Archive for June, 2010

The Christmas Barn, Woodstock, Conn., Is One Gifted Store

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

100_2012Article by Eric H. Photo by Mark Reynolds

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Apparently, Christmas gifts do come early.

We just read with excitement about the reopening on The Christmas Barn, July 7th, 2010, at its revered and most charming post-and-beam 1795 barn setting in Woodstock, Conn. The Barn summer hours, according to owners Joe and Kris Reynolds, are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and 12 noon-5 p.m. on Sunday. The Barn will add Tuesday 10-5 hours in the fall.

Folks, if you haven’t been to the Christmas Barn, we heartily recommend visiting this one-of-a-kind, 12-room, locally-owned retail wonderland. It’s much in the vein of a country store but the merchandise constantly changes, making it worth several return visits. Some staples include folk art, candles, soaps, old world glass ornaments, candies, dips, linens and various Christmas and fall gatherings (accent on Christmas, given the store’s name!).

Summer will no doubt be a good time to visit the Christmas Barn but looking ahead, consider putting this destination on your Halloween and Christmas calendars as relevant holiday merchandise — and seasonal design of the store — are sure to make for a “must-stop” shopping experience.  More on that later, as we visit the Christmas Barn during the fall and winter seasons!

While some country stores pride themselves on an “organized disorganized” look, the Christmas Barn in a bit more unpredictable, and that’s a good thing. The 12 rooms go off in all different directions, sort of like a retail maze with enough nooks and crannies to keep things interesting. Most of all, the Christmas Barn feels unaffected and sincere, not totally aware of its innate greatness.  So, while some other places in this genre work on heavy marketing, the Christmas Barn acts more like a store from another era that knew that the best kind of marketing resided in the simplicity of presenting good merchandise and being nice to their customers. In other words, build it and they will come.

The Christmas Barn also serves as an integral part of a day trip or vacation in this simply beautiful area called the “Quiet Corner” of northeast Connecticut. The purity of the “Quiet Corner”   makes for a great place to reconnect with each other, the big sky, farmland with gentle rolling hills, rivers and lakes. The towns that comprise this area — Woodstock, Pomfret and Brookyln, in particular — have quintessential New England charm. A scenic drive down Route 169 remains one of the best introdutions to rural New England with its 200-plus pre-1855 homes along with farms, historic churches and classic Connecticut village green centers. The seasons bring lake swimming in the summer, apple picking in the fall, cross country ski in the winter, and the sweet smell of flowers and fresh air in the spring.

Less than a half-hour from Woodstock is Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass.,  a splendid, sprawling recreation of an early New England village from 1790-1840 “in the company of farmers, craftsmen and fascinating characters.“  

We’d also recommend dining at the quaint Vanilla Bean Cafe in Pomfret,  that offers freshly-made breakfast, lunch and dinner within a nice post-and-beam 1880s farmhouse. The Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock is one of our favorite getaways — the historic Inn largely consists of a Federal/Georgian style mansion with a carriage house and two barns.

Putnam, about 10 minutes form Woodstock, is also a worthy destination with its high concentration of antique stores!

As you can see, we truly love the area. If you decide to travel the “Quiet Corner,” we suggest visiting all of the above — with the Christmas Barn as a retail highlight!

The Christmas Barn
835 Route 169
Woodstock CT
Tel. 1-800-928-7652

The Connection Between Farmers Markets and Local Business Prosperity

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Article and photo by Eric H.

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P1070527.JPGMichele Morgan Bolton wrote a fine article yesterday for the Boston Globe entitled “Downtowns see hope in healthy Farmers Markets.”

Citing that there are approximately 240 Farmers Markets in Massachusetts today as compared to only 96 in 2004, Bolton reported about how the increase in community Farmers Markets can only help local businesses in a down economy. Great writing, Michele, and relevant topic!

We agree with Bolton that Farmers Markets are not only a relevant way to buy food locally in New England and beyond (especially fruits and vegetables), but also to increase foot traffic in often struggling downtown districts.  It’s basically a mathematical equation: if more traffic comes in regularly to a downtown area, then the chances are much greater of other money being spent at local stores. In many cases, people will find hidden jewels in the downtown like a coffee shop, book store, ice cream place, consignment place, or toy store. It’s amazing how many people we’ve talked to that do not even know what’s in their own downtown!

With so many downtowns struggling, the Farmers Market concept is needed more now than ever. We see so many otherwise inherently attractive New England downtowns with empty storefronts, even in towns that try their best to attract businesses through economic development offices and downtown improvement organizations. And although some towns are just plain myopic in their vision to improve their downtowns, the reality centers on another mathematical equation, this one more bleak: with short money in this recession/depression, the chances of businesses coming to town are far less likely.

That being said, we strongly recommend checking out a local Farmers Market. Especially pleasing in the summer, it’s a way to connect with your community. You’ll see your neighbors, get to meet local businesses owners, discover their great products, and ultimately contribute to money staying in your community.

Here are a list of Massachusetts Farmers Markets at the excellent Federation of Massachusetts Web Site.  It’s a fantastic resource!

We would also like to hear from our New England neighbors about Farmers Markets and realted resources in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Please feel free to post a comment here!

A Locally-Owned Old-School Gift Shop in Plymouth, Mass.

Saturday, June 12th, 2010


John Alden Gift Shop, Plymouth, Mass.

John Alden Gift Shop, Plymouth, Mass.

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Article and photo by Eric H.

The John Alden Gift Shop in Plymouth, Mass., has been around for 90 years and, in the best sense, still acts that way.

Orange rubber lobsters, oversized lollipops, orange and black bumper stickers with the primitive Pilgrim and Minuteman illustrations, regional history books and booklets, and t-shirts, shorts, hats, coffee and tea mugs and stuffed teddy bears with Plymouth logo  help create old-school gift shop charm to this authentic retro store across from Plymouth Harbor and all its travel attractions (Plymouth Rock, Mayflower II, PIlgrim Museum, etc.).

With a stillness in the air (translated: no hyerpactive, bombastic background music or stentorian-like employees) the John Alden Gift Shop also sells homemade fudge, taffy and various candies. Last time we visited, they also sold, behind the counter, Kodak 35mm film! 

Some might call the John Alden Gift Shop a tourist trap or outright tacky, but I love this place for its old-fashioned wholesomeness, durability in an ever-increasing upscale retail world, and the reality that there’s something for everyone here. We’re glad the locally-owned John Alden Gift Shop landed in Plymouth a long time ago, and remains that way.  You just want to give a place like this a big hug for being so old-fashioned and lovable!

John Alden Gift Shop, Inc.
74 Water St
Plymouth, MA 
(508) 746-1887