Market Square Shop (202 King St.) You gotta love a tiny store packed with traditional decorating classics that are getting harder to find, plus lots of personal service. It still has a tassel department, plate-stand nook, waste bin area and silver polish section. It offers modern upholstery, fabric by the yard and a library of current fabric and wallpaper samples. The shop was opened in 1952 by two savvy female entrepreneurs, and it’s been the epicenter of Old Town decorating ever since. If you’ve been craving a decent Foo dog ($78 for a pair) or the perfect chintz print ($35 a yard) it’s all here as well as proper lamps and sink-down club chairs narrow enough to fit through an 18th-century door. Bruce Schafer, a designer who became a business partner in 1986 and now owns the store, helps customers pick out cocktail napkins or custom area rugs, and he’s a delight to chat with.
Red Barn Mercantile
(1117 King St.) Both for decorating and finding a perfect present, this shop is a favorite destination of King Street regulars. Owner Amy Rutherford has an eye for style, whether your preference in home furnishings is beachy, cottage or vintage. “I like to mix old and new, high and low,” Rutherford says. There are old-fashioned enamel measuring spoons ($17.95) and vintage Mason jars ($10 to $14), Dash & Albert rugs and the exotic John Robshaw bed linens you’ll spot in shelter magazines.
Customers discovering the Hour for the first time are overwhelmed by shelves brimming with vintage barware, swizzle sticks, coasters and hostess aprons. It makes you want to rush to your attic and see whether you can unearth your grandmother’s Stork Club ashtray.
BEST HOSTESS GIFT
Red Barn Mercantile’s Takeout Menus organizer ($25) keeps menus in one place, helpful when you’re desperate for a quick meal.
Christian Lacroix’s Designers Guild patchwork pillow is encrusted with beadwork, sequins and embroidery. The folk art themes recall something Frida Kahlo might have displayed in her salon. Available at Decorium Gift and Home ($184).
GRAB A BITE
Nickell’s & Scheffler (1028 King St.) is quick and tasty, whether a bowl of cauliflower and gorgonzola soup for lunch or a brisket braised in gluten-free beer to take home for dinner. When you get to the river, stop by Virtue Feed & Grain (106 S. Union St.), a cozy tavern carved out of an old warehouse, for a beer, some wings and house-roasted Virginia peanuts.
Check out www.visitalexandriava.com
for information on shopping and dining. A group of more than 30 shops makes up the Old Town Boutique District, founder of the annual Sidewalk Sale (Aug. 10 this year) as well as the Black Friday Sale (Nov. 29), when retailers open at 6 a.m. with special discounts.
Metro is ideal if you are up for the one-mile walk to the waterfront. Or take the free King Street Trolley that runs every 15 minutes from 11:30 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. between the Metro station and the Potomac River. Both free and paid street parking are plentiful. Or try the centrally located and affordable Market Square Garage. You can also take a water taxi from National Harbor.
Store hours vary and can change with the seasons. Check before going.