Whenever we go to Bar Harbor, Maine, I always hope for one rainy morning or afternoon that I can justify spending time playing tourist, poking around in the shops downtown by myself. Non-rainy days are spent strolling with the dogs or biking through the carriage trails, hiking, ocean absorbing, and in the summer, swimming. (More on all of those less consumer driven activities in another post.)
This trip gave me several rainy days to choose from. Evan's family (our hosts) has become increasingly wary of "going into town" over the past several years, now that Bar Harbor has become a cruise ship destination. I can't say I blame them. Every time my eyes try to register their gargantuan presence in the quaint port, my first reaction is a mortified "What the hell is THAT?"
Bar Harbor's quaint, lovely little port.
This is bad enough...
...but this is just disgusting. Can you see the pretty little sailboat in the foreground, completely dwarfed by the cruise ship?
Photos taken last summer.
So I shouldn't have been surprised at how bustling all the shops were on a dreary, cool day in October - apparently, thanks to the cruise ships, tourist season is longer these days than in the past. While tourism dollars make coastal Maine's world go round, negotiating herds of some of the slowest moving people on earth as they try to hunt down the cheapest lobstah in town (whether to eat on a roll, buy splayed across a souvenir t-shirt, or cast in rubber ... and yes, the tourists like to pronounce it as they think every Maine native would) is an exhausting exercise for "natives". If it weren't for the Hannaford grocery store, and handful of other necessary services located downtown, most natives probably wouldn't set foot downtown anytime from Memorial Day through the end of October.
For the most part, shops in downtown Bar Harbor are crammed with mostly the same stuff, crammed with people mostly looking for the same types of souvenirs. There are a few exceptions though, and In the Woods (located at 160 Main Street) may be my favorite. The first thing you notice when you walk in the shop is the awesome smell of unadulterated cut wood, and then how soothing and aesthetically pleasing the shop is as a whole.
It is not crammed full of stuff, and shoppers have plenty of space to take everything in. It feels like you are exploring the wood shop in someone's house - a perfectly rustic and cozy house with lots of exposed brick and, of course, wood. The kind of place that you want to pad around in a pair of Acorn slipper socks, sipping hot cider or mulled wine by the fire before retiring to a cold but cozy bedroom scattered with braided rugs, with an antique iron framed bed covered in layers and layers of heavy quilts... you get the idea.
There are bins of simple carved wood trinkets and doodads -
- and shelves of adorable children's toys. I wanted to snatch up these wooden lobster boats for my niece and all of my friends' children. But alas, the unemployment budget fairy on my shoulder whispered "Next year, Amanda, next year."
They also have a well curated collection of interesting imported items.
Beautiful decorated washboards from China.
Baskets from Pakistan.
Cozy Hazara socks from Pakistan.
Wooden print blocks - not sure where from.
It is the only store I visit downtown where I have to exercise serious willpower. I walked around with a very reasonably priced, locally crafted paddle style bread board for a long time before deciding that I could live without it until next summer/fall when we return.
What I could not pass up were the hand shaped and etched antique brass lassi cups from India, ranging in price from $20-24 (I had never seen them before, but my instincts told me this was a fair price - confirmed when I looked them up online and found them being sold here and here, starting at $50 a piece). They are no longer considered food safe, but I thought they would make gorgeous flower vases. I bought two of them (rationalizing that they were unlikely to be there next season), seen here at home with some cuttings from one of our hydrangea bushes.
Here are some other shops downtown worth checking out, among the dozens of run of the mill tourist shops and shops carrying goods most people can get back home (my rule for a souvenir is either that it was crafted by someone locally, or that I cannot easily get it back home):
For any readers who have been to Bar Harbor, what are some of your favorite shops?