Shop Bells & Sleigh Bells Ring Out in Rhinebeck
The historic Beekman Arms in the heart of Rhinebeck.
Shopping locally is not solely about geography. It’s about supporting independently-owned businesses that give our communities their unique character and patronizing the merchants who can always be relied upon to donate goods and services to fundraisers for our libraries, volunteer fire departments, historical societies, and theatre companies. According to the 3/50 Project, whose goal is to encourage shopping at mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar stores, “for every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here.”
Of course, we consider the entire Rural Intelligence region to be “local” and presume you do, too, which means there are a dizzying array of places to shop for holiday gifts. If you’re already getting cabin fever with the colder, shorter days, why not take a road trip across state or county lines? Whether you’re in Williamstown or Kent, Lenox or Hudson, Great Barrington or Millerton, when you spend money at locally-owned businesses anywhere in the Rural Intelligence region, you are helping to maintain the social and economic equilibrium of the place we call home.
One of our favorite towns for holiday shopping is Rhinebeck. The village is a diverse collection of independently-owned stores that cater to both old-fashioned and contemporary sensibilities. With a canopy of white lights draped over the trees along Market Street, Rhinebeck resembles one of those cheerful towns in made-for-TV-movies about holiday homecomings. Rhinebeck will be at its most festive and frenetic on Saturday, December 4, for the annual Sinterklaas Festival Day, which runs from 10 a.m. - midnight. (Click here for details including the Crowns & Branches Workshop where children can make a crown to wear in the Children’s Starlight Parade (above) that begins at 6 p.m.
Not surprisingly, Rhinebeck has several shops where you can find great gifts for kids. Don’t be intimidated by No Sugar (47 East Market Street) which has an edgy SoHo-by-way-of-Amsterdam look. Like many of Rhinebeck’s earliest residents, the owners of No Sugar are originally from Holland, and if there’s a baby on your gift list whose parents have refined taste, a onesie by Claesen’s ($21) would no doubt be appreciated. So would the boxed sets of six pairs of “Baby Bruiser” or “Mary Jane” socks ($26.50 - $31.50) that look like little shoes and have rubber treads on the bottom for kids just learning to walk. Waddle n Swaddle (41 East Market Street), the children’s store around the corner, has a pared-down no-nonsense feel. “We emphasize made-in-the-USA, eco-friendly things,” says co-owner Jenn Sullivan, who also has a store in Poughkeepsie. “We’re not a grandmother’s special treat store.” And yet the store has the most fantastic gift that a grandparent or indulgent uncle could give a youngster: an organic wool sheep stool ($275; photo) that would be as home in a nursery as in a den. Made in the USA of organic wool and reclaimed poplar by Little Merry Fellows of Sandy Hook, CT, it is irresistible.
At the venerable A.L. Stickle Variety Store (13 East Market Street), which feels exactly like a Woolworth’s from the 1950s, you can, predictably, find old-fashioned toys—from a solid, 42-pound red metal fire truck ($110) for ages 1 to 3, to a Santa Claus Pez dispenser ($1.99). For the wise aleck on your list, you can buy “Christmas Coal” that includes a velvet bag embroidered “Merry Christmas” and three lumps of black plastic. The fun of poking around the store is unearthing bygone bargains such as the box of 9-foot and 10-foot rolls of plaid and candy-cane covered Offray Holiday Ribbons leftover from the 1970s. The rolls are imprinted “Made in U.S.A. - $1.29” and that’s how much Matt Stickle still charges for them.
You can also travel back in time at the Rhinebeck Department Store (1 East Market Street) where the featured brands are Pendleton and Woolrich. Any country guy would be happy to own a Woolrich wool-and-fleece vest ($64) but only a true squire would appreciate a tartan Pendleton wool robe ($198); indeed for the same price, you could also get one of Pendleton’s Beaver State blankets for the entire family to snuggle under while watching TV. You can also pick up one of the Sinterklaas stars ($10) to carry in the parade. (The stars are also sold at Winter Sun & Summer Moon, Paper Trail, the Rhinebeck Artists’ Shop, and Rhinebeck Health Foods.)
When in doubt about a gift, head to Oblong Books & Music (Montgomery Row), which stays open until 8 p.m. during the week and until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. You will always find the front shelves stocked with the latest celebrity cookbooks (There’s Ina! There’s Giada!) along with books about our region such as Gardens of the Hudson Valley and River of Words: Portraits of Hudson Valley Writers. Proprietor Suzanna Hermans and her staff have hand-written recommendations for novels they’ve read and enjoyed, so you can pick up something for yourself, too. There’s a well-curated selection of design books next door at Hammertown Barn, which smells like the essence of Christmas. Your house can, too, if you purchase the Thymes Frasier Fir diffuser ($66). While you probably won’t be buying anyone a sofa for a Christmas gift, Hammertown is full of things for your friends and relatives who have everything. Would they like a ceramic travel cup for coffee ($12) that looks like a cardboard to-go cup from a nice patisserie? How about a pair of long wool gloves with crewel work appliques ($36)? Would they appreciate a vintage twin-size, one-of-a-kind quilts from India ($225 - $240)? Yes to all of the above.
If there’s a lumberjack on your list who’s got a swimmer’s physique that he likes to show off, you’ll find clothes for body-conscious guys at Changes for Men (6422 Montgomery Street). The store carries country clothes with urban attitude, such as True Grit’s buffalo plaid fleece ($135) and fleece-lined sweatshirt ($159) as well as winter jackets by Wellensteyn ($275) and button down shirts ($112) by Scotch & Soda. These are clothes that are perfect for holiday parties and to wear to a gallery opening in, say, Hudson or Pittsfield. Across the street at bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy, you can find a wide assortment of stylish pots and pans and an idea for decorating with copper cookie cutters: hang them from the ceiling like individual mobiles as they’ve done here. You can also find a rustic bread board ($58) by J.K. Adams of Vermont and a Swiss engineered Kuhn Rikon cookie press ($42) like your great-grandmother probably used for her holiday baking.
There’s no shortage of stocking stuffers at Paper Trail, but why would you want to hide any of the items sold here in the bottom of a stocking? Owners Maureen Missner and Serine Hastings only buy things that have a charming aesthetic and they handpick every roll of wrapping paper, every ornament, every notebook, every napkin, every greeting card. They have an especially enchanting assortment of candles this year: evergreen trees ($5.50 and $10), gold ornament bulbs and gilded votives ($3.50), holly berry trees ($4.50 and $18) and jolly snowmen ($18.) The fashion-savvy owners also sell great women’s accessories such as snappy multi-striped cashmere scarves from England ($125) that will make any outfit instantly festive as well as estate style pearl and labradorite earrings ($65) that almost look like snowflakes.
One of the newest shops in town is Sawkille (31 West Market Street) which features furniture, art and objects by artisans from the Catskills. The loft-like space feels like a decompression chamber after a few hours of shopping in stores with abundant shelves. Take a load off your feet and try out the exquisitely-made three-legged Shaker-esque stools in raw bleached maple, black walnut, and oxidized cherry ($650 - $775). There are a majestic tables and a few monumental lamps along with paintings by Sean Sullivan that you might want to put on your Christmas wish list.
Does anyone still smoke a pipe? Apparently, they do. The Rhinebeck Smoke Shoppe (2 East Market Street)—the one with the Cigar Store Indian out front—has a wide selection of pipes and paraphernalia such as lighters, pipe stands, pipe cases, pipe cleaning kits and tobaccos. Prepare to be intoxicated if you dare to enter the walk-in humidor with its awesome array of cigars. The smell of incense and exotic herbs is just as potent up the block at Winter Sun & Summer Moon (10 -14 East Market.) The adjoining stores are packed with items from developing nations—a panoply of clothing and crafts that you’d bring home after a year in the Peace Corps or a month at an ashram. If you know a woman who likes the simple lines of Eileen Fisher clothing but would prefer a blouse or tunic that is handmade in limited quantities, you can find her something special at Haldora (28 East Market Street). Haldora Bjornson designs right in Rhinebeck and has everything sewn in upstate New York. She only makes a few of any item at a time, but you can usually find her easy-to-wear River Vest ($338) or Sierra Shirt ($269) on the racks in a variety of sumptuous fabrics.
No matter what direction you’re heading on the way home, it’s worth going out of your way to visit F.W. Battenfeld & Son (856 Route 199, Red Hook). You will pass the Wiltise Bridge Country Store (775 Route 199, Red Hook) on the way, an enchanting cottage filled with nifty gifts—gilt “Springerie” ornaments ($7), a silver plate compote ($20) or a vintage U.S. Mail sign ($75)—where you can also pick up a $5 off coupon for your Battenfeld’s tree. If you have time, you can cut your own Christmas tree (all sizes $55) and pick up freshly-made wreaths and topiaries, too. But the best reason to visit Battenfeld’s is to buy a bunch of colorful anemones and to inhale the fresh earth of the greenhouses where these now-rare hybrid flowers are grown from November to May. It’s especially heartening that the flower stand is self-serve and you’re trusted to make your own change—the true holiday spirit of goodwill toward men.