Western New York’s Walkable Shopping Districts
The Holidays are coming and for most of us that means a trip to the mall, where we have to deal with throngs of people and crowded parking lots. Now don't get me wrong, malls are convenient, with dozens of stores under one roof and free parking. However, they can be overwhelming during the holidays, especially if you're shopping for something unique or want a more relaxing, homey atmosphere to shop in.
The good news is that there are places to shop other than the mall, and I don't mean the big discount stores. Sometimes we get so used to mall shopping that we often overlook the walkable shopping districts in the Western New York area that welcome shoppers, not only at the holidays, but year-round. Many shops in these areas are owner-operated, so you usually get personalized service.
For those of you old enough to remember, this is what life was like before the malls. If you’re not old enough to remember, picture Bedford Falls from "It's A Wonderful Life" or Mayberry and you'll get a feel for these shopping districts.
One of my favorite places to shop is East Aurora, a quaint village about 20 miles southeast of Buffalo. There are many stores and restaurants located along Main Street, including Vidler’s 5 & 10, one of East Aurora’s most beloved landmarks, which sells many unique and hard-to-find items. Another interesting place to shop is the Roycroft Copper Shop Gallery, located on the National Historic Landmark Roycroft campus, which sells items made by over 95 artisans. Other shops of note in the Greater East Aurora area include the Marilla Country Store, an old-fashioned country store that’s been in business 160 years, and the Made in America Store in Elma, which only sells 100% American made products. www.visiteastaurora.com
Another one of my favorite shopping spots is Lewiston, a historic community located along the Niagara River about 7 miles north of Niagara Falls. Browse through the many gift and antique shops, like the Country Doctor Antiques, Lewiston Hollow Mercantile, and Artzee, which has educational children’s toys. Lunch is usually on a shopping day agenda and there are many restaurants in Lewiston to choose from, including the Brickyard BBQ, Orange Cat Coffee, and Ashkers Juice Bar and Café. A fun holiday event is their annual holiday tour of homes, featuring local homes decked out for the holidays, which takes place on December 3-4. www.historiclewiston.org. Also see www.niagarariverregion.com for general area information.
Cross over the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge into Canada (passports or enhanced licenses are required), and travel a few miles north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of Ontario’s prettiest towns. There is a large concentration of shops, galleries and restaurants along Queen Street in the historic district. Stock up on holiday items at Just Christmas, get locally made jams and gourmet items at Greaves, or add to your wardrobe at one of the many clothing boutiques. The Niagara-on-the Lake Rotary Club also sponsors a holiday house tour the first weekend in December. www.niagaraonthelake.com
Even non-skiers will find plenty of reasons to visit Ellicottville, as there are many shops and restaurants located in this "ski" village about an hour south of Buffalo. Some of these shops include Alexandra (jewelry, gifts, books and more), Earth Arts (fine crafts and original art), Kazoo II (gifts and toys) and several shops selling apparel and ski items. Enjoy casual, fine dining at many restaurants and pubs. The annual Christmas in Ellicottville takes place November 25-27thwww.ellicottvilleny.com
There are several gift, antique, and specialty stores, in addition to numerous restaurants, located in the Village of Williamsville. Some of the shops include Dublin House Fine Gifts, Alexandra, and the Spotted Giraffe, as well as Ed Young's Hardware Store, which has a great gift shop in the front of the store. Some notable restaurants include the Eagle House and the Creekview. On Saturday December 3 the annual Holiday Walk, compete with a tree lighting and caroling takes place. www.willvill.com
Shopping in the city
While we don’t have a downtown Main Street shopping district in Buffalo like we had years ago, there are a couple of walkable shopping districts within the city limits: Elmwood Village and Hertel Avenue.
It would take several days to visit the over 250 shops, galleries, and restaurants located along Elmwood Avenue from Virginia Street to the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Some notable gift shops include Neo Gift Studio, Homeward Bound, and Everything Elmwood. If you’re shopping for young people, check out Treehouse Toys or Spoiled Rotten. Artisan-made jewelry can be found at Thin Ice Gift Shop and at Wild Things on Lexington Avenue. www.foreverelmwood.com
This area, Buffalo’s unofficial “Little Italy,” has a surprising amount of interesting little shops and a lot of Italian and other ethnic restaurants. Shops carry a variety of items, from gifts and fashion accessories to ethnic foods and specialty tobacco. Chateau Buffalo, the only boutique winery located within the city, is also on Hertel. www.hertel-ave.com
Shopping day trips
Sometimes you want a change scenery when shopping and go on a day trip. Here are a couple suggestions for shopping outside the Buffalo area.
Corning’s Market Street
This four-block historic district is lined with a variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants housed in 19th Century buildings. Some of my favorites include Connors Market Street Mercantile, Beyond Baskets, Imagine That, and the Corningware outlet store. Don’t forget the huge museum shop at the Corning Museum of Glass, which is filled with all sorts of unique glass items. www.gafferdistrict.com
Pittsford and Fairport
These two villages are located along the Erie Canal east of Rochester. Pittsford, the more upscale of the two, has boutique shops along State Street and Main Street. Also in Pittsford are Northfield Commons and Schoen Place, a collection of restored lumberyard buildings along the canal which now house a number of gift and specialty shops. Fairport has a number of unique shops along its Main Street, including Main Street Mercantile, which has gift items and Erie Canal related merchandise, and Lombardi’s, which has gourmet food items and specialty kitchen items. If you really need to do some mall shopping, Eastview Mall in Victor, one of my favorite malls, is a short distance away. The mall, just off exit 45 of the NYS Thruway, has over 95 stores, including 5 major department stores and close to 30 upscale retailers, like L.L. Bean.
www.pittsfordchamber.org, www.fairportmerchants.com, www.eastviewmall.com