TURNING 50: The Glass Onion
There are several Block Island businesses celebrating their 50th year in 2020. This is the third article in the series.
The Glass Onion, named after the Beatles’ song, carries eclectic home goods, clothing and jewelry. Bought by Ned Phillips in 1979, Phillips and his partner Mary Anderson continue to manage the small shop on Water Street. The shop has been through many changes and stages in its life to reach where it stands today.
“Our family bought the Glass Onion building at 241 Water Street in 1970 from Andy Anderson, who also owned and operated the High View Hotel and Bar with his wife, Kitty. The building was built in 1924 from two fishing shacks that had been dragged up from the beach at Old Harbor. It was originally operated as ‘Milliken’s Barbershop,’” said Phillips.
Phillips noted when the building was bought by his family, “it was still set up as a barber shop and beauty parlor that had been in operation for several years by Neil Rose. The barber shop hadn’t been in operation for several years, and when we opened the door everything was there - barber chairs, hair curling machines, sinks, mirrors, barber pole. It was my father, Ned Senior’s idea to open a boutique for the summer. There was only one boutique on the island at that time. It was called ‘The Ragged Sailor’, owned and operated by Eileen Littlefield Stevens, the sister of Edie Littlefield.”
“Naturally this being 1970, we had to paint the interior of the shop in the colors of the Beatles’ Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover: purple and blue window trim, light salmon colored walls, green, blue and yellow accents and big India prints hanging everywhere,” said Phillips.
During this time period, Phillips’ father Ned had spent some time in New York City shopping in lower SoHo and Broadway in Indian, Moroccan, and Mexican import shops, and filled the Glass Onion with “colorful Mexican wedding shirts, Saharan desert boots, Moroccan djellabas, silver jewelry from Mexico and India, Greek dresses, and Greek fishing hats,” said Phillips.
In 1979, Phillips bought the building from his family. He was working at the time in New York City as a photographer and “had no time to run the Glass Onion, so I rented the building to Alex and Burt Pence for a restaurant called La Cage Aux Follies. “They sold french fried chicken and gourmet food, and it was a very popular late night hang out after the bars closed,” said Phillips.
When the restaurant closed in 1985, Phillips renovated the space, painted the walls and floor, and planted rose bushes and flowering shrubs.
“It took about two years to scrape off all the chicken fat off the walls and floors, and [to] bring the Onion back to its original peaceful persona,” added Phillips.
In 1990, Mary Anderson took control of the design development of the Glass Onion.
“It’s been her vision, creativity and kindness that has carried the Glass Onion happily into the twenty-first century,” said Phillips.
To learn more about the Glass Onion, call (401) 466-5161 or visit The Glass Onion Facebook page. Be on the look for The Glass Onion’s website, glassonion.shop, later this summer.