next door at Watercolors there are also one-of-a-kind hats that are up-cycled from sweaters, except in this case the sweaters aren’t gently used but rather abused. You see, the designer and originator’s husband one day, some 21 years ago, put her fine woolen sweaters in the clothes drier. Evidently on high. This is how one makes felt. According to the website for Baabaazuzu (yes, that’s the name) she didn’t get mad, just creative.

And then, next door to that, at Red Right Return, are the very sweaters that may just end up in such a, for them, up-cycling predicament. They are so “ugly sweater” they’re downright funny. Very vintage 1950s. Words just can’t describe. See the picture for yourself. One would make a great gag gift for a favorite golfer.

Of course, inside there are many lovely treasures, both old and new, including hand-blown glass by Eben Horten, originator of Block Island’s Glass Float Project. (If you haven’t heard about this and happen to come across a glass float on the beach or on a hiking trail, you are free to keep it. But only one, please.)

Red Right Return also has hats. I have decided to declare 2014 the year of the hat. If you are creative, and this stroll has you dreaming of making your own, head up to North Light Fibers at the edge of the Abrams Animal Farm. (Don’t forget to explore stores on Weldon’s Way and Chapel Street first, though.) Head through the double gate and do not be alarmed that there are alpacas on the loose. North Light Fibers is a mini-mill where they spin hair from those, and other animals, into luxurious yarns. Some yarns are blends of merino wool and alpaca. Some contain silk. The straight up Alpaca is hypoallergenic and will make the warmest, un-itchiest hat you could possibly imagine.

Loop back to town and be sure to visit the Post Office Building, home to galleries, a salon, and a bookstore — not just mail boxes.

You can make someone’s feet very happy with a pair of Solmate Socks from Island Bound Bookstore. These comfy, colorful socks are purposely mismatched and made right here in the good old US of A from recycled cotton. They’re popular with kids, teens and adults, and have even been spotted on the feet of celebrities visiting late-night talk shows.

But lest we forget, the bookstore is after all, a bookstore, with books for all ages and tastes. There are books penned by local authors – some about Block Island and some not.

There are classics and new releases, some of which promise to become classics, such as “The Animals’ Santa” by Jan Brett. The fabulously hilarious Bill Bryson, who penned “A Walk in the Woods,” in 1998 about his adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail as an overweight, out of shape 44 year-old has a new book out: “One summer: America 1927” that promises to be a winner. Will Derek Jeter’s “The Contract” be a hot seller in BoSox country? Probably not. “I can’t buy that, we’re Mets fans,” one shopper was heard to say.

But don’t worry, free gift wrapping is available at Island Bound, so you can smuggle out your purchase if you are worried about it.