IS IT POSSIBLE to visit Savannah, Georgia, and not eat at Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons? Yes, indeed. Try Sapphire Grill, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room or the Olde Pink House instead–unless you like trolling through a gift shop where it seems everything is emblazoned with “Butter, Y’all or “Hey, Y’all.”
But is it possible to visit Savannah and miss some nice shopping? Yes to that too–unless you figure out pretty quickly that the places close to the water are specializing in tourist stuff, T-shirts and the like. Of course you’re a tourist too. But a discerning one. One who would like to experience the quieter retail pleasures of this wonderful city.
Savannah does have its contrasts. For one thing, the beautifully preserved, leafy squares that provide the grid of the historic core residential district are moody, nice and shady in the heat of the spring and summer, a pleasure to stroll around. The blazingly sunny commercial core is quite different. The late-19th-century and early-20th-century brick buildings have a half-baked appearance–are they abandoned and on the downturn, or are they about to be turned around? (Perhaps poised somewhere in between.) Only the faded advertising signs painted on their sides hint at how bustling this area must have been some 60, 70 years ago. For now, it’s hit or miss. West Broughton Street is kind of like a kid with a few teeth knocked out–there is Leopold’s Ice Cream (almost 100 years old now and you will know it by the line out the door; it moves quickly) and there are some interesting shops (and a few standard “name brand” places like Michael Kors) and then next door will be an empty showroom with a weird little car in it. Why? Who knows?
I’ve listed a few places that I found that were fun and worth wandering through. Are their offerings unique? No, not really. But vacations seem to require strolling, and strolling leads to browsing, and we all know where that leads. Here are some places my credit card led me.
One more question about shopping in Savannah: Is it possible to leave town without buying at least one Southern cookbook? My advice: Don’t even try.
P W SHORT
Scot Hinson opened his “general store” this past March, naming it P W Short after his grandfather, who owned several Southern States stores, rural general stores that sold everything from cowboy boots to food. (Today, of course, the Southern States website has its own blog, where agronomists and others share farming info.)
But Hinson’s shop whittles down-home utilitarian tools into high style, starting with floorboards given a glam touch with black and white paint.
The store owes more than a little to Hinson’s sense of design and steely-eyed editing. There’s one–count ’em, one–lawn mower, and it’s a reel push mower. But Hinson has found what he thinks is the best one, by Fiskars (the Finnish company with the trademarked orange handles on their scissors; $199). The one type of pruning shears is also by Fiskars. There’s one traditional corn husk broom ($7) and a black synthetic broom ($19) good for outdoors, including water messes. He also has “the best” oyster-shucking knife ($70), a solid stainless-steel number designed by Dutch shucking champion Chef Marcel Schouwenaar and produced in Solingen, Germany.
“I’ve tried to take that historic rural [store] and put it in an urban setting,” choosing things that city dwellers need for gardening and home and even food. (There must be a city ordinance in Savannah that requires all shops to carry Southern cookbooks! Hinson owes his selection, in part, to his friendship with his “mentor,” cookbook author John Martin Taylor, owner of Hoppin’ John’s.)
I wandered into P W Short a week or two after it had opened and met not Scot but his mom, who was minding the store for the afternoon. “I told him I think [the store] should just be named ‘The Best.’ ” Mom has a point.
PW Short, General Store, 414 Whitaker Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-349-6378; pwshort.com
ONE FISH TWO FISH
Walking into One Fish Two Fish somehow feels like home. Not my home, mind you, but a more serene, better-appointed home. Scented candles, gold sunbursts on a wall, blue and white in textiles and in packaged bath products. Watery turquoise glowing on some of the walls.
Jennifer Beaufait Grayson bought a computer and started a shop downtown in 1998, on Broughton Street, but soon moved to Whitaker, because she found that her customers were here. Makes sense: Savannah residents don’t need to go downtown to Leopold’s for ice cream every day (though I don’t know how they resist), or down to the river to buy T-shirts and penny candy; but they do need a source for well-styled things for the home, from Lacefield pillows (indoors in neutrals, $163 to $212; more colorful outdoor pillows, $150 to $188) and bed linens to Savannah Bee body butter ($13 and $25 sizes) and Volcano brand paraffin-soy candles ($16 and $28 sizes). One of the first shops in the city’s Downtown Design District, One Fish Two Fish also carries patterned-textile bags and wristlets ($28 to $198) and well-priced jewelry by Spartina 449, of Daufuskie Island, another celebrant of the Lowcountry lifestyle. And, yes, there are Southern cookbooks, like “Mrs. Rowe’s little book of Southern Pies.”
There’s no real explanation for the name of the shop. As Grayson acknowledges on the shop’s website, the name “reminds me of my coastal childhood on St. Simon’s Island and is a playfully catchy name that I thought would stick in customers’ heads.” Amen.
One Fish Two Fish, 401 Whitaker Street. Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-447-4600; www.onefishstore.com
THE PARIS MARKET
I’m sure there are people who would run screaming from The Paris Market and Brocante. I would not be one of them; I would like to move in. The key to why is in the word “brocante,” the French term for second-hand things less pedigreed than “antiques,” often older than “vintage”–in practice, a jumble of stuff to sift through for hours. And hours.
Housed on two levels on Savannah’s main commercial drag, West Broughton Street, The Paris Market calls itself “a storehouse of treasures.” Over here, afternoon tea settings and lovely Bellocq teas, over there a taxidermied wildcat. You just never know what’s going to cross your line of vision. There’s old stuff (that cat hasn’t been prowling for quite some time now; hey, maybe it’s not even for sale–I neglected to ask!) and new, including striped ceramic “au lait” bowls ($14) and Proraso brushes and shaving creams from Italy ($10 to $19). You’re probably going to wind up with a silver-plated mint julep cup ($32) or a mini stuffed Bubbles the Cat (cotton, $44), handmade in Peru, but it will be the odd, funky, boho trappings that captivate you (like that crusty old tin kitchen canister marked “Pepper”).
The brainchild of owner Paula Danyluk and husband Taras, The Paris Market shops all around the world so the rest of us can wait for the world to come to us. Some treasures are, of course, made in these here United States, such as the Coast to Coaster set of four coasters fashioned from Baltic birch and shaped like the East Coast, West Coast, “North Coast” and Gulf Coast ($36 for the set of four). Some things are quite useful, such as a variety of industrial-looking light fixtures made up of those nostalgic Thomas Edison-looking filament light bulbs (a single-bulb minimalist desk lamp is $68). All in all, it’s a whole lot of fun.
The Paris Market, 36 W. Broughton Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-232-1500; theparismarket.com
NUMBER FOUR ELEVEN
I don’t quite understand it, but walking into Number Four Eleven inspired me to have a whole set of lunch napkins monogrammed. Maybe it’s the spools of colorful thread on one wall, or the beautifully made bed that shows off Sferra and Matouk linens and comfy-looking pillows. In fact, you can buy that stately (but slightly whimsical) Ferret Bed by California-based Noir ($2,880 in queen size, in mahogany with a hand-rubbed black finish) at Number Four Eleven. Claire Lindley Reeve and Courtland Smith Stevens opened the shop, named for its street address in the Downtown Design District, in 2006, offering linens for table and bed, home accessories, and gifts for him, her and the baby. They will also fill visitors’ ears with tales of Savannah real estate, retailing and anything else you may want to know (everything!).
Number Four Eleven, 411 Whitaker Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-443-0065; www.numberfoureleven.com
The Savannah College of Art and Design has had a profound effect on Savannah, buying up buildings and repurposing them, attracting artistic talent and exposing residents to the creative kids who go there. shopSCAD displays the creative outpourings of the college’s staff, faculty, students and alumni. There’s everything here from ceramic platters to earthy leather satchels to fine photography and painting, the occasional piece of furniture, and some very creative clothing. This is another shop that requires patience and time if you’re to get a full understanding of the range. SCAD students even made the ornaments for the White House Christmas tree in 2010.
shopSCAD, 340 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-525-5180; shopscad.com.
THE CARRIAGE HOUSE SHOP
This is the shop attached to the Mercer Williams house, you know, the one made famous in John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Someone does some really great buying for this jam-packed little place, especially the clever gift books and coffee table books (and yes, some Southern cookbooks). I walked out with a book detailing all the incredible historic home restorations done by Jim Williams, sadly now known mostly for his murder trials.
Other than the books, there is little here that is specific to the Mercer Williams house beyond several versions of the “Bird Girl” statue photographed for the “Midnight” book (from 15 inches tall for $119 to 37 inches tall for $449). All I know is I bought books and several of my friends walked out with new straw hats (they looked good, too!).
Dorothy Kingery, sister to the late Jim Williams, and her daughters have made the house their primary residence, but they open the main floor, beautifully maintained, to small tour groups.
The Carriage House Shop, 430 Whitaker Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-236-6352; mercerhouse.com.
This is home turf for Circa Lighting, which now has a very respectable presence in Washington. So you don’t have to travel to Savannah to buy nickel-plated Deco wall sconces or burnished-brass Georgian-style chandeliers. (Actually, you never did: Circa has been selling online and by catalogue for years.) But it’s nice to see elephants in their natural setting; the same applies here. And there’s an annex too.
Circa Lighting, 405 Whitaker Street, Savannah, Georgia; 912-447-1008; circalighting.com.