Shopping in crowds can be a holiday downer, and avoiding throngs of people is even more important this year.
Buying online is one way to miss the masses, but if you want the in-person shopping experience that’s off the beaten path, there are more than a few places to go around Concord.
Here are some of my favorites, and what makes each one worth a visit.
The Prison Store
The real name is New Hampshire Department of Corrections Retail Showroom, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or convey the hand-crafted care that goes into the goods at 312 North State Street in Concord. The woodshop products are stunning – hand-made with old-fashioned methods and sturdy woods. There are oak queen platform beds and wraparound cherry desks if you’re looking for big-ticket items, but there are also high-quality wooden cutting boards, toy cars, jewelry boxes, plant stands and cribbage sets that make for more reasonable gifts from the woodshop.
There are plenty of non-wooden items, too, like piggy banks crafted from old post office boxes, leather belts and wallets, ceramic mugs and beaded jewelry. Most of these items come from the hobby/craft program, where the incarcerated individuals provide their own materials and keep 65% of the profit. The woodshop is part of the industries program, where the materials are provided and the inmates receive training that can help with a successful re-entry into society.
“It’s definitely a positive outlet for them and some of them do very well when they get out,” said New Hampshire Correctional Industries Sales & Marketing Director Laura Williams, who will take a shift or two working the cash register at the store, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. “You have to take a negative and turn it into a positive, which is not easy, but that’s what we’re trying to do here.”Indigo Blues & Co., Contoocook
The charm of Fountain Square seems to curl up the wooden front steps, across the old-fashioned porch and then bloom into this store full of inspired gift ideas. As the name implies, Indigo Blues & Co. is a jeans boutique at heart, but there is so much more at 902 Main Street in Contoocook Village, and owner LeeAnne Vance has put all the best gift items on creative display at her flagship store (there’s also a downtown Concord location in Capital Square Plaza) for the holiday season. There are tons of winter hats, mittens, scarves and socks that are fun or cozy or both. There’s doughnut bath bombs, organic lip balm and a huge selection of soaps and creams from Beekman 1802. There’s a kid’s section with things like sidewalk chalk and wooden cars and a men’s section with a nice selection of flannel shirts and beanies.
And, of course, there’s an incredible array of women’s clothing that, as it says at indigobluesandco.com, ranges, “from eclectic to classic” and “will be a staple in your wardrobe for years to come.”
Twigg’s Gallery, Boscawen
Visiting this gallery at 254 King Street in Boscawen is a worthwhile holiday experience even without the shopping. The current exhibit, Sleighbell Studio 2020, has a cheery, Santa’s workshop feel that can put just about anyone in a festive mood. But not shopping would be a missed opportunity since the exhibit is made up of locally made fine art and craft that’s affordably priced. There’s also a gift shop with fun socks, funky magnets, wall hangings and craft tools.
If you can’t find anything in the exhibit or gift store, owner Adele Sanborn also offers calligraphy services through her company Cornerstone Design, which she started in 1984 in Concord. Sanborn also owned the Concord retail store Caardvark, opened The Paint Box studio in Webster in 2005 and most recently initiated the Route 3 Art Trail, a collaborative partnership with Kimball Jenkins in Concord, Making Matters NH in Penacook and other local artists to, “encourage people to participate in and enjoy local art, artists and creative events along the Route 3 corridor between Concord, Penacook and Boscawen,” as it says on the Twiggs Gallery website, twiggsgallery.wordpress.com.
Antique Alleyalong Route 4
Traveling is part of this shopping experience. Make your way east on Route 4 from Concord and you’ll find more than 20 antique shops with goods from about 500 dealers. Even if you’re not looking for a piece of antique furniture to put under the tree, there are lots of smaller gift ideas like sports and music memorabilia, vintage advertising, folk art, prints and architectural salvage pieces. You’ll also find plenty of vintage jewelry and clothing, fine china and glassware, collectable pottery and antique accessories. Even though these shops are focused on the past, they do have a website, nhantiquealley.com, which describes “Antique Alley” as “New England’s oldest antiques shopping district,” and gives a few details on what you might find in each store.
With so many people becoming new, or newly committed, gardeners during the last year, chances are good someone on your list might like some tools, decorations or plants for their garden. You can find all that and then some at this spacious, exposed-beam store at 430 Loudon Road on the outskirts of Concord.
For the green-minded, there are high-end Sneeboer tools, eco-friendly gardening gloves, sundials, wind chimes, solar lights, trellises and a full array of annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and shrubs. But there are also non-gardening gifts like balms from Badger, candles from Seawicks, preserves from Stonewall Kitchen as well as socks, gloves, stuffed animals and other small gift items.
Sandy’s Pet Food Center
Not only has the pandemic created a new crop of gardeners, it’s also spawned a new group of pet owners. You can help them keep those new animal companions healthy with a gift from this natural pet food store at 141 Old Turnpike Road in Concord. Owner Adam Burr-Mecum and his staff make sure all of the food meets their strict guidelines and doesn’t contain any by-products, artificial preservatives or cheap fillers. They also carry lots of other great pet products like Pawz dog boots, Musher’s Secret paw wax, oils to keep coats healthy, sweaters and toys galore. If you can’t decide or don’t know what to get, a gift certificate is a great idea and will help new pet owners discover this local gem. And, if you’re looking for a holiday card ideas, you can bring your pet in for a holiday-themed photo shoot on Dec. 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for only $10, and all of the profits from the photo shoot will go to Pope Memorial SPCA.
L.L. Bean Outlet
Since it’s an outlet, you never really know what you might find at 55 Fort Eddy Road, but more often than not there are discounted treasures on the shelves and racks. It may not be the complete selection from the latest catalog, but there’s tons to choose from when it comes to men’s, women’s and kids’ clothing and outerwear. Not all of it is drastically marked down, but there’s always a chance you’ll find an incredible deal. The store also carries outdoor gear ranging from tents and snowshoes to pocket knives and flashlights; backpacks, suitcases and other travel necessities; and home goods like flannel sheets and dog beds. Plus, getting a present from L.L. Bean brings a certain comfort as winter begins. u