PORTLAND, Maine - Two years ago I stopped into David Wood Clothiers in the Old Port here and splurged on a getup. I’m not exactly the sartorialist, but David Hodgkins, the clothier himself, was in the shop, and he has a way of steering even sweatpants slovens like me toward what he calls the “dressier side of the wardrobe.’’ I walked out bedecked in twill trousers with leather piping around the pockets, a proper dress shirt, and a cashmere cardigan with wooden buttons.
In 1978 Hodgkins opened David Wood Clothiers (229 Commercial St., 207-773-3906, www.davidwood.com), a half floor below street level, on a busy corner in the center of town. He stocked the store with the best of everything: Michael Drake’s handmade ties from London, Alden tassel moccasins made in Massachusetts, leather goods by Martin Dingman from Arkansas, shaving gear from Edwin Jagger in Sheffield, England, Shetland wool sweaters from Harley of Scotland, and all manner of custom pants, suits, tuxedos, shirts, and sport coats.
This summer Hodgkins moved the shop a few blocks away to a bigger space on Commercial Street, across from the harbor and next door to his other businesses: Barbour by David Wood (featuring the venerable English brand known for waxed cotton outerwear) and Portland Dry Goods Co. (the more casual side of David Wood featuring heritage brands such as Woolrich and Red Wing shoes).
Last week, in search of a suit for a winter wedding, I went down to the waterfront to flip through some Southwick tweedy swatches. Hodgkins was there. Dressed for work as usual, he was wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a wild boar print tie, and a checked double-breasted blazer with an argyle pocket square. A measuring tape was slung around his shoulders. I knew that I was in good hands.
David Wood Clothiers is a place to buy clothes, but it is also the realization of a philosophy and a sensibility. To shop here is to be guided by a specialist, somebody who can make sense of all of that would otherwise be just out of reach. This is true of any great shop. The best of them can feel like a cabinet of curiosities with shopkeepers refining and curating, editing through the seemingly infinite so that we have a head start. This city is home to many such shops. Here are a few of the best.
This place is more art installation than conventional shop. The space, small and sunny with a tin ceiling and ebony floors, is tucked away on a quiet side street and filled with a spare and carefully arranged selection of clothes, books, textiles, and furniture.
Owner Barbara Merritt describes it as “a retail adventure, committed to strong aesthetics and integrity of production.’’
This fall there is an installation of furniture, paintings, garments, and striped linen blankets by the artists Lisa Dorr and Max Ascrizzi. There are pieces from the Australian Primoeza collection of alpaca woolens, and design books from all over the world.
Merritt is charming and erudite. Plan to spend some time chatting. 17 Pleasant St., 207-518-9018
Coast City Comics
“The shop is a reflection of what I see as the most fun things in the world: pinball, cool shirts, comic books, ’80s toys, and games,’’ says co-owner Tristan Gallagher of the store in the middle of the Congress Street Arts District, near the Portland Museum of Art and the Maine College of Art.
“We have the USS Flagg, the biggest G.I. Joe toy ever made - still in the box. We have a mint copy of Giant-Size X-Men No. 1, and a really nice 1980s Six Million Dollar Man pinball machine.’’
634 Congress St., 207-899-1505, www.coastcitycomics.net
The Tackle Shop
Owner Dana Eastman is a connoisseur of fishing. He ties flies and builds custom jigs and lures. People come from all over to stock up on his black snake flies for nighttime striper fishing, his deceivers for bluefish, and grocery jigs, with realistic action, which he says are “often duplicated, and never improved.’’
Eastman says that he “fishes for the feeling, for the smell of the salt and the fog, for the sound of fish busting all around the boat - all the stuff that you’re not going to experience sitting on the couch.’’ 61 India St., 207-773-3474, www.thetackleshop.net, closed for vacation until Dec. 4. Homegrown Herb & Tea
Sarah Richards quit teaching Spanish to open her store at the foot of Munjoy Hill in the East End. She grows and dries herbs and flowers at her family farm in New Sharon and around her house in Portland. From her workshop behind the counter she concocts custom herbal blends to both balance the body and target particular ailments.
Right now she has dozens of blends, including a fall tonic with sarsparilla, nettles, fennel, ginger, turmeric, elderberries, and lemon grass; a Witches Brew with damiana, kava, catnip, nutmeg, star anise, and licorice root; and the Hair of the Khan - a hangover tonic created by the apothecary of Kublai Kahn, a grandson of Genghis Kahn. 195 Congress St., 207-774-3484, www.homegrownherbandtea.com
Nicola’s Home Store
Nicola Manganello grew up in Yarmouth and studied color theory and sculpture at Maine College of Art. In summer 2010 she opened this boutique home goods store and design studio that specializes in “mixing vintage with new.’’ The design studio is open to the public and crammed with books and samples of furniture, fabrics, lighting, and accessories - all vetted by Manganello. Store manager Jennifer Connor describes the studio as “a good introduction to Nicola and her aesthetic.’’ For those looking to go a little bit deeper, Manganello charges $175 an hour for design work. 215 Commercial St., 207-899-3218, www.nicolas-homes.com
Portland Architectural Salvage
“We have all the parts that you would ever need to make a space interesting,’’ owner Alice Dunn says of the 20,000 square feet of architectural elements, antiques, and decorative accessories here.
Right now, in addition to stacks and piles of mahogany doors, slate sinks, and period hardware, there is a 19th-century horse-drawn carriage made in Massachusetts ($2,400), hand-colored giant glass negatives showing sailboats and a fisherman pulling a lobster out of trap (not yet priced), and a hand-hammered zinc top table with an oak base ($4,500).
“I love that table. It’s organic and very primitive, no bells and whistles. I fight with myself. I want to bring it home,’’ says Dunn. 131 Preble St., 207-780-0634, www.portlandsalvage.com
Onetime cab driver Bob Wirtz opened this shop in 1987. He sells only records.
“I never sold a CD,’’ he says. “They were supposed to destroy vinyl but instead we outlasted them. Business is better than ever.
“I sell rock, jazz, reggae, rockabilly, blues, spoken word - anything good.’’ 650 Congress St., 207-773-7672, www.enterprise records.net
Allen & Walker Antiques
Their temporary space is crammed into a couple of storefronts in Longfellow Square, in the West End. Their permanent home, about twice the size, is a few blocks to the east and under construction. One side of the shop is stacked high with all things midcentury modern and industrial, the other with Japanese, European, and Chinese antiques. Today there is a pair of 18th-century Japanese Samurai stirrups for $950, a 1905 Loetz art glass vase from Austria for $750, and a yellow enamel Scandinavian tea kettle for $20.
“We buy what we like, and what we think we have customers for,’’ says co-owner Bob Walker. “Our selection is probably a bit more esoteric than other shops in Maine.’’ 684 Congress St., 207-772-8787Jonathan Levitt can be reached at www.jonathanlevitt.com.