Concord by Foot: A Pedestrian-Friendly Three-Hour Tour of Capital City
Story and photos By Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
It’s been more than four years since Concord started to reconfigure its Main Street to make it more pedestrian-friendly. We decided to see just how that was working out and took a tour — a three-hour tour.
The deadline for our walkabout was the maximum time allowed by a downtown parking meter, but we won’t complain if you consider it an homage to “Gilligan’s Island.” What we found out? Concord has become not just a place for locals, but a retail resort for people of all ages from all over the state.
“There certainly are a lot more people out walking,” said Laura Miller, owner of Marketplace New England and supporter of local artists and makers, and all things local.
Apparently even what were once thought of as “mall moles” have seen the light – the sunlight rather than fluorescent light that is.
“We see a lot more teenagers now,” another shopkeeper said.
“I think public art has certainly made an impact. We are seeing more visitors and more young people,” Miller said.
“There are a lot more shoppers from the lower part of the state. It is as if we’ve just been discovered by people from southern New Hampshire.”
She said during weekdays there is also a lunchtime rush.
“A lot of people who work downtown who used to eat at their desks are now out and walking,” she said.
Our mission exactly. We parked on the east side of Main Street between Gibson’s Bookstore and Red River Theatres and headed north on foot. We’re huge art-film fans, and while we couldn’t make an hour-and-a-half movie time work with our three-hour limit, we did stop to check the listings at our favorite independent theater – for a post-walk screening.
There were no fewer than five choices of movies to see after 5 p.m. – a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if ever there were one. And we definitely will make the annual “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening, which will be held Friday, Oct. 25 and Saturday, Oct. 26, and will include “naughty pre-show games, a costume contest, photo booth, prizes, and prop bags with rubber gloves, water pistols and noisemakers. Tickets available at redrivertheatres.org
But first we needed a little fuel for our lift-off. So, we backed up a bit and visited Bread and Chocolate European-style bakery and shared a cup of steaming coffee and a piece of the eponymous bread and chocolate, or pain au chocolat.
Then it was out on Main Street, with its wide sidewalks, public art and flowering plants. Esthetic attention has been paid to the most utilitarian aspects of a city street. Trash cans and public benches are objects d’art — garnet-colored canisters and seats decorated with organically shaped cutouts suggesting reaching branches. And bicycle racks look like huge, red lollipops lined up along the street.
Pocket parks are decorated with works of art, including larger-than-life steel sculptures like the silvery “O” on the west side of Main Street, which frames views of the east side; “Tape Deco,” by Rob Lorenson; and David Skora’s colorful “Harlequin” to name a few.
We chose not to bring Kiki the Wonder Mutt with us, but there is no doubt that the street is dog-friendly, and several shopkeepers have water stations in front of their shops.
To accompany our walk, was music, lots of music. City-sanctioned longtime buskers like saxophonist Domenic DiNardo, whose bluesy strains can be heard in various spots on Main Street, including the acoustically awesome plaza in front of Red River and O’Steaks and Seafood South. And singer-guitar player, Kevin Clark, who was one of the first street performers on Main Street, banging out the best of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, including a heartfelt rendition of Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” during our three-hour tour.
Nice playlist for shopping local. We stopped in at Capitol Craftsman Romance Jewelers looking for birthday cards and gifts for the whole fam. We are greeting card snobs and feel many stores have pretty limited selections that are, well… generic.
We have to say this place has the best selection of unusual cards we’ve ever seen — the ones we bought were even printed on recyclable paper with vegetable-based ink and created in New Hampshire. And yes, there were plenty of gift choices as well, from tail-wagging animal clocks and handcrafted spoons on the Craftsman side to bangin’ bling on the Romance Jewelers side.
Pompanoosuc Mills, 38 North Main St., with its exquisite high-end wooden furniture is the stuff of fantasy. It’s like walking through a craft museum, except you can actually buy and use what’s displayed.
And we fell in love with a figurative wall clay sculpture called “Keepers of the Earth” by Lydia Grey at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Concord Fine Craft Gallery at 36 North Main.
But urban hikers can’t live by art alone. We also indulged in our love of entertaining and baking leading us right through the door of Things Are Cooking, a kitchen supply store at 74 North Main. We love an independent cooking store — with its carefully curated collection of pots and pans, gadgets and exquisite kitchen linens.
At least one of us was thrilled to check out Zoë & Co. at 92 North Main. There isn’t a woman around who wouldn’t want to be professionally fitted for a bra, and, with the friendly and good-humored staff and cool lingerie and accessories, this short visit was a blast.
After that we needed a little refreshment to keep us going until lunch. We stopped for a green iced tea with lavender lemonade and a whole wheat, dark chocolate and sea salt cookie at Revelstoke Coffee, directly across the street from the Statehouse. It’s hip and urbane with “telephone booth” charging stations, brick walls and a small but perfected menu of drinks and snacks.
Soon we were walking past the ornate iron arch at Eagle Square and stopped at the historic clock tower. The clock was originally stored in the Board of Trade Building at School and North Main streets in 1873 and struck hourly in the key of G, but eventually the clock was taken down and its location was unknown.
Then in 1998, after a group of city residents tracked it down to a location in the Midwest then raised money, it was restored and reinstalled on its current site “for the people of Concord.” Nearby in Eagle Square other remnants of the city’s lost and luxe architecture are installed on brick walls.
Next stop was the Crust & Crumb Baking Co., 126 North Main, where we grabbed a baguette for dinner later that night, which wasn’t to say we were not tempted by their choice of pastries like the chocolate torte for a dessert.
OK, we were so excited by our next stop – Fifty Home at 134 North Main, where not only is everything in the store made in America but everything sold is carefully curated for its coolness quotient. And yes, there is something sold from each of the country’s 50 states.
On our tour, we couldn’t take our eyes or hands off the Badass Babes quilt made in Minnesota and featuring the face of 100 – you guessed it – bad-ass women of the past and present from Sonia Sotomayor to Patty Smith and Sojourner Truth.
Time to cross Main Street and head south. We had to stop and stare at our beautiful, golden-domed Statehouse with a convenient and well-illustrated map of downtown Concord, its attractions and a key for a walking tour of historic Concord.
Then it was off for more window and real shopping. We ducked into brick-and-flower bedecked Capital Plaza where a few new clothing boutiques are tucked away. Like its sister store in Contoocook, the presentation of the one-of-a-kind women’s fashions at Indigo Blues & Co. are as hip as the clothes. A clever use of industrial antiques, wooden and steel carts and such, fit right into this this corner of the city.
Next store was Arnaldo Joseph, which advertises itself as a “luxe fashion boutique.” We were tempted to hop right over to True Brew Barista in Capital Plaza for a quick cappuccino, but we already had our share of caffeine, and, besides, we were heading to 13 Warren St., to Granite State Candy Shoppe established in 1927, to pick up a box of hand-made Swiss fudge with pecans “for a friend.”
At Fiddlehead we’re all about living and buying local and Marketplace New England, at 7 North Main, demonstrates the essence of living local. The shop works directly with more than 200 local arts, artisans and businesses providing a service for customers and makers alike to buy local. It’s hard to imagine not being able to find the perfect gift for yourself or others here — from jewelry and pottery to New Hampshire-themed cards and comic books.
It’s safe to say that any woman would want pretty much everything at Gondwana & Divine Clothing Co., 13 North Main, which offers more than 100 lines of American-made or free-trade clothing and accessories, including arguably the most luscious selection of silk scarves ever.
One of the best things about Concord’s friendly downtown is that while so many new improvements have been made, so many one-of-a-kind long-time businesses still thrive. Included in that is Gondwana, which has been around for 23 years, and also the unique and enchanting Viking House at 19 North Main, established in 1983.
We loved that Swedish seventies sensation ABBA was playing on the sound system as we touched the heft of Icelandic sweaters, gazed at charming Viking ornaments and, inspired by the music, purchased a package of pepperkakkor (Swedish ginger snaps) also “for a friend.” The food for sale at Viking House, as well as the clothes, jewelry, decorations and cookware are primarily from Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia.
Bona Fide Green Goods, at 25 North Main, is an earth-friendly boutique, which offers all things green from reusable straws, rain barrels and energy-saving drying racks to natural fiber baby clothes. Its new owners are committed to the store’s dedication to green living.
Like ABBA, Pitchfork Records at 2 South Main has been around since the 1970s and carries a massive selection of new and used vinyl (LP and 45s), CDs and DVDs by well-known, independent and local artists.
Simply Birkenstock, 8 South Main St., is a store that not only offers a wide selection of the German iconic footwear for men and women, but also shoes and durable and comfortable outdoor lifestyle clothing brands like KÜHL and Fjällräven.
Time for lunch. We budgeted about 50 minutes for our mid-day meal.
On this day we chose Angelina’s Ristorante Italiano, 11 Depot St., an intimate white-tablecloth Italian restaurant that is a basement hideaway and always worth a visit. But we had plenty of awesome options from which to choose.
On previous trips to Concord with our vegetarian son, we hit up Willows Plant-Based Eatery at 55 South Main, which has a more-than-creative vegan menu, including his favorite, the Half Moon sandwich with marinated tofu, red sauce, pesto and parmesan on focaccia. On the complete other side of the food spectrum is downtown’s iconic Puppy Love hot dog cart, which has been dispensing red hots on Main Street for more than 40 years.
The Barley House, 132 North Main, is right across the street from the capitol building where you might grab a burger and beer and with pols on a break. They serve homemade hummus and pretzel sticks on every table to munch on while checking out the menu.
The Crepe Escape, 138 North Main, offers sweet and savory French treats like the sweet Lemon Tart crepe or the savory Tasty Thai. Revival Kitchen & Bar around the corner on Depot Street serves up the creations of Chef Corey Fletcher.
No three-hour tour of Concord would be complete without dropping by the Concord Food Co-op at 24 South Main. The Concord Food Co-op welcomed us with a wall of purple, green and pink flower bouquets — a great metaphor for the fresh colors and amazing aromas we were about to encounter inside. We love the assortment of local cheeses offered and the healthy prepared meals to go.
We were nearing the three-hour mark, but we had so much fun, we checked out the upcoming events at the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 South Main. The 1,304-seat theater had our eye on upcoming events like the Sept. 21 performance by Straight to Hell, a punk tribute including covers of Clash covers; Celtic Night on Sept. 29; and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” on Oct. 1, to name just a few. To check out a full listing of events, go to ccanh.com/series/upcomingevents.
Our parking meter was going to expire in 15 minutes — barely enough time to make a cursory browse through Gibson’s Bookstore at 45 South Main. First opened in 1898, it’s one of the oldest independent bookstores in the state. We love indie bookstores, and this is one of the best. We have purchased many a volume on the “Staff Picks” racks and as well as reading gifts for baby showers and birthday parties. And we often stop for a coffee at the bookstore’s café — a satellite of True Brew Barista.
We give Concord a five-star rating for a walking-friendly, shop-local destination. Next time we are giving ourselves way more time.
Check out the Concord Multicultural Arts Festival at the State House lawn Sept. 22. Learn more at visitwhitemountains.com/attractions/attractions. And to plan your visit ahead of time, download a map of downtown at concordnhchamber.com/UploadedFiles/Files/walking_tour_brochure_cover_250th.pdf