For many people, the year-end holiday shopping season involves trips to the malls and the big box stores or hours online browsing the top e-commerce sites. However, the southeastern Connecticut region has a wealth of independent businesses that present a generous merchandise selection that could please a wide range of gift recipients. Here are 10 stores across the area that are worth visiting while checking off the holiday shopping list.
Bank Square Books
This popular bookstore has been a fixture of downtown Mystic since 1998. Bibliophiles can appreciate its wide selection of mass market bestsellers and intriguing under-the-radar independent publishing house titles. The store also offers a pre-ordering feature for securing exclusive editions of upcoming titles before they hit the shelves. And if holiday shopping advice is required, drop in to one of the monthly book club meetings covering various genres.
Bank Square Books, 53 West Main St., Mystic, (860) 536-3795, banksquarebooks.com
Bare Wood Furniture
For the holiday shopper seeking new interior décor, this Groton store specializes in American-made wood furniture from 15 different independent manufacturers. Items are available in unfinished, pre-finished and finished states, and the store offers finishing services on unfinished merchandise. The store’s products range from kitchen dining sets and beds to more whimsical selections including a cedar bird feeder, a boat-shaped bookcase with decorative oars, a clock shaped like the state of Connecticut, and a folding stepstool that can be stored in its own box.
Bare Wood Furniture, 976 Poquonnock Road, Groton, (860) 449-9445, barewood.com
The Chocolate Shell
Promoting itself as “the sweetest destination in Old Lyme,” this tasty retailer creates a sweet tooth smile with its varied selection. There are candies unique for the holiday season, candies that may recall holidays past – remember Mallo Cups or Good & Fruity? – and a lineup of nut-free, sugar-free, and vegan chocolates designed for many contemporary dietary needs. Also worth examining is the line of chocolate covered edibles: popcorn, potato chips, gummy bears and orange slices are among the delights getting a chocolate drenching. Gift boxes of assorted and specialty items are also available.
The Chocolate Shell, 16B Lyme St., Old Lyme, (860) 434-9727, www.thechocolateshell.com
Connecticut River Artisans
Established in 1980, this is Connecticut’s oldest continuously operating artist cooperative, with 14 active members working in multiple mediums within the Essex-based location; another 18 cooperative members work at other studios but make their work available for display and sale. Original pieces of fine art, stained glass, jewelry, candles, crocheting, pottery, and wood crafts are among the items for sale, and custom work is available upon request.
Connecticut River Artisans, 55 Main St., Essex, (860) 767-5457, www.ctriverartisans.org
The beloved rubber duckie gets a quacky-wacky makeover via an innovative selection of costumes and stylings reflecting different professions, personalities and even species (including unicorns and mermaids). Operating under the slogan “Peace, Love and Rubber Ducks,” the store’s product line-up reimagines the beloved bathtub staple in such wild and unlikely representations as Rosie the Riveter, Dracula, Madonna, a David Bowie-inspired “Ziggy Starduck,” and President Trump.
Essex Duck, 51 Main St., Essex, (860) 767-0880, www.essexduck.com
Flavours of Life
Started in 2004 as a tent-based vendor in local markets and festivals, this New London staple brings the concept of fair trade – the equitable partnership Western consumers and producers in developing regions – into the contemporary retail environment. The eclectic collection of global offerings includes apparel, bags and wallets, cards, children’s items, home décor, jewelry and kitchen accessories.
Flavours of Life, 86 Bank St., New London, (860) 444-9428, flavoursoflife.com
Florence Griswold Museum Shop
Local culture vultures know that Flo Gris’s museum features a diverse selection of gifts designed to please those seeking an artistic holiday surprise. Among the items on sale are coffee table books tied to the current exhibitions, art prints and reproductions from the museum’s collection, books and DVDs on American Impressionism, and Miss Florence’s Tea, which promises “a special blend of black teas for all occasions.”
Florence Griswold Museum Shop, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme, (860) 434-5542, florencegriswoldmuseum.org/shop
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in Olde Mistick Village, this store’s selection of Irish imports runs the happy gamut from Claddagh and Celtic jewelry to hand-knit Aran sweaters and Hanna hats. Also available are licensed Guinness products and Irish teas and snacks, along with the Belleek fine china to serve them on. And visitors to store will certainly get a breath of fresh Eire via the rollicking Irish music playing throughout the shopping experience.
Irish Eyes, 27 Coogan Blvd., Building 8a, Mystic, (860) 536-9960, www.oldemistickvillage.com/businesses/irish-eyes
Nautilus Ship’s Store
The museum shop for Groton’s Submarine Force Museum brings a naval vibe to the holiday gift list. Among the items for sale are apparel for adults and children, books and DVDs, car accessories, collectibles, jewelry, stationery, toys, and hobbies. There are also gifts that are unique for Navy veterans including shirts, license plate frames and lapel pins, and the Nautilus itself turns up in a model ship for tomorrow’s naval engineers to assemble.
Nautilus Ship’s Store, 1 Crystal Lake Road, Groton, (860) 694-3290, store.submarinemuseum.com
The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop
It is always the holiday season inside this Westbrook store, which first opened in 1963 on Route 153. Christmas tree ornaments (including tree-top angels and intricate European mouth-blown and hand-painted creations), Tchaikovsky-worthy nutcrackers, Nativity scene sets, music boxes, scented candles, Advent calendars, wreaths and garlands, and Santa-ready stockings are among the items for sale. And if it seems to be a bit too early for holiday shopping, the Pink Sleigh also offers fall and Halloween decorations.
The Pink Sleigh, 512 Essex Road (Route 153) Westbrook, (860) 399-6926, www.pinksleigh.com