Sure, you visit the Berkshires this time of year for the culture, quiet spaces, and natural beauty. But there’s also some surprisingly good shopping tucked into these small towns. Is it the influence of second homeowners from New York and Boston, or maybe it’s the natives’ home-grown style?
Whatever the reason, Berkshires downtowns feature clutchs of upscale independent retailers offering offbeat and interesting home decor items, smaller brands of clothing, and unique accessories, many by local and regional artisans. Luckilyfor visitors, many of these shops are clustered on the specific streets. Here are three.
Railroad Street, GREAT BARRINGTON If you’re hunting for clothing and home accessories that you won’t find in the catalogs or at the mall, this street should be on your list. Several women’s clothing and home shops, each with a different niche, line this little side street, which still has the look of a 1950s downtown. Park in the public lot up at the end of the street and walk down.
Francophiles will want to pick up a little something at Mistral’s (413-528-1618, mistralshome.com), which offers country French glass, dishware, and home decor items downstairs, and toiletries and beautifully-made French pajamas upstairs. If you have a weakness for French country glassware (and I do), this shop has a variety, including traditional La Rochere Napoleonic Bee glasses, at good prices.
When I stopped in at Church St. Trading Co. (413-528-6120), I found an outfit that was featured in that week’s Look Book in New York magazine. It’s hard to get more au courant than that. But it’s not just trendy styles here; this shop offers both men’s and women’s wear with a mostly casual bent.
Keep an eye out for one of the stars of the Indiana Jones films at Karen Allen Fiber Arts (413-528-8555, karenallen-fiberarts.com) at 8 Railroad St. She works in her studio nearby and sometimes in the shop, which offers pricey but to-die-for sweaters and other items, many one of a kind.
Byzantium, at number 32 (413-528-9496), has a huge array of knits, sweaters, dresses, and separates in natural fibers, and a big selection of Tencel clothing by Tianello. There’s also a good selection of larger sizes here.
Eye-catching but affordable Jane Marvel tote bags will pull you into Seeds and Company (413-528-8122), which also has a quirky collection of home and kitchen ware and accessories, including jewelry and scarves.
For dining, Allium Restaurant and Bar opens at 5 if you are in the mood for an early meal (413-528-2118,
alliumberkshires.com, pastas $12-
$20, main courses $14-$25). For a quick bite, try 20 Railroad Street (413-528-9345, sandwiches, salads, and burgers, $8.95-$14.95). Another good choice is Martin’sRestaurant at the top of Railroad Street (413-528-5455, martinsgreatbarrington.com, $3.95 for eggs and toast, $10.95 for the chef’s salad), which serves breakfast and lunch until 3.
Main Street, STOCKBRIDGE This downtown has changed a good deal since it served as the model for Norman Rockwell’s classic painting, “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” although the grand Red Lion Inn still sits like a white clapboard ocean liner at the head of the street. Back then, Stockbridge had a traditional New England downtown, complete with its own grocery store. Today the streetscape is still a pleasant one, but you won’t find much that you really need.
Unless you really need curtains. And if you really think about it, you probably do. So head into the Red Lion Inn, and make your way down the creaky old hallway just past the Tavern, and you’ll find yourself in the flagship store of Country Curtains (800-937-1237, countrycurtains.com). From the outside, you would hardly know it is there, but inside, this shop is a massive home decor fantasyland, great for wandering and picking up ideas. On display are all kinds of home furnishings, many items made at the company’s factory in the Berkshires. Bring your window measurements and grab a few swatches and a catalog.
At the other end of the Red Lion, don’t overlook the inn’s gift shop, which offers an eclectic range of jewelry and accessories, many one-of-a-kind and made in the Berkshires or nearby.
Lunch in the inn’s old-money dining room should be on every New Englander’s bucket list (413-298-5545, redlioninn.com, salads and sandwiches $10-$16, entrees include chicken pot pie $17, and pan seared trout $19). If you’re not inclined for a meal, grab a rocking chair on the porch and fortify yourself with a cold beverage.
If you’re picnicking, Daily Bread Bakery across the street offers prepared foods, baguettes, and one-layer cakes that make for a good quick dessert (31 Main St., 413-298-0272).
Church Street, LENOX
There’s a good Talbot’s at the top but this street is home to a couple of other good women’s fashion shops, most prominently, The Purple Plume (413-637-3442, thepurpleplume.com). This shop offers a very interesting collection of nicely-priced women’s clothing, accessories, and shoes, in a wide range of sizes, including plus sizes. Here you’ll find a lot of unusual and one-of-a-kind pieces in interesting fabrics, along with a big selection of contemporary-styled jewelry.
Just across the street SWTRS opened in the spring. It’s a small shop, but has a nice selection of well-made sweaters.
You can’t visit Lenox without stopping to look at the crazy sculpture garden created by local artist Tom Fiorini, whose very funny found-object sculptures add a pop of color and culture to the street (lenox.org/tom-fiorini-sculpture-garden).
And nearby is a new store, Second Home (413-551-7050). Owner Suzannah Van Schaick, a former designer for Pottery Barn, recently moved to the Berkshires from Philadelphia; she and her husband set up shop in May, stocking it with a mix of old furniture and new accessories.
“We have always bought second hand, and these old pieces mix in really well,” she says.
“In the Berkshires there are lots of antiques stores and a lot of junk shops, but no home style stores. We wanted to make a place where we’d really want to shop.”
Lunch at Bistro Zinc at 56 Church St. is a pleasure for its Parisian decor and good food (413-637-8800, bistrozinc.com). On a sunny fall afternoon when the windows are open, it can be heavenly, and the steak frites for $15 at lunch is a pretty good deal. (Lunch $11-$15, dinner entrees include coq au vin $24, pan roasted halibut $31.)B. J. Roche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.