What do witches, lobsters and thrift stores all have in common? They’re all found north of Boston on a thrift trip to the northeast thrift stores of the lovely Cape Ann area. Having only been to Boston on a prior trip to New England, I was really excited to visit Salem (aka Witch City) and some of the seaport communities along Boston’s north shore – en route to my friend Kathy’s wedding in New Hampshire. While we missed the fall foliage by a few weeks, in true junkie fashion, we did not miss any of the thrift stores. And, I can’t think of a better time of year than pre-Hallows Eve to share some of my hauntingly good thrifting finds with you.
Our thrift trip begins in Salem, Massachusetts which is less than an hour north of Boston, as the witch flies. I’ve had a life-long curiosity with Salem and all things witchy. It must have something to do with being born in the moody month of November, and all those Summer afternoons as a kid reading about poltergeists and riding bikes along Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach with my ghost-bustin’ best friend, spying on the biggest, spookiest looking houses and trying to figure out which one could be haunted. I’m a sucker for all things mysterious, curious and spooky.
Salem is a much bigger place than existed in my imagination –it’s practically a full blown City–with oodles of nods to it’s witchy history, odes to fine art (a surprise) and some actual quaintness. After the mandatory breakfast at Red’s Sandwich Shop, we sauntered over to the Salem Witch Museum, which is practically a requirement when you are a tourist in this town. Here you’ll experience the dramatic, historical reenactment of the Witch Trials of 1692, that includes the unfortunate hanging of our good friend Tahd’s ancestor, John Proctor. He was one of the twenty people who were put to death after being accused of witchcraft, and whose life was later dramatized in the movie, Crucible.
After sauntering off the broomstick-worn path, we ventured into the Peabody Essex Museum -which wasn’t scary at all – and which had some fascinating exhibits, like Yin Yu Tang an actual Qing dynasty merchant’s home that was amazingly shipped, piece by piece from southeastern China and set up on the grounds of the museum. It’s an incredible opportunity to get a glimpse of what daily life was like for the Huang family who lived in the home from 1800 to 1982. With the help of some headphones and a woman with a nice voice describing each room to you, you get a real feel for what daily life in China must have been like. And, in an unrelated note, for you fashionistas out there, there is currently a really great exhibit here on Hats by Stephen Jones, the milliner to the stars.
Hundreds of vintage and otherwise whimsical hats were the perfect things to admire to get the thrifting juices flowing. As it turns out, Salem has a good thrift store, as does Gloucester, Manchester by the Sea, and other points north, but our favorites, by far, were in the quintessentially New England town of Marblehead.
After a hearty bowl of clam chowder, we got our thrift on in Marblehead’s finest. While most people probably visit this tony town to gaze admiringly at it’s seaside mansions and frolic in its clear blue waters, we thrifted. At the Magic Hat Thrift Shop, supporting Marblehead schools, you can buy a gorgeous lilac evening gown for one dollar next to a rack of designer jeans. This clean, well-organized thrift store is underneath the gym at Marblehead Middle School, so occasionally you’ll hear the pitter patter of students running across the gym floor overhead, which closely resembles the rumblings of an earthquake.
Thrifting while traveling can be not only money-saving, but educational. You really begin to notice the regional differences in merchandise. I noticed a lot of household items I wouldn’t ordinarily find in a West Coast thrift store, like pewter candlesticks and colonial furniture. See kids, thrifting is educational.
And, this story would not be complete without telling you about my newest addiction: fresh lobster. In the cute little town of Rockport, Mass, we discovered the town’s best kept secret, Roy Moore’s Lobster Company. They don’t have a website, and it’s not a fancy place, but it’s, hands down, the freshest, tastiest lobster I’ve ever had. Here’s a photo of the owner, Ken, with his self-titled, “Lobster Bouquet.”
The other thing I noticed on this trip was how friendly people were in these small towns. There was a real feeling of community. Someone would walk into a restaurant and spend fifteen minutes chatting with the owner. And, after nearly ruining a pristine white antique quilt at the gorgeous Beech Tree Bed & Breakfast, after my hot pink pen exploded all over it, the kind innkeeper Helene says, “I don’t want this to ruin your vacation.” (Thankfully, the ink came out with the help of some Oxyclean, but I still can’t believe how gracious they were about it). Maybe these are happy observations one makes while on vacation because one’s own life slows down enough that you can appreciate the simpler things.
Or, maybe there is a difference living in a small town where people seem to know each other and take time out of their day to strike up a conversation. Where common courtesies are still observed because you can’t be as anonymous as you can living, as we do, in a big city. Maybe I’m romanticizing life in a small town, but either way, it was fun to get a glimpse of life in these salt-sprayed coastal towns on the East Coast and fantasize about chucking it all in search of a simpler life. A life where you can lick your lips and literally taste the fresh salt air. Where you can buy an evening dress for a buck and three, fresh-off-the-boat whole lobsters with melted butter for $24.99 and eat it on a picnic bench with a wooden fork. And, where you can feel the long length of a day and the warm sun on your face while sitting on a bench overlooking the sea. At least, until winter sets in…
Cape Ann Thrift StoresMarblehead Magic Hat Thrift Shop 217 Pleasant Street Marblehead, MA 01945 (781) 639-3120 X. 5113 Hours: Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Proceeds benefit Marblehead schools http://www.magichatthriftshop.com/ Lighthouse Thrift Shop 149 Pleasant Street Marblehead, MA 01945 (781) 631-2400 Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children http://www.mspcc.org/ St. Michael’s Thrift Shop Davenport House (first floor)
20 Pleasant Street Marblehead, MA 01945 (781) 631-0657 Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Proceeds benefit St. Michael’s Episcopal Church programs http://www.stmichaels1714.org/thrift_shop.htm Salem Lifebridge Thrift Store 47 Canal Street Salem, MA 01970 (978) 745-2459 Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Proceeds go towards providing resources for ending homelessness http://www.lifebridgesalem.org
And for a wonderfully comprehensive listing of Boston’s North Shore Thrift Shops, click here.