The 2021 Block Island Holiday Shopping Stroll
Stroll 2021 – it’s looking to be better than ever after taking a year off for the pandemic. This three-day shopping extravaganza has become a tradition embraced by locals and visitors alike as an opportunity to avoid the malls, big-box stores and what is sure to be the horror of shipping from online stores this year.
Here’s just a smattering of what The Block Island Times found during a preview on Saturday, Nov. 20, as shopkeepers decorated their storefronts, unpacked boxes of newly arrived merchandise, and arranged shelves. It’s not all t-shirts and flipflops in November– the stores are stocked with seasonal wares, apparel, and even items handmade by the proprietors. Sometimes a theme emerges in the goods for sale: one year it’s ugly Christmas sweaters, one year it was funky socks. This year it seems to be hand knit and crocheted items, often by the shopkeepers themselves. Perhaps they are dealing with supply chain problems, perhaps they just like to knit.
If you’re arriving by ferry and unfamiliar with the layout of downtown Block Island, you will find most of the stores all along the main road that winds through town with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and shops and Victorian hotels flanking the other. But be sure to turn left at the top of the ferry parking lot and visit the many stores there and up at the Post Office building. There are also several participating stores on Chapel Street, which runs perpendicularly off Water Street.
Starting up at the Post Office building, here’s a look at we found at some of the stores that were open during our tour.
At Island Bound Bookstore, there are of course, books – all the best sellers, classics, children’s books and a few shelves devoted to Block Island subjects and writers. Two that were published this year are “Valor and Courage” a history of the USS Block Island escort carriers of World War II, by Benjamin Hruska and “Bound by Blue,” by Edith Littlefield Blane, who in her nineties, has written down stories from her earliest memories growing up on the island and on. If you are lucky enough
to know Edie, you are apt to have heard some of them and as you read, you will feel like she is right there telling them once again.
Besides books, Island Bound carries all sorts of things like our favorite colorful Solmate Socks, an ironic name since the socks are mismatched in a delightful way and are sure to bring a smile to your face and your feet. They also carry art supplies, stationery, games, puzzles and a few home-décor items. New this year are colorful and functional bird houses made in Alabama.
Upstairs is the Jessie Edwards Studio, famous for its fine art and Jessie Edwards's own pen and ink drawings of iconic Block Island houses and scenes. New this year are hand-built ceramic sake cups, each one a diminutive work of art, by Niovi. They also come in larger sizes. Edwards also carries jewelry by Mickey Lynn and the earrings with dangling blue kyanite stones particularly catch our eye.
As we emerge from the building, aromas of stewing pork waft out from Calaveras, a hint of that day’s lunch offerings to come. Usually open in the summers only, Calaveras will be open for lunch not only during the Stroll, but all winter long.
As a special treat, Southeast Light Delights will move its food truck from the light house to the taxi stand near the ferry docks on Water Street. Their specialty is lobster –rolls and in grilled cheese sandwiches on sour dough bread. Caution: they’re addictive.
Going back towards the statue of Rebecca are MarMar Boutique, and Strings ‘N Things. Outside we find owner Rae Lynn Dutra Burns dressing her outside mannequin in the latest styles. “Mushrooms are big” she says, adorning the mannequin in a mushroom-print dress, that while a soft and stretchy knit, is still tailored and neat. It also comes in a “celestial” print. New dresses, which Dutra Burns is unpacking, are 20 percent off, while many other items are up to 50 percent off. She’s also unloading a batch of her own hand-knit doggie sweaters that she sells under the brand name “Island Handknit Pet Couture.”
Diagonally across Water Street Block Market is open, in a larger, sunlit space next door to their old store. Much of the apparel here is designed by store owner Sean Dugan and his partner Becca Zendt, and manufactured in Bali. Most utilize a rayon and cotton blend and are named for friends. The “Kinga” dresses are colorful and style wise, a bit of a throwback to the 1970s. If they seem a bit hippie-dippie, another throwback to the 70s are the prairie dresses, a fashion that those of us whose look may have been influenced by the movie “Annie Hall” and the subsequent onslaught of Laura Ashley everything might rather forget but have been staging a comeback.
Next door is Mahoney’s Clothier, with apparel in a more conservative style. Mahoney’s has evolved over the years from a mostly Vineyard Vines vibe (although they still carry the line) to including more women’s wear. Besides the sumptuous sweaters, there is also a line of sophisticated but practical jackets.
Make sure to stop in the Odd Fellows Hall building with its “pop-up” shops and welcoming café downstairs for coffee and a bite to eat, especially a pastry baked by Kate Musso. Upstairs, one of 2020’s new businesses, Block Island Ghost Tours has a new space where you can book a ghost tour of Block Island, or pick up some of their ghoulishly designed merchandise. We hear they will be joined by some vendors from the Farmers Market, including Island Mist and Rachel Lemoine.
Moving down the street, Suzy Milner is outside hanging garlands around the door of her store Royal Jewelry, while the Lobster Pot Christmas tree is being swiftly raised across the street by a legion of volunteers.
On Saturday, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Santa will be visiting at the tree, where you can have a photo with the old elf. The event is sponsored by Mutt Hut, which has treats and more for your pooch at their store tucked in the back at 450 Chapel Street.
A bit beyond, on Chapel Street, we found Golddiggers open with owner Vaux Finnimore setting out some of the fine jewelry to be found there. There’s a variety of styles from the classic pieces featuring diamonds, rubies, and emeralds (“Oh my”) to statement pieces of silver-sculptured sea creatures. What particularly catches our eye are the pendants and bracelets of Murano glass beads on sale at the very modest price of $20.
Across the street Kelly Case and her young daughter and chief toy tester are busy decorating the window boxes of Minnow 02807. Inside, this new store is full of toys, games, stuffed animals, and craft kits for children. Even if you don’t have little ones, stop by to contribute to Case’s second annual toy drive for Block Island children in need. Last year donations topped $2800 and 40 children were served.
Back on Water Street we didn’t find any of the stores under the National porch open, but they will be for the stroll. Make sure to stop by Solstice, B.I. Tees, Photo Dog, and Block Island Trading Company.
Round the bend, Water Street turns into Dodge, with another cluster of not-to-be- missed stores. Next to Beachcomber and Watercolors, Red Right Return was open with owner Judy Clark showing some treasures to a pair of wide-eyed island girls getting an early start on their holiday shopping, or just a trinket for themselves. Red Right Return is a mix of old and new, with vintage and antique curiosities and brand-new art glass by Eben Horton of Block Island Glass Float fame. Clark also carries her own hand-crocheted hats that come in a variety of colors and designs.
Just down the street we found Caroline Collins at her store, Lazy Fish. In a darkish corner, some sweaters catch our eye. They are a heavenly pouf of mohair and can be worn casually or dressed up. When we ask, it turns out that Collins knits them herself. Who knew?
Across the street, Marye Kelly will be open, as will the Crow’s Nest. Crow’s Nest owner Phyllis Todd tells us this will the last year her store will be open and everything must go at 50 percent off.
The D. Chatowsky Art Gallery is a place where you can find works by some of your favorite island artists. Photographer Lisa Sprague will be selling her very popular calendars featuring Block Island scenes and painter Claire Marschak will have prints, paintings, and her Block Island coloring book that is a favorite with kids.
If you’re tempted to stop now, don’t. There’s another little stretch of stores, including the Traveling Seamstress and Diamond Blue Surf Shop before you finally arrive at Bridgegate Square where you can go right onto Corn Neck Road for a sit-down lunch at McAloon’s Irish Pub, or straight on Ocean Avenue for the same at Old Island Pub. The Cracked Mug will also be open for the Stroll for coffee, pastries, muffins and breakfast and lunch sandwiches. You can also pick up snacks or a deli sandwich at the Block Island Grocery.