Shopping That Feels Closer to Home
Thursday, December 18, 2003; Page H01
Malled out? Can't bear to walk into one more chain store to buy something you've seen in a dozen advertisements or catalogues? Can't stomach one more overcrowded food court? Then try your luck in a neighborhood long on unique boutiques, specialty shops and purveyors of antiques and collectibles you won't see everywhere else you go.
Staff writers Patricia Dane Rogers, Jura Koncius and Annie Groer canvassed three lively local shopping areas -- in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, historic Ellicott City in Howard County and the U Street corridor in Washington -- and found in the space of a few blocks a vintage punch bowl, cowboy dish towels, lavender sachets, sterling flatware for 12, tribal prayer rugs, a golf-club door-knocker, early Marvel comic books, Navajo pottery ornaments, Frida Kahlo night lights, a Duncan Phyfe sofa, a navel ring, a diamond ring and squirrel nutcrackers.
It's a chance to stop for a bowl of Thai drunken noodles or a bracing micro-brew and get acquainted with a whole new part of town. Chances are, you'll want to return after the holidays to check out these shops when they're not so jammed. Happy hunting.
Del Ray has been a leafy little slice of Alexandria since it was laid out back in 1894. The community butcher no longer sells his chops and chickens door-to-door. Gents from the neighborhood "Lighting Club" no longer light the corner gas lamps each night. And the St. Asaph's Race Track, a favorite with the local wagering crowd, is long gone. But the small-town ambience of cozy bungalows and friendly front porches remains, joined now by new brick sidewalks and enough restaurants, bakeries and homey retail shops to make it a holiday destination.
Most of the stores are along the main drag, Mount Vernon Avenue, and merchants have joined forces to produce a concise dining-shopping guide and map to help visitors find their way.
There are two antique malls: Potomac West Interiors & Antique Gallery (1517 Mt. Vernon, 703-519-1911) and Five Oaks Antiques (2413 Mt. Vernon, 703-519-7006), with 50 dealers between them.
More typical of the new breed of shops is Cline Studio 2, owned by interior designer Sherri Cline (2104 Mt. Vernon, 703-837-9119). Housed in a vintage bungalow complete with white picket fence, its boutique area has a lively gift selection including mod Angela Adams notepads, trays and glassware to footed red glass candleholders for $4.95 (including the tiny tea candles), pillboxes shaped like seashells at $9.40 and silver-plate bud vases for $12.25. A square wreath festooned with winterberries is $76.
Nearby, at Bonnie Greer & Co. (2301 Mt. Vernon, 703-683-4880), owner Laurie Clark has filled her apple green boutique with furniture and gifts: Think tiny pewter tooth-fairy boxes shaped like tractors and delivery trucks ($20); silver and mahogany laminated gift boxes masquerading as drums ($3 to $12); key chains for your favorite cowboy, kayaker or ballerina. Sturdy brass door knockers include a frog, a golf club and a pine cone.
Next door, the Clay Queen Pottery (2303 Mt. Vernon, 703-549-7775) stocks colorful hand-thrown pottery pitchers ($35 to $50), mugs ($14) and affordable lamps, bowls and Christmas ornaments. And around the corner, Eight Hands Round (116 E. Del Ray Ave., 703-518-3058) offers small antiques, $12 hem-stitched linen lavender-filled sachets, rag rugs, birdhouses, candlestick shades adorned with pears or seashells, needlepoint pillows, hand-woven throws and painted chests from Hungary.
For the pet or pet owner on your list, Hydrant Dog Barkery & Boutique (2101-B Mt.Vernon, 703-684-5421) stocks windsocks with poodle, retriever, bulldog, Shih-Tzu and schnauzer faces at $24.95; sueded dog beds, pet sleeping bags, "I love my dog" (or cat) place mats, and two-foot bone-shaped squeeze toys in funky patterns like Dalmatian.
For the littlest partygoers, Purple Goose (2005 Mt. Vernon, 703-683-2918) carries smocked velvet party dresses ($25 to $39).
A new arrival, EOS Collection (1310 Mt. Vernon, 703-548-6506) sells tiny Baluchi tribal prayer rugs from $35 to $45 and larger, hand-dyed, hand-woven beauties including Gabbehs, Kazaks and Turkoman refugee rugs with a plush Tibetan look at half the price. Aston Inc. Decorative Hardware (1913 Mt. Vernon, 703-548-9288) has art nouveau-style garden hose holders adorned with hummingbirds or frogs for $47 and $57, cabinet knobs by special order in brass, nickel or bronze with five dog breed faces for $9.50 and a boatload of Baldwin brass. Jam-packed Exotic Planterium/Card & Comic Collectorama, (2008 Mt. Vernon, 703-548-3466), carries Donald Duck comics from the '30s and Twilight Zone trading cards; a Conan the Barbarian poster is $4.95.
There's plenty of free street parking along the avenue and a few free lots behind some shops. For shopping sustenance, try the pizza at Fireflies (1501 Mt.Vernon) or baked goodies at Mancini's Cafe bakery nearby (1508 Mt. Vernon). And whatever the weather, Del Ray Dreamery (2310 Mt. Vernon) has the best authentic frozen custard around.
Patricia Dane Rogers
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
The Garden District shop on 14th Street, decked for the holidays.
(Sarah L. Voisin - The Washington Post)