A Shopping Tour of Maine
The Ultimate Maine Shopping Trip
Sure, you can spend your days shopping on the information superhighway, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, consider taking to the road as we did, journeying through every corner of the state to uncover hundreds of distinctly Maine gifts and scores of sweet stores. Follow in our footsteps and you’ll discover the best of the Pine Tree State along the way.
From the lively outlets of Kittery to the picturesque downtowns strung along Route 1 like lights on a Christmas tree, Maine’s southern coast is wired for holiday magic. Starting at the state’s southern tip, this shopping excursion will lead you north on a tour of Route 1 to Saco.
Much has changed at the Kittery Trading Post (301 U.S. Rte. 1, 888-587-6246) since Bing Adams opened shop in 1938, swapping fur pelts for gasoline, but the local landmark continues to live up to its name with a now massive lodge-style building filled with three floors of outdoor goods, gear, and garments. Kids still come to ogle the stuffed moose in the foyer, and their parents still come to snag down-to-earth deals.
Keep someone cozy this winter with a Timber Mountain Reversible Throw, $112, by Woolrich. More fun to give than heating oil, this jacquard, wool blend blanket has a soft sherpa pile on one side and woven squares with Canada geese, brown bears, pine trees, maple leaves, and deer decorating the other. The Trading Post stocks other weighty winter blankets as well, including long-lasting favorites by Pendleton Woolen Mills and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
With more than 120 outlets, Kittery provides a plethora of discounts on top-name designers and decorators. But if idiosyncrasy is what you’re after, head north on Route 1 where you’ll find specialty shops with gifts as personal as their owners.
Nature-inspired gifts and holiday décor fill the indoor garden at Backyard Birds & Garden Frills (244 U.S. Rte. 1, 207-363-8181) in York. Attached to the back of the brick-red barn at Bell Farm Antiques, this exceptional store offers glass terrariums, wreaths, sculptures, holiday decorations, and beautiful birdhouses from copper-roofed manors to pine nesting boxes. A series of species-specific birdhouses, averaging $49.99, by Coveside Conservation Products of Maine are custom tailored to the bird you want to attract. For example, the Kestrel House includes an interior perch from which the raptor can watch for prey. The Bluebird House has a narrow slot entrance to discourage sparrows. And the Screech Owl House includes wood chips to accommodate excavating.
“We’ve been in the antiques business for twenty-two years,” says Judy Lambert, whose husband, Rex, built the barn and outbuildings, along with their attached house. “But we started the bird and garden shop three years ago because those are my hobbies.”
Meandering north, The Marketplace (1300 U.S. Rte. 1, 207-363-2500), at the center of Cape Neddick, is one of the newest gift galleries in town. Formerly a bed-and-breakfast, the falling-down barn was recently purchased by two families and renovated into a lovely two-story boutique.
“We got seduced by the property,” says Jeanne Lombardi, revealing photographs of the old building with light cracking through the rafters. Today, the barn quarters the work of local artisans including everything from jewelry, pottery, and hand-painted furniture to locally made soaps by the Hazyland Soap Co. “We have something for your animals, something for your kid, something for the mom-to-be,” Lombardi affirms, pointing to a children’s section with books autographed and designer clothes. For a handy gift, sort through a local line of Italian leather handbags, from $14 for a colorful coin purse to $175 for a fully lined tote by Sarci.
Just up Route 1 in Ogunquit, there’s another newcomer in town, abacus (213 Main St., 207-646-0399). This legendary Maine arts and crafts store is known for such quirky pieces as the “disco fever” pinball coffee table — yes, that would be a working pinball machine that you can set your mug on. Founded in 1971 to showcase fine American crafts, the original abacus gallery is in Boothbay Harbor. This new showroom, which opened in May, makes five galleries statewide. With nature-inspired jewelry, colorful Maine prints by Dana Heacock, handbags, table art, kitchenware, and books, the store offers contemporary and often amusing pieces. For a distinctly Maine gift, a handcrafted lobster trap mirror, $15-$23, makes a unique impression. Artist Angelo Scaglione salvages weathered Maine traps and uses the slats — nails and all — to create unique hand-held frames in which he sets the glass.
Just across the street, the Village Food Market (230 Main St., 207-646-2122) offers a lip-smacking selection of Maine treats from maple syrup and chocolate covered blueberries to tins of smoked wild herring — all easily stowed in a gift basket. But don’t forget to peek in the pastry case, with sweet temptations such as pecan mousse cups and chocolate chip studded cannoli. No excursion to Ogunquit would be complete without a stop at the Harbor Candy Shop (248 Main St., 800-331-5856), a downtown fixture since 1956, offering old-fashioned ambiance, rich confections, and jars of sweet stocking stuffers.
Meandering on toward Wells, shop for a bit of Maine history at Camp Wool (1784 Post Rd., 207-646-4411), where you can pick up a copy of the recently released book Rug Hooking in Maine, $39.95, by Mildred Cole Peladeau. This generous coffee-table-sized volume contains 250 color photographs showing the beauty of this traditional American art, beginning with a peddler from Biddeford who first manufactured preprinted rug patterns on burlap bags in the early 1800s. Attached to Cattail Farm Antiques, this small rug hooking shop and teaching studio stocks original burlap patterns, bolts of wool fabric, hooks, and hoops — everything needed to join in the popular revival of this functional and beautiful art.
For more Maine history, step back in time for a nineteenth-century Christmas at Wallingford Farm (21 York St., 207-985-2112) in Kennebunk. This Federal-house-turned-farm-store was built in 1804 for George Wallingford, one of Kennebunk’s founding fathers and a leader in making Maine a state. Left to ruin, the house and barns were in serious jeopardy until purchased by Charles Godfrey, a professional restorer who established the garden center in order to fix up the house. This time of year the front lawn becomes a veritable forest filled with Maine Christmas trees. For the holidays, Godfrey brings in as many Maine-themed ornaments as he can — everything from blown glass bulbs hanging from an ancient wagon wheel to enameled lobsters and crabs set among the farm’s dried herbs and blooming poinsettias. Shelves are stocked with Maine preserves and syrups make for easy gift giving, especially when stashed in a miniature Maine lobster trap, filled from $19.99.
“It’s very festive,” Godfrey says. “Everything is done in period style. We reach back into antiquity to see what our ancestors did, and that’s what we try to do.”
For practical gift giving, travel downtown to Tom’s of Maine (52 Main St., Park Sq., 207-985-6331). This authentic Maine outlet carries canvas totes, from $5.95, that can be easily filled with moisturizing body wash, conditioning shaving cream, travel kits, and lavender and calendula scented soaps. You’ll find a full line of natural care products as well as discounted factory seconds, organic cotton hats, and T-shirts.
To take home one of the most enduring images of Christmas in Maine, head down Route 9A and follow the signs for Kennebunkport. In this twinkling village of restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and wharfs, the Morris Trainor Gallery (17 Ocean Ave., 207-967-5900) offers two of the season’s most beloved images: the Christmas tree lighting at Dock Square and the arrival of Santa on the back of a lobsterboat. Ninety-six-year-old artist Richard A. Dabrowski, who lives just down the street, has captured both events in individual white line engravings, framed for $60 each.
“All his originals are hanging on his walls at home and we make prints of them,” explains gallery owner Kathryn Morris Trainor. “He’s one of my best sellers.”
In addition to showing the work of other area artists, the gallery features a large selection of pewter, sterling, and gold-plated jewelry and ornaments by Lovell Designs, which once had a showroom here.
Find your way back to Route 1 to Saco and you’ll discover the work of thirty southern Maine crafters on display year-round at Stone Soup Artisans (228 Main St., 207-283-4715). This snug showroom has a particularly nice selection of hand-cut wood ornaments in a variety of designs including snowflakes, loons, horse-drawn sleighs, skiers, and sailboats, $12 each by Artasia of Sedgwick. Made of solid Rock Maple with a clear finish, they are intended not only to decorate a tree but to hang in a window. There’s much to admire here from pottery and painted glass to jewelry, hand-knits, locally designed cards, and a selection of children’s clothes.
From the working wharves of Commercial Street to the fashionable outlets of Freeport, Greater Portland packs a lot of shopping punch into one compact region. Streets made for walking, a variety of eclectic stores and old-fashioned ambiance increase the pleasure, especially during the holidays when you can expect to find colorful light displays, horse-drawn carriage rides, and, on select weekends, small companies of carolers.
Portland’s Old Port, with its antique cobblestones, is particularly popular for its intimate shops, which ascend from the sea like the working wharves nearby. Down by the waterfront, Company C (123 Commercial St., 207-780-1232) provides an assortment of contemporary home textiles, designed by husband and wife team Walter and Chris Chapin, of Concord, New Hampshire. The retail store glows with color from behind a towering wall of granite and glass. Inside you’ll discover their snazzy creations, in vibrant hues that combine to create a unique line of bedding, fabric, and hand-hooked rugs. A two-foot-by-three-foot wool accent rug, $49, sprinkled with fat white snowflakes, makes a cozy gift, with new patterns arriving each season. Smaller gifts, such as candles and table centerpieces, are also inviting.
To fill a gift for a foodie, cart on next door to Maine’s Pantry (111 Commercial St., 207-228-2028), where you can stock up on everything from Stanchfield Farms Mustard Pickles, $6.95, to Maine’s Own Treats Blueberry Lime Ginger Jam, $4.50. Whatever you fill your basket with, don’t forget to ask for a free fudge sample from behind the glass candy counter — also a great source for stuffing stockings.
Wander up the hill into the heart of the Old Port to discover a local line of handmade fragrances that are as popular with men as women. Tucked in a small corner shop, 2 Note, a botanical perfumery (10 Moulton St., 207-838-2815), carefully creates perfume, lotions, scrubs, creams, and beeswax candles with all-natural ingredients and essential oils. Carolyn Mix, a violinist, and Darcy Doniger, a cellist, make everything in their nearby West End home.
“Between the sounds of our rehearsing and the smells of our fragrances, we are definitely the favorites in the neighborhood,” Doniger says gleefully.
Surprisingly, the scents don’t overwhelm. Because of their natural nature, these products can be worn by many people with sensitivities. Doniger even has a client who is a respiratory therapist at a nearby hospital, where perfumes are banned. Bottled in brown tincture bottles with paper labels, the products resemble something you might find in an old-fashioned apothecary. But the names on front — Ginger Body Butter, $30, and Pink Grapefruit, Jasmine, and Sweet Orange Body Lotion, $28 — are anything but traditional.
From Portland, heading north on Interstate 95 to Falmouth, discover a taste of the Old World at Black Cherry Provisions (56 Depot Rd., just off Rte. 1, 207-781-5656). Tucked behind the Falmouth Plaza, this recently opened gourmet food store stocks a wide selection of more than four hundred worldwide wines, two hundred imported beers, fresh pasta, handmade cheese, Italian deli meats, produce, and Italian tableware. Give someone the perfect gift with The Little Black Book of Beer, $9.95, a palm-sized whimsical history of brewing and drinking, or the companion, The Little Black Book of Wine, $9.95, with wine terms, tasting techniques, and the revered history of the grape. This is also the place to stock up on holiday staples such as authentic stollen bread.
Cranberry Island Kitchen (7B Corey Rd., 207-829-5200), in nearby Cumberland Center, produces one of Maine’s most popular goodies — the revered whoopie pie — in a sophisticated package with markedly grown-up fillings. Located off Route 9, you’ll find everything you need to give a real Maine indulgence, from golden blueberry clam cakes to lobster shortbread cookies to mussel-shell shaped whoopies with fillings such as rum, espresso, and champagne. Made with all-natural ingredients including local butter, free-range eggs, and unbleached flour, you could almost call them a health food. The Maine’s Bounty gift basket, $96.60, includes a tempting array of kitchen-baked treats as well as blueberry chutney and Seal Cove Farm Classic Chevre in a handwoven Maine basket with sea grass. Or sign someone up for the Dessert of the Month club, $120 plus shipping, and they’ll get such delicacies delivered right to their door for six months.
Continuing up the coast, Yarmouth Village offers a quaint Main Street with several shops and newly opened Royal River Books (355 Main St., 207-846-8006), with an inspired collection of reading material including a wide-ranging selection on Maine, such as Maine Maple — Beyond Pancakes, $10.95, a tempting cookbook by local Christmas-tree grower and maple-tree tapper Elizabeth Hodgkins.
In the center of town, Heritage Lanterns (25 Yarmouth Crossing Dr., 207-846-3911) lies just off Main Street. Tucked in a low red barn with a beautiful post lantern out front, you’ll find more of these handcrafted, historic treasures inside this small showroom. With a selection ranging from chandeliers to wall sconces to hand-blown onion globes, each light is created just out back in the humming workrooms where a small staff of nine employees cut, bend, and wire these copper and brass reproductions, many inspired by old ship’s lanterns. The table-top Amherst lamp, $469, with a brass base, clear chimney, and green glass shade makes a particularly handsome gift for a study, but since each piece is made to order, a gift certificate might be in order.
Topping off the region in Freeport, a shopping metropolis set in the quiet coast, you’ll discover a mix of national and local retailers as well as fine restaurants and cozy inns. Au (58 Main St., 800-221-0743) offers a versatile collection of bags made in Maine since 1968. The vibrant green and blue floral Weekender, $166, with laminated cotton fabric, leather handles, and a shoulder strap is the perfect gift for a traveler. A selection of smaller totes, day bags, duffels, and messenger bags is also available in varied colors and fabrics — but with the same distinctive style.
Behind the larger shops, jeweler R.D. Allen (13 Middle St., 207-865-1818) specializes in an affordable assortment of Maine tourmaline from $69 for a traditional pendant set in silver to a multicolored slice of what looks like nougat candy studded with jewels for under $300.
“I try to make real Maine tourmaline available to people in every price point,” says owner Annette Evans, who buys from a mine in Newry.
At the lower end is a two-inch vial of rough-cut Maine stones in all colors for $25 — perfect for artists and those who like to experiment. Evans has had people buy them for everything from mirrored window-hangings to handmade kaleidoscopes.
Those who enjoy late-night or last-minute shopping can rely on L.L. Bean (95 Main St., 800-559-0747), open twenty-four hours, every day of the year. It may also be the only retailer in Maine with a sign asking people to check their handguns at the front desk. Whether you’re on the prowl for outdoor gear, winter fashions, or snuggly fleece bedding, the flagship location for this outdoor mega store has it all with three stories of shopping, Christmas décor galore, and a trout pond, too. For an indoor gift that’s both classic and fun, the L.L. Bean deluxe edition of Scrabble, $99, has a rotating wooden base so the board can conveniently face each player. Letter tiles are printed in the store’s signature L.L. green, and the game surface includes grids to keep the pieces from slipping. Neatest of all, for an additional price the whole thing can be personalized with a brass nameplate.
The Western Lake Region includes a vast number of streams, lakes, and ponds glittering throughout the wooded countryside from the farms of New Gloucester to the mines of South Paris to the mountains of Bethel. It also includes the sights and sounds of Maine’s second-largest metro area, Lewiston, making this a diverse tour for the holidays.
Located on five thousand acres of rolling countryside in New Gloucester amid pastures, barns, and nature trails, Pineland Farms (15 Farm View Dr., 207-688-4539), operates a year-round welcome center and market brimming with holiday offerings, from its own award-winning cheeses to locally baked pies and an abundance of Maine gifts. There’s plenty of produce and preserves to choose from, but the real prize comes from its own herd of Holsteins. The nonprofit farm operates a creamery and produces a variety of cheeses with flavors such as Smoked Salsa Jack, Onion and Garlic Jack, Bacon Swiss Spread, and Cajun Cheddar Spread, all starting at $4.50 for a nine-ounce container.
On the twenty-minute drive to Lewiston, north on Route 202, you’ll move from the serene countryside to Maine’s second largest city. A former industrial center on the Androscoggin River, Lewiston is home to Bates College, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, and L/A Arts, among other regional attractions. But the old mills still dominate the sprawling downtown. On the second floor of a converted shoe mill, for instance, Maine-Line Leather (35 Beech St., Lewiston, 877-782-6820) turns leather into sturdy belts for police and security officers. “Pretty much what is in the store is the raw material — the leather, hand tools, stain, dye,” says David Brown, store manager. But the store also sells a selection of imported leather goods, from gloves, purses, and wallets to jackets, including a men’s black leather aviator bomber jacket for $179.99.
Every shopper needs refueling occasionally. Across the river on the rotary in Auburn, Roy’s Allsteak Hamburgers (5 Washington Ave., 207-783-4304) makes a fun lunch or dinner with its fresh ground, grade-A steak burgers and old-fashioned prices. A plain burger rings up at $1.70.
Heading west on Route 121, pick up Route 26 north, which will bring you to Perham’s (207-674-2341), at the junction of Routes 26 and 219 in West Paris. This jewelry store and gem gallery has been a favorite Maine destination since it opened in 1919. Not only is it one of the most favored places in Maine to go rockhounding during the warmer months, but it offers a year-round supply of locally mined minerals and gems in addition to an indoor museum showcasing a few of its finest finds. In fact, this little shop in the western woods draws more than a hundred thousand visitors each year.
Glass prisms, books on rock collecting, chess sets made from onyx, and balsam bird houses are some of the items you’ll find in addition to the ever-popular Maine tourmaline jewelry, starting around $300 for a pair of earrings.
“Each piece is different,” explains employee Karen Heald. “We don’t have a lot in the same styles, and the tourmaline comes in so many different colors, so it’s hard to find two that are exactly the same.” For a piece that will truly shine, we recommend the nine-carat, emerald cut, green pendant, for $4,300 — one of the finest items in the house.
A few minutes farther along Route 26, Maine Balsam Fir (16 Morse Hill Rd., 800-522-5726) operates a fragrant outlet in the Oxford Hills where you’ll find handmade birch-bark containers, from pencil cup to trashcan size, $20-$100. Each is unique (some even have fungi growing on them) and crafted by Jack Newmeyer from trees he fells for his family’s winter heat. Newmeyer and his wife, Wendy, founded the family business thirty years ago to produce all natural products from hand-cut balsam fir branches at nearby farms.
“A lot of people use them as a desk accessory or for dried flowers,” Wendy Newmeyer says. “Some of the wide, shallow ones are more like a bowl for fruit or pine cones.” Not surprisingly, she adds, “Many people put our pillows in them.” The outlet stocks balsam oil and soap along with hundreds of styles of pillows, sold all over the country.
Continue west on Route 26, and in another thirty minutes or so, you’ll arrive in Bethel. In a region where whole towns are sometimes marked by a single gas station, Bethel is an unexpected shopping bonanza anchored by the Bethel Inn Resort, a popular year-round dining and lodging destination since 1913. Like the lofty mountains around it, Bethel’s charming Main Street climbs steeply toward the village center where soft lights glow in the windows of charming Victorians that are now renovated into shops, galleries, restaurants, and inns. Behind the glass counter at Mt. Mica Rarities (162 Main St., 207-875-3060), housed in an old barn, Phillip McCrillis displays a dazzling array of tourmaline from nearby mines.
“This guy has trained his dog to sniff out moose antlers,” McCrillis declares, pulling out a velvet stand with a half dozen bits of smooth brown bone, each set with a tiny sparkle of tourmaline and hung on a silk thread. Starting at $260, they make for a novel pendant. McCrillis, who designs and fashions many pieces inside the glass cases, is the fourth generation of his family in the mining business. In addition to a variety of rough gems, he keeps a “cheap and cheerful” selection of stones and fossils for children, everything from prehistoric bugs preserved in amber to fossilized shark teeth — all beginning at about fifty cents.
Next door at Bonnema Potters (146 Main St., 207-824-2821), the pottery pieces reflect the local scenery with layered hues from earth to mountain to sky. Wander up the rough wooden stairs to explore both floors of this barn-turned-studio, or peek in back to catch the potters at work. While there are plenty of pieces to choose from, the statuesque wine goblets, $28 each, are particularly appropriate for the holiday season.
For a final stop, swing up Route 2 to Rumford, another thirty minutes up the road, and take a look inside the Maine Made Furniture Co. (1180 Rte. 2, 207-364-7677), which produces complete do-it-yourself kits for building tables, chairs, and stools in a variety of local woods. The teardrop armchair rocker in cherry, $280, is sure to become an heirloom. Each kit comes predrilled with everything you need to put it together, except a rubber-headed mallet. The rocker takes roughly two hours to assemble, and the shop employees are on-hand to answer questions by phone or to help in a pinch.
“I’ve only had one guy in the last four years bring a chair in and ask the guys to finish it,” says Kathy Herbert, who serves not only as vice president of the company, which was started in 2004, but also answers the phone. She says the rocking chair kit is a particularly popular gift for expectant parents. “It’s a very personal gift when you can actually work on it yourself.” Before heading out, sneak a peek next door in the Maine Artisan’s Wood Gallery, under the same ownership, where you can see and purchase a wide range of furniture produced by more than twenty local artisans.
Hugging the scenic shoreline, the towns along Maine’s midcoast are as varied as the ocean-smoothed stones lining their coves and beaches. Follow the seasonal tide of traffic on Route 1 from Brunswick to Camden — delightfully lighter than during the summer — which makes this the perfect time of year to slow down and explore, especially if you enjoy clay and kilns.
With two floors of dinnerware, household decorations, jewelry, and fine crafts, pottery enthusiasts will enjoy the fine porcelain on display at the showroom of Georgetown Pottery (11 Pleasant St., 207-725-7500) in Brunswick. Each hand-painted piece reflects the natural beauty of Maine from blueberries, chickadees, birch trees, and earth-tone washes. Light up someone’s holiday with a petite hurricane lamp with round painted base, $28, that is as decorative as it is functional. Or pre-order a personalized children’s plate, bowl, or mug from the studio, which is based on nearby Georgetown Island.
Heading north on Route 1, Bath stretches along the west bank of the Kennebec River. Built around two hundred years of shipbuilding, Bath used to be strictly utilitarian — newsstands, grills, furniture, clothing. Today it also entertains swanky boutiques, bistros, and bakeries. Tintypes (244 Front St., 207-442-8300) is one of the most original. Just beyond the library, the home furnishings and gift store really lives up to its claim, “Not your mama’s mercantile.” Filled with all things whimsical and practical, from nineteenth-century engravings and oriental rugs to contemporary tableware and jewelry, this converted mechanic shop is full of surprises, including a tin glazed terracotta crèche, hand-sculpted in Portland, starting at $175.
“They have so much personality,” says Marnie Stevens, one of three sisters who run the shop.
The petite figurines are individually painted with whimsical polka dots and fat, yellow halos resting on their heads, while wise-looking sheep and polka-dotted chickens forage nearby. The main characters and manger are included in the starting price, but the shepherds and animals, including donkeys, camels, and cows, are additional, from $40 per pair. Artist and family friend Margaret Ryan creates and paints each piece — right down to the bridles on the donkeys.
Resuming the drive north, Treats (80 Main St., 207-882-6192) in Wiscasset is a sure hit for native delicacies and gourmet gift baskets. You’ll be rewarded with premium farmstead cheeses from the United Kingdom and across the United States, wines from around the world, fresh baked goods, and local preserves such as pickled fiddleheads that start at $9. It also provides a cozy farm counter for lunch.
Just over the bridge, Sheepscot River Pottery (34 Rte. 1, 207-882-9410) in Edgecomb fills a two-story lodge with the work of more than four hundred American artisans from stained glass makers to furniture designers to jewelers. Complete porcelain place settings are available in ten distinct patterns, but for a present that will always be admired, the vase wall sconce, $54, with a wrought-iron hanger makes a beautiful gift for decorating any time of year.
Swinging off Route 1 into downtown Damariscotta, the Accessories Shop (153 Main St., 207-563-3933) carries one of Maine’s most distinctive lines of artisan-made marinades, rubs, and mixes by Vervacious of Biddeford. Not for the timid, these creative concoctions are the conception of Mark Stanvick, a former computer engineer, and his wife, Heidi, a self-professed foodie. For the past several years, the pair has literally sailed the world in search of the best spices, bottling them in thick designer jars that seem to resemble something the Wise Men would have brought to the manger. Spreads such as Coffee Apple Butter, powders such as Viennese Cinnamon Cocoa, and flavorings such as Espresso Balsamic Drizzle, voted best new product at the 2008 New England Products Trade Show, are sure to add a new height to holiday entertaining. But with prices beginning at about $12 for 3.4 ounces for a palm-sized bottle of a reduction sauce, you may want to save these seasonings for those who have been especially nice.
Plan a leisurely forty-minute drive from Damariscotta to the working waterfront of Rockland, but arrive in plenty of time to saunter along Main Street, spread out on either side of the nationally recognized Farnsworth Art Museum, which displays a large body of work from artists from the eighteenth century to the present — including the museum’s permanent collection Maine in America. The nonprofit Island Institute, supporting island communities in the Gulf of Maine, is headquartered a couple of blocks away with its well-known gift store, Archipelago (386 Main St., 207-596-0701), displaying the work of Maine’s island artisans. The street offers plenty of variety with a gourmet cooking store, leather goods, and terrific toy store all within easy walking distance. One newcomer downtown is the Lucky Dog Gallery (373 Main St., 207-596-0120), named for the owners’ two-pound pups, Lucy and Barkley. The store boasts an eclectic mix of art that is both serious, such as hand-felted wall tapestries reflecting the wild life of Maine, which sell as fast as owners Hal Hagy and Janel Spencer-Hagy can get them; and fun, such as the golf-course-grass pen, made locally from a resin mixed with, you guessed it, recycled grass. A particularly nice gift is the mussel-shell and beach stone studded mirrors by Janet Lockhart, of Damariscotta, who began making them more than two decades ago to supply her family with inexpensive Christmas presents. That pursuit turned into a passion, and Lockhart now solders all sorts of Maine objects du jour, from bottle caps to driftwood, in her impressive works, which start at about $55. Backed with felt, they can also be used as a tabletop centerpiece to display flowers or candles.
Atlantic Baking Co. (351 Main St., 207-596-0505) makes some of the most delectable baked goods around with chocolate-almond croissants, scones, and irresistible cookies on its menu, which includes breakfast and lunch items in this down-to-earth café. After perking up with a pastry, head another fifteen minutes north to Camden and one of the midcoast’s most popular main streets. In the shadow of Mount Battie, this picturesque harbor village is a year-round destination for its beauty, charm, and shopping, but it’s particularly pretty at Christmas.
In the center of town, Jane Alden (6 Main St., 207-230-1222) reveals a select assortment of gifts from books and baby items to home décor, including hand-painted textiles by Deanne Tibbetts of Mackerel Sky Studio. Each generous cotton pillow, $60, tablecloth, or runner is printed with an assortment of Maine sea critters, including starfish, clams, lobsters, and seaweed. Printed T-shirts, from $17.50, are also handy stocking stuffers.
On the waterfront, the Small Wonder Gallery (1 Public Landing, 207-236-6005) displays the work of roughly fifty artists in an intimate showroom. Miniature pastorals and ocean scenes, from $50, stand on their own tiny easels — a simple solution for someone running out of wall space. Hand-painted tiles hang on walls, just waiting to be used as trivets. Wood engravings portray local scenery. Nearly 90 percent of the artists here are local, including Camden summer resident Lynette Walther, whose delightful sea sculptures sparkle from a center support column. Each unique piece, around $200, is molded from craft wire and all manner of finds from shards of pottery to sea glass. The artist can also be found in the color-filled pages of A Passion for Sea Glass, $30, by C.S. Lambert, and published by — may we say it? — Down East Books.
History and artistry convene in the Kennebec Valley Region, which stretches from the state’s capital in Augusta to the western woods of Maine, where foresters craft timber into striking pieces of furniture.
Gardiner is a quaint teacup of a town nestled in the palm of the Kennebec River. Green cast-iron lampstands line brick streets, making it a particularly pleasant stop, as does A1 to Go (347 Water St., 207-582-5586), a café and community market just around the corner from the famed A1 Diner. Suspended along Bridge Street, the diner is built out of a shiny, silver Worcester streamliner from the 1940s. The café and market carries an excellent selection of gourmet chocolate, wine, cheese, French soap, Rock City coffee, and fine teas. Owners Neil Anderson and Mike Giberson stock up on tempting treats for the holidays. Here no gift basket would be complete without a copy of A1 Diner, Real Food, Recipes & Recollections , $20, by Sarah Rolph and published in town by Tilbury House.
Following Route 27 north along the river, you’ll pass Isamax Snacks Bake Shop (5 Mechanic St., 207-582-0620), nationally known for its Wicked Whoopie Pies, which come in seasonal flavors such as gingerbread, pumpkin, and maple. A dozen are an affordable $24 and can be frozen for up to a year.
Just up the road, beneath the gray slate steeple of the Old South Congregational Church, historic Hallowell is home to Kennebec River Artisans (130 Water St., 207-623-2345), which offers a cultured collection of fine Maine crafts, glass, jewelry, wood, and hand-sewn designer clothes. Among them is a lush line of hand-felted reproduction hats, averaging $50 each, by Julienne’s of Litchfield. Each unique creation is fashioned by hand, including colorful needle-felted dots, ornamented buttons, embroidery, or delicate reverse appliqué and lined with vintage silk or cotton. Known for good restaurants and abundant antique stores, Hallowell presents plenty of opportunities to explore, so leave time to loaf around.
The green dome of the Maine State Capitol crowns the city as Route 27 winds into Augusta. Just before this massive monument, the Maine State Museum (83 State House Station, 207-287-2938) houses a noteworthy gift store well-stocked with Maine-themed books for adults and children. The Big Maine Activity Book, $9.95, features puzzles designed to teach youngsters the state’s history while having fun. Stocking stuffers also abound, from wooden bookmarks with cutouts of Maine animals to miniature Maine flags and pocket guidebooks to everything in between. Needles to say, the adjoining museum is well worth exploring.
Whether you decide to treat yourself after a day of shopping or to treat someone else, Kennebec Hand Dipped Chocolates (10 Western Ave. Augusta, 207-621-2200, and also at 108 Main St. in Waterville, 207-877-7711) offers an array of satisfying choices — homemade fudge, hand-rolled creams, rich ganache truffles — all made on the premises in downtown Augusta.
“Customers say you can taste the passion that goes into making the chocolates,” remarks Marjorie Gustafson, an employee at the Waterville store.
The Maine State Assortment, $17.95, includes sixteen tasty treats layered around a rich chocolate square featuring a carving of Maine alongside a moose. But be prepared to wait. Around the holidays, this popular shop can be standing-room-only.
North on Interstate 95, Waterville is a historic city originally known for its mills, including the Hathaway shirt factory, which was begun here in 1849. Today Waterville is a festive regional center of business with big-name stores and small boutiques. A billboard by the town park invites visitors on a self-guided tour of the “Museum in the Streets,” highlighting the town’s past from the first French-Canadian settlers to the old Lockwood Mills.
Downtown, Maine Made and More (93 Main St., 207-622-5723) provides two floors of easy shopping including candles, calendars, balsam pillows, Acorn slippers for the whole family, a women’s boutique, and a fine line of children’s sweaters hand loomed by Wild Child Knits in coastal Lincolnville. A white cotton pullover featuring a brown moose surrounded by a border of deep green pine trees, $68, makes a memorable gift.
Warm up at Jorgensen’s Café (103 Main St., 207-872-8711), a popular deli and fine food marketplace offering hearty breakfasts, gourmet coffee, homemade soups, specialty sandwiches, and Maine gelato. Or put together a gift basket from the café’s selection of gourmet chocolate and wine.
Driving inland on Route 201, the scenery features more farms and fields than traffic. Skowhegan, the county seat of Somerset County, is a tight-knit community on the Kennebec River that, according to its sign, out-taps every town in the U.S.A. in terms of maple syrup production. Hardware stores, a tavern or two, and a local department store mark the downtown — just what you what might expect for a Maine farming community. But it also includes one shop you might not: Wish (14 Madison Ave., 207-474-7352), a chic gift and garden shop. It’s an apt address for a decidedly upscale shop featuring an assortment of French soaps, Portuguese pottery, specialty glass, silk, wool pashmina shawls, and a scattering of antiques. A hefty stained-glass window advertises that it was made “by me” — as in the owner, David Ellis.
“A lot of people buy out of catalogs,” remarks Ellis, a former orchid salesman from Miami who opened the store two years ago. “But I go to New York and Atlanta. I have to touch everything.” He also carries a line of glass window hangings, $39.95, by the Hardenbrook Studio of Kennebunk. Each pane is reverse printed with a whimsical scene, such as a line of cancan dancers, from a vintage postcard, its stamp and handwriting still visible through the glass.
Rolling west on Route 2, you’ll pass through quiet country and rolling hills, but if you’re a knitter or know someone who is, be sure to stop at Imelda’s (5 Starks Rd., 207-778-0665), in New Sharon, with three floors of fabric and shelves stuffed with fat skeins of specialty Maine wool in vibrant colors by Bartlettyarns of Harmony. Shop owner Janet Kennedy also crafts her own line of fleece and tapestry jackets, capes, handbags, totes, and doll clothes, which you’ll find throughout the old Maine-Line Tennis Racket Company building near the center of town.
Farther west, Farmington is a hub of youthful activity in the western woods, known for housing a campus of the University of Maine system, which you’ll pass on your way into town. There’s plenty of motivation to park the car and explore with several blocks of gift stores and boutiques, everything from a funky costume shop to fine jewelers. The SugarWood Gallery (248 Broadway, 207-778-9105) is one such place. The moment you step inside, you’ll wallow in the scent of wood. This three-room collection showcases the work of sixty-five wood artists, half from within a dozen miles of here — not surprising when you consider the constant stream of logging trucks hauling lumber over these back roads.
“A lot of our work is made from waste from the woods, lumber that was too crooked or useless for logging,” says Dick Stanchfield, who crafts lamps with his wife, Donna. “That table over there by the window is just a tree root.” Whether you’re looking for a distinctive dining table fashioned from reclaimed barn boards or a set of elegant Windsor chairs, this shop has everything from fine furniture to distinctive pottery, sculpture, and woodwork — including a distinctive maple desk clock, $79, or a copper-stemmed rose with delicate wood petals, $10, to hang on a wall.
Down East & Acadia
Even after the boats have been plucked from the harbors and most of the hikers have headed home, the Down East and Acadia regions have plenty to offer. From the 420-foot observation tower of the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge to the rocky coast of Bar Harbor, these coastal towns provide a unique scattering of Maine shops and plenty of gifts to go around.
Head to Belfast and be among the first to pick up one of this year’s most popular new games, Bananagrams, $14.99, at All About Games (78 Main St., 207-338-9984). Unlike other word games where the most knowledgeable player scores the highest, this competition is all about speed. “Someone who is good at Scrabble and knows a lot of interesting words is just as likely to win as a child, which is great at Christmas when you have different ages together,” explains Kali Rocheleau, a college student who’s been working at the locally owned store since she was thirteen.
Filling the shelves you’ll discover between five hundred and a thousand different games. Didn’t know they make that many? Ask the friendly staff to help you find what you are looking for. Here, the employees play as many games as possible, ordering pizza and locking the doors for regular “working meetings” to try out the latest releases. The customers appreciate the help — even those who sound a bit like Santa. “There is this one guy — he’s great — who comes in every year on Christmas Eve and buys every single gift on his list,” Rocheleau says. “He spends a couple of hours just walking around, while I’m in back wrapping.”
In the heart of the midcoast, Belfast also offers an abundance of galleries, gift shops, and good eats. Within view of Penobscot Bay and the working waterfront, it’s a perfect place to explore on foot, especially during the holidays when white lights dance off the dark harbor. A couple steps below street level, the First Light Gallery (92 Main St., Belfast, 207-338-3626) offers images that reflect the local scenery. Director Lucinda Talbot can often be found painting behind the counter.
“I just play with color and shape and wait to see what emerges,” she says, putting down her paintbrush on one afternoon to pick up a swirling yellow canvas.
Talbot, who creates mixed-media collages, sells vibrant, multilayered prints for $20 and up. Jeweler Dan Bennett displays several dazzling cases of Maine tourmaline and fresh water pearls. Works by multiple artists share the walls. There’s plenty to inspire, including do-it-yourself collage kits, $18, individually packaged by Talbot. Popular with children and adults, each kit includes archival paper, found objects such as leaves, lace, beads, and shells, as well as three mats, acrylic glue, and a miniature frame for display.
Just north on Route 1, near the Penobscot Marine Museum in the neighboring town of Searsport, Silkweeds (191 E. Main St., 207-548-6501) sells an impressive selection of country primitives from furniture and linens to braided rugs and wreaths to country-style fudge, $11.99 for a pound and a half.
“We carry twenty-five to thirty flavors almost all the time,” says owner Lisa Gray, who makes the fudge herself. “I make so many, I forget. The most popular is anything that has to do with peanut butter.”
On average, Gray makes 150 pounds per week, but at Christmas, that figure doubles with orders coming in from around the country. She prepares the fudge in a little kettle in back of the store, pouring it into trays lining a twelve-foot counter. With twelve rooms to explore — including a Christmas room — the shop is particularly popular at Christmastime.
Cruising north over the Penobscot Narrows Bridge through Bucksport and on into Orland, turn down Route 15 to enjoy thepastoral beauty of the Blue Hill peninsula. North Country Textiles (1840 Main St., 207-374-2715) is a store you have to feel to fully appreciate. Hand-woven blankets and balsam pillows, so soft you’ll want to pet them, are some of the finely crafted textiles in stock. Many are created right here on the store’s looms. Generous scarves, from $95, of softest silk, wool, mohair, and other fibers, make particularly appealing winter gifts. Open since 1976, the shop supplies a large selection of hand-braided rag rugs in addition to a careful selection of specialty gifts from crocheted jewelry to puppets.
Blue Hill is an historic hollow of a town with a handful of shops that remain open all year. For a bite, the Wescott Forge Restaurant (66 Main St., 207-374-9909) serves lunch, drinks, and dinner in a historic forge with views of Blue Hill Harbor, but call ahead for hours.
Route 172 north is the most scenic road to Ellsworth, in the center of the Down East region. On Main Street, notable for its large selection of local shops, Beals Jewelry (97 Main St., 207-667-2161) has been an icon since it opened in 1926. Today, at the elegant jewelry store and adjoining gift shop you’ll find a fourth generation of Beals behind the counter. But it’s Norma Beal, grandmother, who still presides over the store and does much of the buying from gift and fashion shows in New York and Atlanta. Her business card — black script on plain ivory paper — is as classic as the shop itself, with its glass case full of Godiva chocolate. The store is known for a fine selection of home décor and gifts as well as its upscale women’s boutique, which is as comfortable and private as a well-appointed boudoir. And then, of course, there is the jewelry store, which is how it all got started. For a gift that is as local as it is useful, consider a boxed set of four natural marble trivets, $45, printed with a map of the Down East coastline.
Before heading out of town, you may want to take a seat at the Riverside Café (151 Main St., 207-667-7220), a favorite for home-style meals and delectable desserts.
Heading east on Route 3, Mount Desert Island is pleasantly quiet and uncrowded in the cooler months. Quite a few Bar Harbor shops might be shuttered, but there’s plenty left to enjoy. From trendy bandanas and tasty treats to locally crafted lobster chew toys, Walkin’ the Dog (164 Main St., 207-288-9738), an island pet boutique, offers an upscale assortment of gifts to please your pooch or feline companion. Owner Lisa DeMuro opened the shop just this spring. One of the most popular gifts on hand this season is a white, cable-knit dog sweater with a bright red lobster on back, $29-$45, depending on size.
“I had a lady walk in yesterday with a four-pound Yorkie,” DeMuro says, “and she put one right on him.”
In fact the sweaters are so popular, the local knitter has begun selling the patterns so customers can make their own.
Before heading out, be sure to admire the wooden Santas, $175, hand-carved by DeMuro’s husband, Rick Jewett, in which dogs are featured as the jolly chap’s best friend.
Geographically close but centuries apart, step down the stairs and back in time when you enter Alexander H. Phillips (110 Main St., 207-288-3684). This clockmaker is the real deal — “No battery Chinese stuff,” as clockmaker Phillips explains. “I’ve got a clock sitting here that was ticking when Marie Antoinette was executed.”
Most days of the week, you can find Phillips behind the counter at what is one of the country’s last remaining traditional clock shops. It’s just where he’s been for the past twenty years while repairing and selling exceptional clocks. Word of his reputation has spread so wide, people send him broken clocks from all over the world. Antiques are his specialty, but Phillips also carries new nautical clocks, barometers, and nearly a dozen different German cuckoo clocks, starting at $150.
“Americans love cuckoo clocks,” remarks Phillips, who imports his from Germany’s Black Forest region. “Some have animation. Some have music. They come in a variety of different styles, but the clocks themselves haven’t changed much since they were invented in 1750.”
Whatever your timepiece, take Phillips’ advice and arrive promptly before midday. “At noon,” he explains, as several clocks chime around him, “this place really jumps.”
Maine Highlands & Aroostook County
The center of Maine, sometimes known as the highlands, is a vast region of timber and farmland. Beginning with Bangor, this tour stays close to Interstate-95, although the more adventurous may want to continue north to the recreational area of Baxter State Park or even farther to destinations in the County.
A popular pit stop, the small town of Newport, in Penobscot County, lies roughly twenty-five miles south of Bangor. Just off Interstate 95, food and gas are plentiful and quick to come by, but take a short drive beyond the hubbub, and in a few short minutes you can fill up on the wholesome bounty of local Maine preserves and crisp apples in the market at Rowe Orchards (Rte. 7, 333 Moosehead Trail, 207-368-4777).
Open through December 24, this farm store alongside Route 7 serves its own fresh doughnuts and carries a tasty array of Maine honeys, jams, mustards, syrups, pie fillings, and spreads. In addition, the white barn contains a crisp selection of apples from its orchard, just out the door. Specialty packs including McCowans, Honey Crisps, Spencers, and, of course, staples like Cortland and Macintosh, come packaged in a box of sixteen for $20 and can be mailed. Gift boxes can even be doctored up with house specialties like all-natural Maine blueberry pie filling, $6.75 for a twenty-five-ounce container, wooden apple crates made in nearby Madison, and apple baskets that come in several sizes.
“We pack a lot of these for Christmas,” says Kristi Hamilton, a retired teacher who now works here. “This is the best job in the world. Grumpy people don’t buy apples.”
Just a few minutes farther north along the interstate in Hermon, Dysart’s Truck Stop and Restaurant (Exit 180 off I-95, 207-942-4878) is another celebrated rest stop to refuel both tank and tummy. Founded by father and son duo Ed and David Dysart, this twenty-four-hour destination lures truckers and common folk, too, dishing up such down-home delicacies as Daisy’s baked beans, New England boiled dinner, and its famous apple and blueberry pie. It also serves a sampling of gifts, such as die-cast Dysart’s tractor-trailers, $29.99, with opening doors and real rubber tires — just like the big guys.
After barreling through the beauty of the tree-blanketed hillside, Bangor provides a downtown worthy of an afternoon’s exploration. It’s a truly eclectic mix with a little bit of everything, from children’s books to comics to tobacco — and, of course, the Grasshopper Shop, stocked with great gifts, and Epic Sports, great for the outdoors, which anchor the downtown. But it was a relatively new deli in the center of all this that beckoned one recent Saturday afternoon.
Giacomo’s Groceria (1 Central St., 207-947-3702) serves some seriously mouth-watering salami in its one-of-a-kind sandwiches. Made with crusty baguettes and imported meats and cheeses, the menu starts around $6. There is plenty to give as well as to get, with a full market of ethnic treats from Italian wines, espresso and tarts to chocolate, olives, and pickles. You may have to wait for warmer weather to use them, but a premier set of bocce balls in a convenient canvas carrying case, $79.99, by Halex, also makes a nifty gift. And no, “Groceria” isn’t Italian, however owner Milva Smith thought the word best described all her market offers — a distinctly Italian taste in a clearly non-Italian setting.
Crossing over Kenduskeag Stream and pressing north on Interstate 95, you’ll be rewarded with a fine selection of traditional Maine crafts in Old Town at the Wabanaki Arts Center Gallery (240 Main St., 207-827-0391). The work of more than six-dozen tribal artisans is represented in a spacious gallery along the Penobscot River in this small island town, known for its close connection to the Penobscot Indian Nation. From a full-sized baby cradle to dainty, doll-sized baskets, this showroom for the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance is woven with wonderful workmanship. Each piece identifies the artist and his or her tribe and carries a record of authenticity.
In addition to a large selection of baskets, the gallery offers carvings, beaded jewelry, cloth dolls, botanical salves, music, and books, including A Wabanaki Guide to Maine, $10. For an unforgettable gift, try a palm-sized acorn basket with a cap shaped lid, $245, by Passamaquoddy Stuart Tomah, makes a gift of great beauty.