I don't know what really drove me to do this, but Anastasia and I (and eventually Liam) had a great day getting to know some local businesses that we haven't been to before.
Do you cruise your local town's scene? I have to admit that I don't always do so. We live off a pretty big road. North (toward the kids' school and the three major grocery stores I frequent) are pretty much all the strip-mall chain stores you can imagine. Nail places, chain restaurants, cellular stores, it's all there. I'm not complaining, there's a Panera a stone's throw from the school, as well as two drive-through pharmacies, one on the left AND one on the right.
South of us is the rest of the chain stores you can imagine, big box retailers, a hospital, and an outdoor mall with all the OTHER chain stores (gap, anne taylor, B&N) that you might think I'd be missing out on. Not so much.
It's nice to have all this retail ease so close at hand, but it's pretty impersonal, the strip-mall view of things.
So today after we dropped Liam at his Steel Beam Theater Summer Camp (haven't seen the final play but oh my goodness Liam is loving this camp. Highly recommend. He's adorable and I love seeing his confidence and the way he uses his whole body to say his lines.) Anastasia and I did a little walk to see what some of the shops along St. Charles' downtown First Street, which has recently been redeveloped quite a lot.
First, there's a couple of new businesses. We stopped in at Rx Cafe, which I had thought was a good coffee opportunity for me, but they're more of a sit-down place (not a "grab a cup of joe to go" kind of thing, though I'm sure they would have been able to accomodate me if i had asked.) It's a tapas restaurant, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they're offering Tapas for $5. I scanned the menu and there are plenty of fabulous-sounding dishes on it (including plenty of vegetarian options, something I'm always looking for since the whole family is meatless. We do dairy and eggs, very occasional fish, but no meat.)
From there we headed south on 1st to see what new storefronts were open along that route, and stopped in at the Il Giardino del Dolce Italian bakery. I have to say I wish they'd pick a simpler name, so I'm just going to refer to it as the Italian bakery...hope everyone can keep up. They had an AWESOME selection of cakes, cookies, treats and confections. Crazy big display cases just full of fantastic looking treats. They also had a nice big gelato cooler. We tried a taste but it was 9 AM, way too early for an actual serving of gelato (for this particular day, at least.) They also offered breads and baked goods, as well as pre-packaged take home heat and eat meals. We ended up coming back later for gelato (note: check their hours. As of this writing, they're only open late Fri/Sat/Sun, the rest of the week they close at 4 or 5.) and I bought some of the pre-made dishes for dinner. We had stuffed shells and a rotolo with spinach and they were both excellent, as was the loaf of ciabatta. Prices were high but reasonable ($3/small gelato which was really quite large, $2.50/ciabatta loaf which fed the whole family.)
Then the find I'm most excited about, we kept heading south and went to the Arcedium Coffeehouse on 1st, just across from the Blue Goose grocery store. The coffeehouse was like a writer's dream, a bar area (low/regular chair-height) as well as many many tables. The place was abuzz (ha) and many tables were full. There were easily visible power outlets throughout the room, including at the coffee bar. Southwest corner, bright and cheery in the morning but no direct sunlight (I wonder how the room fares in afternoon sun...)
They offer some foodstuffs, a meeting room, and several coffees each day. The one I had (forgot the name already) was excellent, best cup of coffee I've had that I can recall. I'm only recently into coffee so I may have a skewed perception, but I find Pike's Place roast at Starbucks a little too bitter for me, if that helps. I'm not a bold coffee person, but I like there to be some flavor. This was excellent, I really enjoyed it. A medium size was $2 even, and if I were staying at the coffeehouse, the woman who took my order let me know I'd be able to get free refills on the medium size (you know, in a real stoneware mug, which I just love.) I'm already planning my next trip.
Later, on a whim and a good memory that Thursday at 10 they were open, we stopped at the Sweet Home Organics farmstand on Crane Road just south of Bolcum and Red Gate (on the Primrose Farm property.) They had zucchini and yellow squash, beets, the last of the lettuces, peppers, dill, cilantro, green onions, cucumbers, and a bunch of other things I'm sure I've forgotten. The farmstand is cute and also sells Roseberry's Soaps, which all smell heavenly.
We did all this and it was only 10:30! (and I didn't even mention the trip to the Comcast store we made to return all their equipment, and the failed stop at the animal shelter, where they keep mostly afternoon hours. Didn't realize, but we were passing and I thought it was worth checking.)
So my challenge to you is - go out into your town (or one nearby) and find one new place--new to you, doesn't matter if it's been there 50 years, but if you haven't been in it, go. Try it out. See what you think.
I can't tell you how great it was to spend time today meeting person after person who works right here in my town, feels pride in the product they're selling, and seems genuinely happy. That by far was the best part of the day. Can't recall the last time I felt that from a someone in one of the strip mall chain restaurants.