Get ready for the 31st Annual Block Island Holiday Stroll
The Block Island Holiday Shopping Stroll, now in its 31st year, has become one of Rhode Island’s premiere after-Thanksgiving shopping experiences. Downtown is transformed almost overnight into an enchanted village with wreaths and garlands, twinkling lights, and the signature Lobster Pot Tree.
Over 40 stores will open their doors for this three-day shopping extravaganza. Did you even know Block Island had 40 stores? They’ll be stocked with lots of special holiday merchandise as well as all your special favorites from summer, much of it at deep discount. Shopkeepers will often greet you will a warm drink and a tray of cookies. They’ll certainly be smiling as the Stroll returns to its full glory after two years of Covid.
Back are the Chamber of Commerce raffles, and this year there are several ways to “earn” a ticket or two, or three for a chance to win gift certificates. It all starts with picking up your raffle sheet at the Chamber’s office by the ferry parking lot. Then, visit every participating location – or as many as you can – get your sheet stamped and return it to the Chamber to receive three raffle tickets.
Can’t get to all the stores? A simple proof of purchase from any participating store gets you one ticket. You can also get a ticket in return for a $1 donation to the Mary D. Fund, Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Friends of the Island Free Library, or the Block Island Feral Cat Initiative. Donations may be made at the Chamber office.
And, lastly, participate in this year’s Turkey Trot on Saturday and get a free ticket. (You also get an orange fleece Turkey Trot hat.) The Trot starts off from Fred Benson Town Beach and 1:30 p.m., and no you don’t have to trot – just walk if you want.
The weekend before the Stroll, it is the tradition of The Block Island Times to take our own stroll through town to see who’s open and decorating, and to see what goodies will be available.
Starting up on the hill at the Post Office Building, we found two places open – Island Bound Bookstore and Jessie Edwards Studio.
Island Bound has had its own version of a lobster pot tree, decorated with books, on the plaza in front of the store for the past couple of seasons. Inside, the store has all your favorite classics, new best-sellers, and books by local authors, including Times writers J. V. Houlihan, Pam Gelsomini, and Martha Ball.
Hot off the press is a new cookbook by Leo N. Orsi, Jr. called “The Fisherman’s Kitchen.” Orsi has fished off the shores of Block Island for some 40 years, and he is the author of “Striper Chronicles,” about surfcasting for striped bass. Featuring both local seafood and local restaurants, Orsi includes recipes for “Calamari Done Right” from the Spring House and lobster rolls a la The Harborside Inn.
Orsi’s cookbook is dedicated to Jaques Pepin, who has his own new cookbook out called, “Art of the Chicken: A Master Chef’s Paintings, Stories and Recipes of the Humble Bird.”
Happily surviving winter on an island often involves hobbies, and Island Bound has plenty of supplies to further those along. Whether it’s putting together jigsaw puzzles, journaling, or artistic pursuits, Island Bound has the pads, pens, paints, and puzzles to make it all happen.
Need a little inspiration? Head upstairs at the Post Office building to visit Jessie Edwards Studio. With fine art from local and regional artists, it’s a welcoming place where “friends come in and straighten up the pictures,” says owner and artist Jessie Edwards.
What really caught our eye hanging on the gallery walls this year were oil on canvas paintings of ships by Cynthia Gould of Stonington, Conn. They’re not the ships we see pulling into Old Harbor, but they could be ones we spot passing by on the horizon. Edwards says they are painted from satellite images and feature various vessels this landlubber would place in the freighter category.
On the smaller side are miniature – almost – paintings by Tom Martinelli, that have a wonderful texture to them, lending a third dimension to the scene, and the “Anything Cup,” hand-built ceramic sake cups or, for anything, really. They’re crafted by Edwards’ sister-in-law in Brooklyn and have attracted the attention of a major purveyor of fine home goods, so pick some up before they go viral.
Down towards the statue of Rebecca, we found Rae Lyn Burns-Dutra in her store Strings ‘N’ Things getting ready to decorate, although truth be told, she’s procrastinating by crocheting little black granny squares with skulls in the center. They’re kind of an extension of the macabre sense of humor that inflects some of the merchandise in the store – those gift items that we might put into the “Things” category.
In the “Strings” categories, Burns-Dutra features an astounding array of designers, especially for such a small space. We loved the bulky sweater by Zenana that costs just $34, and it’s accessorized with a lovely scarf from Burns Dutra’s own line, Island Hand Knit.
New merchandise, brought in especially for the Stroll, like the corduroy “shackets” will be 20 percent off. Most other merchandise will be 50 percent off.
Corduroy, it turns out, is all the rage. If you don’t know what to get that fussy teen in your life, the hottest trend this year is corduroy bell-bottoms, Ava at Block Market tells us. They come in bright, clear hues of pink, blue, and green, blending the styles of the late 1960s with the preppy colors of the 70s. For another throw-back fashion, check out the shorts and overalls in the handkerchief print.
Block Market is known for its summery rayon fashions, many of which are designed by owner Sean Dugan, including “beach pants” in custom prints that often contain tiny little Block Island shapes. Ava says they have inspired “Cheetah Fridays” when bartenders all over the island wear them to work.
But, she says, Block Market also carries flannel jackets and winter coats for men and women, along with winter hats, scarves, and gloves.
Working our way down the street, the Star Department Store was open. This is your go-to stop for functional apparel like reversible rain jackets (on sale at $34.98), sweatshirts, fleeces, and board shorts. Or teddy bears. They have lots of bears, and other stuffed things, like lobsters. But we think, based on our summer observations, that the classic, red Block Island lifeguard’s sweatshirt will be the first thing to sell out, priced down from $37.98 to $24.98.
Don’t forget to check out Chapel Street with its growing variety and number of stores featuring everything from toys and games for kids at Minnow 02807, to clothing (Green Buoy), fine jewelry (Golddiggers) and everything in between for both people and pets. Does Fido need a treat to keep him strolling? Stop into Mutt Hut behind the National Hotel to get him a homemade one, and pick up a special Block Island leash while you’re there.
If you keep on going down Chapel Street, you can turn right at the end and then loop around and back to the downtown area. Along the way, stop into the gift store at the Block Island Historical Society at Bridgegate Square where you’ll find all kinds of fun island-themed gifts, including books on the history of the island, and reprints of old maps and other posters.
As you walk up Dodge Street you’ll find another cluster of boutiques. There are several stores along here, each with their own, unique personality. Some feature clothes, some housewares, some ceramics and art. There’s even a surf shop and a seamstress. And then there are the antiques. On Saturday, Red Right Return was open and its owner, Judy Clark was happy to show us both the new and the old in the store. There is a great variety here and somehow this “antiques store” ends up being a combination of a clothing, housewares, jewelry, and art gallery. There’s also lighting, electronics, even typewriters and old film cameras, all tucked into such an impossibly small space that Clark opened up an annex across the street a few years ago where she sells larger items like furniture, some of which she has updated herself with colorful paints.
Brand new this fall, and we haven’t yet been in, is an extension of Marye Kelly Decoupage, which the sign on the door tells us is a “cheese shop.” Yum.
A bit further flung, but well worth the walk, is North Light Fibers at the 1661 Animal Farm. There, besides alpacas and other animals milling about – great fun for the kids – is a mini-mill where yarn is spun and dyed out of natural fibers and sold in skeins for home knitters and crocheters or made into garments and home goods for those not inclined to make their own. They also have very popular needle-felting kits to keep little hands busy.
There are of course, many other stores, with a great variety of merchandise, much of it deeply discounted for the Stroll. It’s not just t-shirts folks. So forget the mainland, forget the internet, and shop Block Island this weekend. We’ll have it gift-wrapped, please.