America’s retail landscape isn’t what it used to be. Thanks in large part to the popularity of online shopping, bricks-and-mortar stores are fading fast. Once-great names like Sears and J.C. Penney are on the ropes. Malls have been hollowed out or abandoned altogether. Many Main Streets across Middle America are strips of boarded-up storefronts.
The statistics are grim, but all is not lost. Not every town’s shopping landscape looks like the set of a dystopian video game. If you still long for the good old days when you could touch and feel something before handing over your credit card, here are seven cities that have managed to preserve their shopping bona fides and are worth considering as you plan your next vacation or weekend getaway.
Outfitter L.L. Bean put this coastal town north of Portland on the map more than 100 years ago, and continues to dominate the shopping landscape. The flagship store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is surrounded by outlet shops of all stripes and sizes — from Coach leather to J. Crew to Orvis — that attract some 3 million visitors a year to one of New England’s most popular shopping meccas
Santa Fe, N.M.
For obvious reasons, Santa Fe is a hotbed of all-things-Southwest — bolo ties, turquoise jewelry and anything related to Native American artistry. But it’s also much, much more. Canyon Road is packed with art galleries of all kinds, the area’s flea markets are full of one-of-a-kind finds, and the up-and-coming Railyard District has no shortage of eclectic boutiques and unusual gift and curio shops.
Charleston pops up on many best-of-USA lists, and for good reason. Temperatures are mild in the nonsummer months, there are world-class restaurants and the compact historic center remains eminently walkable. Downtown shopping centers around King Street, the south end of which is chock-a-block with high-end antique shops and the middle and upper reaches of which are full of eclectic, independent retailers and buzzy restaurants and bars.
Music City’s rise in popularity as a tourist destination has brought with it a wealth of shopping opportunities for the hordes of weekend visitors. Among the bars and music venues on Lower Broadway, known as Honky Tonk Highway, are scores of music- and country-related curio shops, including the famous Acme Feed and Seed. In nearby Marathon Village, a block of century-old automotive warehouses has been converted to an eclectic shopping district, and the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood is the setting for microbreweries and boutique distilleries, retro clothing and memorabilia shops, and the legendary Lucchese bootmakers.
The bohemian vibe of this Midwest college town means its streets are not littered with the usual array of chain stores. Instead, head to Madison in search of the unusual. The pedestrianized State Street area downtown has an eclectic collection of shops, and Monroe Street features scores of shops specializing in knickknacks from around the world. And, this being Wisconsin, there is no shortage of cheese shops.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Another hot spot for eclectic finds, this coastal city south of San Francisco is the birthplace of the venerated beachwear brand O’Neill. Everything from bikinis and board shorts to surfboards and wet suits are offered at its store on the boardwalk downtown. Beyond the boardwalk, visitors will find independent bookstores, home-furnishings stores with a cool, West Coast vibe, and boutiques full of small, local labels you won’t find anywhere else.
If antiques are your thing, make a beeline for Pennsylvania’s Dutch country. Billing itself as “Antiques Capital USA,” Adamstown (pop. 1,789) claims to host more than 5,000 dealers in shops, malls and flea markets in the town and surrounding areas of Lancaster County. Places to start include Stoudts Black Angus Antiques Mall, where they also brew beer, and the Mad Hatter Antique Mall, with more than 100 booths full of furniture, collectibles and vintage jewelry. During its thrice-yearly Extravaganzas, even more dealers cram into the seven-mile stretch of Route 272.