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Art Gallery: Art Essex Gallery
Essex, (860) 581-8553 (artessexgallery.com)
Art is in the eye of the beholder, which is why Art Essex Gallery’s unique collection of paintings, photography, sculpture, ceramics and more makes it the perfect place to find the piece you’re looking for. A mix of Connecticut artists and national talents, working in various styles and media, is on display in the 5,000-square-foot gallery space, with special exhibitions taking place throughout the year. Go ahead and take a look. The artist you support today may just be tomorrow’s next big thing.
Baby Things: Reibman’s
Torrington, (860) 489-3139 (reibmans.com)
Having served the Northwest Corner for more than 50 years, Reibman’s prides itself on offering the best of everything for children up to 4 years of age: furniture (including handsome Muniré cribs and dressers), toys (especially those that promote coordination—such as the durable ride-on Rody Horse—and school readiness, like Mattel’s See ’n Say), books and clothing (check out the adorable outfits from Mud Pie and Angel Dear). Environmentally safe products are a specialty, from phthalate-free bath toys to “Greenguard”-certified Young America furniture. Such designations make Reibman’s just as much a store for thoughtful parents as babies—your toddlers may not grasp the “healthy” concept, but they’ll look stylish and have fun.
Bike Shop: World Famous Zane’s Cycles
Branford, (203) 488-3244, and Fairfield, (203) 256-8735 (zanes.com)
In an industry where it’s hard to stand out, Zane’s is a bona-fide Cinderella story. Founded by Christopher J. Zane in 1981, when he was just 16, it has grown from a local bicycle and hobby shop to one of the largest distributors of bicycles in the United States. Along the way the shop has been written up in Fortune magazine and the Harvard Business Review, and gained a reputation for being both tough on competitors and a consumer’s dream by offering certain items at dealer’s cost and lifetime guarantees on its equipment. Whether you’re a hobbyist or training for the Tour de France, Zane’s has got your back.
Consignment Shop: DLC
Westport, (203) 255-9099
“Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.” So says Mary O’Toole, owner of Designer Label Consignment. She offers only the best “gently-used” items in impeccable condition—pants, skirts, tops, dresses and accessories with labels like Gucci, Prada, Tory Burch, J. Crew, Vince and Theory—at a fraction of the original price. Another thing that makes DLC “Best” is the roomful of menswear, a rarity at consignment shops. If the stars are in alignment, you may score a Brioni overcoat, a Burberry trench and a Polo ski jacket all in one visit as a guy we know did.
Crafts Gallery: Artisan’s Marketplace
Plainville, (860) 747-4121 (artisansmarketplacect.com)
Galleries come and go, but over the last 30-plus years none has showcased fine American crafts as exquisitely as Artisan’s. Housed in a charming Victorian designed and built by shop-owner Martha Couture’s husband, Jim, the shop offers handmade creations by more than 400 artisans, including home and garden accessories both whimsical and functional (from clocks and lamps to bird houses and blown-glass hummingbird feeders), decorative pottery that’s safe in oven and dishwasher, an ever-changing selection of jewelry and personalized gifts in all media (stone, wood, glass and ceramics). Bridal registry and special-order services are available.
Eco-Goods: Our Green House
Newtown, (203) 270-3797 (ourgreenhouse.com)
Pam Davis has been devotedly sourcing ‘green’ products for Our Green House since 2003. The shop features a vast line of baby items, including the sweetest—and safest—organic clothing, beautiful bedding, home accents, jewelry and accessories and caution-care formulas. Go in, and you’ll get an eco-education with your purchase. Be sure to call ahead to check the hours, for they vary during the week. New items are constantly being added on the website, making it easy to find and order inspiring gifts.
Multiple locations (opticarepc.com)
Your eyes are precious . . . so you want to trust the optical specialist you see, whether you’re in for serious progressive lenses or just a pair of cool shades. Your trust is well placed at OptiCare Eye Health and Vision Center in Waterbury (or any of its 17 other Connecticut locations). With skilled ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians on-site, there’s always an expert available to answer your questions and handle all your vision needs.
Farmers’ Market: Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market
Coventry, (860) 742-1419 (coventryfarmersmarket.com)
Held at the Nathan Hale Homestead on Sundays, the farmers’ market in Coventry is a veritable festival, featuring everything from wagon rides and popping corn to live entertainment. This is Connecticut’s largest and most diverse farmers’ market. It attracts the best in organic, heirloom, ethnic and gourmet varieties of fruits and vegetables, as well as other specialty foods—farmstead cheeses, smoked bacon, rustic breads, maple syrup, handmade fudge and more. Artisanal items include beeswax candles, handcrafted beadwork and stoneware. Kids can even pet the goats; well-behaved dogs are welcome, too.
Home Decor: Fairhaven Furniture
New Haven, (203) 776-3099 (fairhaven-furniture.com)
If you’re looking for unusual, distinctive, one-of-a-kind furniture, Fairhaven is where it’s at. There’s nothing ordinary at this alternative home store. Owner and furniture designer Kerry Triffin calls it “a sanctuary where visitors discover the fresh smell and smooth touch of furniture made from cherry, walnut, maple, ash and mahogany.” Three levels are stocked with artisan-designed beds, tables, sofas and chairs as well as eye-catching lamps and rugs from more than 150 suppliers. Elizabeth Orsini (Triffin’s wife and partner) considers herself a personal shopper for her customers as she hunts for accessories and gifts that will appeal to their unique sensibilities.
Museum Gift Shop: Wadsworth Atheneum
Hartford, (860) 278-2670 (wadsworthshop.org)
We love museum shops almost as much as the museums that house them. And when we visit the largest art museum in the state, the Wadsworth Atheneum in downtown Hartford, we almost always shop till we drop. Exhibition catalogs, books and prints keep the museum experience fresh in our minds, while the jewelry, accessories, toys, paper goods, home decor and “made in Connecticut” items keep us coming back for more. There’s a present here for everyone on your list. We like to think of it as gifting for a cause (even when the gift is for us).
Running Store: Woodbridge Running Co.
Woodbridge, (203) 387-8704, and Brookfield, (203) 775-1065 (woodbridgerunningcompany.com)
Whether you’re attempting your first mile or training for your umpteenth marathon, Woodbridge Running Co. can help. Owner Chris Dickerson opened his store in 1999, the first specialty running shop in the area. Staff members, all runners themselves, have expertise and passion to spare and are ready to assist with shopping and share running advice. The shops carry major brand shoes, apparel and accessories at competitive prices. Time and again, for the service and selection, customers come running back.
Ski Shop: Alpine Haus
Wethersfield, (860) 563-2244 (alpinehausct.com)
This premium mountain shop has few rivals when it comes to ski and snowboard gear. With its emphasis on product selection, expertise and customer service, it’s no surprise Alpine Haus has been distinguished as a Gold Medal ski shop by Ski magazine. Be sure to get the right gear from Connecticut’s ski and snowboard gurus before you hit the slopes this winter.
Stationery: Respond If You Please
Southbury, (203) 217-8737 (respondifyouplease.com)
Heather Rodgers describes herself as a “typographic perfectionist” obsessed with paper and its endless design possibilities. Visit her new shop and you’ll find fabulous customized invitations, cards, announcements and party favors sparkling with imagination. Heather strives to make every product a distinct, personalized message from the sender. She will work within a client’s time frame, doing sit-down consultations off-hours when or if necessary. The Southbury store is also filled with interesting boutique items, props and presentations.
Toys: Necker’s Toyland
Simsbury, (860) 658-5783 (neckerstoyland.com)
Do the kids in your life love imaginary play? Social? Constructive? Games with rules? The kind requiring serious small motor skills? No matter; Necker’s Toyland will put them over the moon. There are transportation toys (cars, tractors and buses, oh my!), dolls, learning toys, musical instruments, puzzles and games, toys to inspire dramatic play, scientific investigation, arts and crafts, outdoor play—and books, lots of books. Necker’s prides itself on not stocking the usual mass-produced items and “mind-numbing electronic games.” They do sell some pretty cool retro playthings and are known for offering a wide array of toys made in America.
Wedding Registry: UponOurStar
Engaged couples with big dreams—and little need for crystal, china and linens, it would seem—have the most to gain from this registry. Here, they can design a wish list that will allow guests to contribute toward their most fervent desire: a honeymoon abroad (everything from the plane fares to the cost of Champagne for two), a first house (shutters to roof), a cool car (fender by fender) or even a university degree (don’t forget the student-activities fee). It’s user-friendly to the max and, best of all, your good buddies don’t have to waste time, gas money or energy worrying about whether you really wanted the food processor more than the vacuum cleaner.