Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

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Take a tour of Keene, New Hampshire and visit some of this quaint New England town’s shops, restaurants, and attractions that can be found right on Main Street.

When I accepted my position at Yankee four months ago, our Web Editor Brenda laughingly cautioned me that southwestern New Hampshire was going to be a little bit different than what I had been used to living in Boston for the past six years, but she needn’t have been worried.  Different was exactly what I was looking for.

The Yankee office is in Dublin, a small town in the shadow of Mount Monadnock with a charming village center that you zip through almost before you even know you’ve arrived.  I love working in Dublin, but my years in the city had me hoping for a place to live where I could smell the grass and hear the birds chirping, but also sling my bag over my shoulder and head into town on my own two legs.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

I found that in Keene, New Hampshire, a small college-town less than fifteen miles from the Yankee office, whose 5,400 students make up over 1/4 of the population.  In just ten minutes I can stroll to the head of Main Street, punctuated by by the sparking white spire of the United Church of Christ.  Below it, is Central Square, dubbed one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2009 by American Planning Association’s Great Places in America program, and spreading out below the square are two clustered rows of mostly independent shops, restaurants heading towards the Keene State College campus.

Let’s visit some of my favorite places!

As a baker, I am smitten with Your Kitchen Store.  If you want it for your kitchen, they have it.  Equally swoon-worthy is Urban Exchange (formerly Saks Thrift Avenue), an upscale consignment boutique that caters to both fashion and frugality, which is no easy feat.  The Colonial Theatre, which first opened its doors in 1924, lives on today as a site for live and film entertainment, thanks to a dedicated group of Keene residents that saved it from demolition in the early 1990’s.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

Your Kitchen Store is a cook’s paradise, Urban Exchange offers quality consignment clothing for less, and the Colonial Theatre is an iconic Main Street landmark.

The Stage is probably the first place in Keene where I became a regular, thanks to their delicious homemade veggie burger and sweet potato fries, and their Tuesday “Noodle Night” deal (a Caesar salad, any pasta dish on their menu, and a rotating dessert – all for just $12).  Stop in there on a Tuesday at 6:00 and you have an excellent chance of spotting me (along with fellow Yankee Keene, New Hampshire residents Brenda, her husband Jim, and Yankee Communications Manager Heather) having a hard time choosing between the Bistro Fusion Noodles and the Penne Capri.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

The Stage restaurant – a great veggie burger and Tuesday Noodle Night!

The second place I became a regular is the Life is Sweet Candy Store.  Yes, I am an adult, and yes, I love candy.  There is another excellent spot on Main Street for chocolate lovers, Ye Goodie Shoppe, but since I have always been more of a fruity, chewy kind of girl than a chocolate girl, I head right for Life is Sweet.  It’s a lower-level shop, so you’ve got to step down before stepping in, but once you do the shiny glass jars and sanitary plastic gloves are there to greet you.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

Sweet, sugar heaven at the Life is Sweet candy store.

All good Main Streets need a pizza shop, and my favorite in Keene is Amicci’s.  They are always friendly and fast with my single cheese slices, and at only $2 each, I feel like I can eat lunch with just the change in my pockets.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

Grabbing  a slice from Amicci’s will only set you back $2!

The  movie Jumanji, starring Robin Williams, was filmed in Keene in late 1994 as the setting for the film’s fictional town.  One painted prop was the Parish Shoes sign where West Street meets Main Street.  The painting was removed after filming, but then repainted as a reminder of Keene’s role in the film.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

The Parish Shoe sign is a Hollywood reminder in small town Keene.

Technically it’s a short walk from Main Street, but another one of my favorite places to visit in Keene is the Antique Shop at Colony Mill Marketplace – large, open, sunny room lined with consignment stalls selling jewelry, furniture, books, china, figurines, tools, art, and a whole lot more.  On my last visit I pored over a shelf crammed with community cookbooks (and snagged one from the 1970’s put out by the North End Union)  and admired a 1920’s red and white paper garland draped over an art deco print.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

Antiques at the Colony Mill Marketplace – a historical browser’s paradise.

If you visit the Antique Shop, make sure you also stop by The Toadstool Bookshop on the first floor – it’s an extra touch to hear the creak of footsteps on the wooden floors above you while you browse their excellent selection of both new and used books.

Of course, I don’t think I can write about visiting Main Street in Keene without at least mentioning the largest feather in the town’s event hat – Pumpkin Fest.  Keene has been celebrating pumpkins with an annual festival of food, music, and everything pumpkin since 1991, and the event has become a major tourist destination to the Monadnock region each fall.  For many years festival-goers set and beat the world record for largest number of lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place, a title they lost to Boston in 2006 for a whopping 30,128 lit pumpkins.

Downtown Keene, New Hampshire

Pumpkin Fest with its tower of jack-o’-lanterns in front of Central Square – Keene’s largest annual party.

This is just a sampling of some of the fun places to visit on or near Main Street in Keene, but for each things I’ve mentioned there’s something else I missed (like Hannah Grimes Marketplace  for local-made gifts and food, Lindy’s Diner for the quintessential slice of pie and table-side juke box experience, or Twenty One for the perfect martini) – giving you all the more reason to plan a visit soon.

I’ll see you there – most likely with a bag of candy at the ready.

Want more?
Click here to learn more about Dublin, NH and what it’s like to intern at Yankee Magazine!

Have you ever been to Keene, New Hampshire?

  • Brian M.

    Lovely article, Aimee. Thank you. My grandfather, Jim McCullough, lived on Woodbury Street for several years. He represented Keene in the state legislature and actually passed away in the statehouse at Concord after a session in February of 1961. My folks and I lived in Massachusetts and used to make the short drive up 202 to visit “the folks” nearly every weekend.

  • Mary-Ellen

    You forgot the best coffee shop. Prime Roast has the best coffee – roasted right on the premises, exhibits local artisans and has outstanding customer service. It has been a mainstay of downtown Keene for a very long time and has devoted customers who still get their coffee from there even though they have left Keene.

  • As an old KSCer, I appreciate the great trip down memory lane and the glimpse of current-day Keene! I just wrote about Lindy’s and the (sadly extinct) Henry David’s in my own blog.

  • Moving from Indianapolis to Keene 25 years ago, we thought we were stuck in a time warp. We soon realized that the old flare, no big malls, quaint shops and relaxed attitude is what we like the most about it. A wonderful place to raise children. Just wish the winters were all like this one.

  • Charles J.

    Enjoyed this article. Have you tried JimEddie’s restaurant on 429 Winchester St. Great food and fabulous desserts. Give it a try…

  • For the best French Fries ever, you have to go to Fritz’s Fries. They also have great sandwiches and their own Root Beer.

  • Louise T.

    I spent many wonderful weekends in Keene, NH from 1987-1989. I remember going to a beautiful restaurant in town with my boyfriend on special occasions that had a tree in the middle of the dining room going right up to the second level! I think it was named Hemingways or something similar? Does anyone remember this retaurant?


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