Shopping destination: Georgetown’s Book Hill
By Jura Koncius,
A few blocks north of the trendy churn of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW is Book Hill, a row of Georgetown shops that evokes the charm of Paris.
This historic area is known for its antique stores, home furnishing boutiques, art galleries and buttery croissants. It gets its name from the adjoining Book Hill Park, a sloping patch of green at Reservoir Road behind the Georgetown Neighborhood Library.
“This neighborhood actually reminds me of parts of Paris or London,” says Terry Bell, co-owner of Salon Ilo (1637 Wisconsin Ave. NW), whose uptown clientele has brought customers to Book Hill for 32 years. “We’re pretty much all independent stores. The architecture is lovely and we have nice, wide brick sidewalks.”
Twenty years ago, this block was home to the French Market, a beloved purveyor of brie and baguettes, whose closing is still mourned by locals. The area maintains a Gallic flavor with the popular Patisserie Poupon cafe (1645 Wisconsin Ave. NW) and the French Apartment home shop (1671 Wisconsin Ave. NW) for bergere chairs and modern Parisian accessories. The French Market European outdoor fair is a popular annual event.
Customers tend to stroll at a less frantic pace here to peruse small stores where proprietors and their dogs welcome you as if you were being invited into their living rooms. “People love to pop in and out of the shops, and they really get to know the owners,” says Marston Luce, whose Marston Luce Antiques (1651 Wisconsin Ave. NW) has been selling French and American painted furniture, folk art and garden ornaments for decades.
His immediate neighbors include another longtime purveyor, David Bell Antiques (1655 Wisconsin Ave. NW), which displays a mix of the latest in chic. Bell just shipped an Italian modern bronze dining table to Gwyneth Paltrow. Downstairs, Carling Nichols (1655 Wisconsin Ave. NW) is a trove of Chinese design, from lacquered chests to 18th-century wine vessels.
The buildings on this part of Wisconsin Avenue were built in the late 19th century as private homes, according to Jerry A. McCoy, a special collections librarian at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library. In the 1940s, residents started converting them to bicycle shops, law offices and grocery stores. “The businesses in this area have always felt a great sense of pride,” McCoy says.
In the past several years, new retailers have opened, such as Comer & Co. (1659 Wisconsin Ave. NW), which sells European antiques and mid-century treasures. Dandelion Patch (1663 Wisconsin Ave. NW) creates custom invitations and does letterpress printing. Matt Camron Rugs & Tapestries (1651 Wisconsin Ave. NW), a source for high-end antique rugs from Iran, Turkey and Morocco, as well as contemporary flatweave designs, opened last October.
You can shop for fashion at Sherman Pickey (1647 Wisconsin Ave. NW), the well-edited preppie chic shop; Sassanova (1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW) for shoes and accessories; and Urban Chic (1626 Wisconsin Ave. NW) for a mix of designers such as Trina Turk and Rebecca Taylor, plus bridesmaids frocks by Shoshanna.
Book Hill is perfect for browsing and grabbing lunch with a friend. Keep a look out; you never know who you might bump into, from Laura Bush or Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stop by from time to time, to a host of Georgetown insiders.
A Mano (1677 Wisconsin Ave. NW) anchors the top of Book Hill. In 1994, Adam Mahr opened this shop of Italian and French pottery in two 19th-century houses joined by a brick courtyard. (Julia Child once lived in one of the houses.) You’ll find high-end bed and table linens, crystal, Palm Beach-style costume jewelry and kids’ bedding, toys and clothing. Currently in stock: ABC wooden blocks in 22 languages from Arabic to Swedish ($45) and pink or blue cabana-striped Beverly Hills Hotel pajamas ($165).
Oliver Dunn, Moss & Co. and Catharine Roberts are three women-owned businesses under one roof (1657 Wisconsin Ave. NW). For almost two decades, they’ve curated their stock of housewares, antiques, French and Scandinavian textiles, jewelry, industrial chic and a bit of taxidermy. Look for cement mushrooms ($42), metal food domes ($135), lavender linen drawer liners ($28) and twig bundles ($15) that look too nice to burn.
“This is one of my favorite shops in Georgetown,” says designer Frank Babb Randolph, who lives nearby. “On a spring day, walking out through their store into their beautiful garden with all the topiaries is a real treat.”
Susan Calloway Fine Arts (1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW) opened in 1993, and Calloway has been adding contemporary artists to her stable ever since. She carries a selection of antique oil paintings and prints and also specializes in custom framing using archival quality materials. There is a large selection of frames, and custom mirrors are available. She stocks Middle Kingdom porcelains inspired by ancient Chinese ceramics.
The cobblestone streets, colorful flower baskets and quaint brick storefronts of this part of Georgetown, the District’s oldest neighborhood, make it a shopping destination.
David Bell’s 1970s Italian drinks table made of bronze and sandblasted glass ($1,800).
MOST STYLISH ACCESSORY
Oliver Dunn’s ombre silk velvet pillows ($195) in colors that look positively iridescent.
GRAB A BITE
For a treat, tiny Macaron Bee (1669 Wisconsin Ave. NW) opened last year with pastel macarons ($1.75 each). Flavors change seasonally and include apricot, Earl Grey milk chocolate or fleur de sel caramel. Luce says it’s better than any macaron he’s had in Paris. You can order towers of them for parties.
French Market, a European open-air festival and sidewalk sale, has become an annual spring attraction. Book Hill shops set up outdoor tables and offer markdowns up to 75 percent off. There is music and French food. The 2013 French Market sale will be April 19 and 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The association Georgetown Galleries on Book Hill was formed in 2011 to collaborate on special events and gallery nights, as well as lectures, tours and opening receptions. The members are Addison/Ripley Fine Arts, Maurine Littleton Gallery, Susan Calloway Fine Arts, Neptune Fine Art, Robert Brown Gallery and Heiner Contemporary.
Book Hill comprises the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue between Q Street NW and R Street NW. It’s in the city’s historic Georgetown neighborhood. There is free two-hour parking on many side streets. Feed the meters to park on parts of Wisconsin Avenue for up to four hours: enough time for a blow-out, birthday gift shopping and a cappuccino.
Many shops are open Tuesday through Saturday; some are closed Mondays and/or Sundays. Find more information from the Georgetown Business Improvement District at: www.georgetowndc.com.