Northampton, Massachusetts is a vibrant New England city with a town-like feel, offering pleasures to locals and tourists alike (everyone’s getting priced out. Whalen’s Office Supply got pushed to the margins of town before it folded). Restaurants like the Blue Flame, serving an eclectic mix of gourmet burgers and Cajun dishes (damn, what happened to the Blue Flame? Now there’s some fancy Argentinian steak house there. They had the best Cajun burgers with a side of dirty rice in its own little bowl. And we’d get fancy root beer and put a dollar in that vintage jukebox full of classic blues. Ah, listening to Billie Holiday and eating dirty rice), mix with veggie stalwarts like Paul and Elizabeth’s, (man, since I gave up soy I can’t handle the food at P&E’s anymore, I get all bloated and dizzy) located in the beautifully remodeled Thornes Marketplace.
Thornes, once a textile mill, with soaring ceilings and varnished wood floors, houses four stories of welcoming stores and cozy artists’ studios. (Yuppieville!) Grandparents never fail to make a stop at the Mulberry Tree, a children’s clothing and toy store with a fully equipped Brio train table and rows and rows of shiny racecars, (how much money did we drop at this place?) not to mention Groovy Girls with their plush pets and canopied beds, and a music corner full of instruments, CD’s and board books. (Sigh. An upscale women’s clothing store just feels wrong in the spot Mulberry Tree once occupied—out of reach leather boots costing over $200, mini dresses on mini headless mannequins, expensive handbags of a kind I’ve never seen used by anyone from Northampton.)
Shop at Faces, the headshop turned everything shop, with a funky mix of housewares, hipster apparel, and gifts for all ages. (Quick, somebody buy Faces before it closes for good!) Country Comfort offers a beautiful selection of women’s clothing and jewelry in that youthful but grounded Northampton style. (That lovely woman who used to find just the right scarf or blouse to match the handmade earrings you chose for your best friend died of cancer last year, and the men’s clothing store in its spot can’t come close to Country Comfort’s sweet window displays.)
Stop by Bart’s for homemade ice cream in many flavors—Orange Dutch Chocolate is a favorite— and a wide variety of fair trade coffees. (New owners drove Bart’s into the ground and now it’s a boring old pizza place with stale desserts.)
Disclaimer: I am fully aware that the spots I miss likely replaced spots someone else misses, and I still love Northampton, but change is a bitch.