West Hartford Center’s attractive, pedestrian-friendly streets are lined with tempting shops. For a long time, I’d wanted to explore them, but I suspected that stores in this increasingly high-end area would carry nothing but prohibitive luxuries. There was only one way to find out!
The wide streets of this bustling downtown might seem newly planned to draw visitors to the many sidewalk cafes, but the narrow Town Green and brick buildings along South Main Street recall the area’s long history. (The Green has a few benches, as do the sidewalks, but the best place to rest may be the somber setting of Veteran’s Park, a stone and grass circle of serenity in the midst of the activity.)
I first wandered into Sugarbeads, where the aisles were lined with colorful beads for DIY jewelry as well as pre-assembled baubles that I was relieved to discover were within my tiny budget.
I found more color and shine at Sweet Nest, a store primarily for tweens, which suddenly made me wish I had a tween to shop for. There was a lot of pink, and a lot of cute, and though Sweet Nest also sells bedding and other home goods, plenty of items - like adorable soft plastic cases of art supplies - were more accessible.
I probably wouldn’t have ventured into a hardware store, even a venerable local institution, if it wasn’t for the painted ceramic cows staring plaintively - in the manner of real cows - out of Pfau’s front window. Inside I found, in addition to the cows, an unexpected selection of appealing kitchenware and gifts.
Overwhelmed with food choices, I stopped at Café Sofia, which I’d heard praised for their ice cream (from Shady Glen in Manchester), crepes, and pastries. The narrow space was relaxing and softly lit.
I ducked into Plimpton’s mostly to escape the heat, but I was soon immersed in the selection of stationary and cards, candles, journals, and gifts in an old fashioned, no-frills atmosphere. (The store has been open since 1865.)
Then it was on to Ten Thousand Villages. Yes, they’re all over, but no matter how many of these stores you’ve been to, the frequently changing fair-trade merchandise from around the world makes each location feel fresh and unique. I left coveting a tiny blue box with a beaded top from Peru, and several finely crafted decorative animals.
In adjacent BlueBack Square, a four year old mixed-use development that flows nicely into the Center proper, most of the tenants are stores and restaurants that could be found in the mall. But the design is tasteful and thoughtfully planned, especially the staircase and walkway with outdoor seating between the Noah Webster Library and Barnes and Noble. I surprised myself by liking two spots here.
Charming Charlie’s stores are scattered about the country, but because this is one of only two Connecticut locations, I decided to check it out. The surprisingly huge space looked a bit like a 13-year-old’s fantasy closet had exploded. Conveniently, though, the contents had distributed themselves by color. There was a good deal of disposable glitz, but a bit of digging uncovered quite a few scarves, bags, bracelets, and even clothes that less-than-flashy adults would be happy to own.
Before leaving West Hartford I stopped at Pinkberry, another nationwide chain, though still somewhat of a local novelty, with four stores in the state. As I sat in the sun, eating my soft-serve yogurt with (very) fresh strawberry topping, I considered that no one had kicked me out of a storefront for lack of trendiness, and I hadn’t been talked into buying one pair of $500 pants. And I added another shopping destination to my list.
If you go:
7 South Main Street
968A Farmington Avenue
Mon – Sat, 10am - 5:30pm, Sun, Noon - 4pm
982 Farmington Avenue
984 Farmington Avenue
991 Farmington Avenue
Ten Thousand Villages
967C Farmington Avenue
76 Memorial Road
38 Isham Road
There is metered parking along the main streets and several inexpensive garages and surface lots in the area.