When the holidays get away from you, spending a day Christmas shopping in Portland, Maine, can help you catch up.
By Brenda Darroch
Dec 11 2016
Even the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Monument, located in Portland’s Longfellow Square, gets in the holiday spirit.Photo Credit : Brenda Darroch
It’s seafood that I’m thinking about as I tool down Commercial Street on my way to the Old Port to do some last minute gift buying. Not the lobster roll I crave in summertime, but something more filling— scallops, haddock, perhaps a steaming bowl of chowder. That decision will have to wait for a few hours, though, as my first priority is to finish my Christmas shopping in Portland, Maine.
When I step out of my car after tucking it into the last available slot on Dana Street, one thing becomes immediately apparent—I’m not wearing the right shoes. The storm that blew through the region two days before—dumping more than a foot of snow on the city—has work crews scurrying to relocate piles of the once white, fluffy stuff, and they’re not done yet. The cobblestone sidewalks are studded with clumps of rock salt, and waves of slush ripple over the side streets and alleyways.
This is going to slow me down and I’ll have to concentrate my efforts on finishing my Christmas shopping if I want to adhere to the two-hour parking limit. (I learned my lesson about parking violations on my trip to Kittery Point.) Not to be deterred, I carefully pick my way up to Fore Street and hook a left onto Exchange—the Old Port’s main drag of eclectic shops and restaurants and the ideal spot to find gifts for everyone on my list.
I have a lot to accomplish, but before I get started, a sign catches my eye: “Maine Potato Donuts.” That’s different. I go to investigate. Sliding into a corner chair, cinnamon-sugar donut in front of me, I learn that The Holy Donut has garnered a lot of recognition for using real Maine mashed potatoes in their batter. The result is a thick, moist donut that practically melts in my mouth. The flood of light rolling through the windows, flowing over the exposed brick walls, along with the scent of dough puffing in the fryer lulls me into sitting longer than I should. Reluctantly, I force myself to leave before sampling any more of their offerings, but my next trip to Portland is sure to include a dark chocolate sea salt donut.
Shops carrying locally-made goods and imported jewelry, art galleries, and trendy boutiques squeeze into the long, narrow, historic brick buildings that line either side of Exchange Street. Pottery swirled with colorful glazes beckons from Edgecomb Potters, whose selection of products also includes jewelry and lighting. I peruse chunky, silver jewelry at SeVende Imports, and while it’s all funky and unique, I leave empty-handed. Their jewelry is beautiful, but I’m hoping to find gifts made in New England, so I push on.
It’s the fire-engine red door at Lisa Marie’s–Made in Maine that catches my attention, or more specifically, the signs that pepper said door: “Buy Local,” “gr8 Portland, ME,” and the handwritten one I can’t resist, “Friendly Dog Inside.” Roxy, possibly the sweetest rescue dog I’ve ever met, escorts me around the store, approving of the growing pile of gifts cradled in my arms by pushing her soft snout into the side of my leg. Out of respect for the artisans selling their goods, the owners request that photos not be taken, so I can’t show you all of the wonderful stuff encased in this shop. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
The time is ticking on the meter, but I can’t leave Exchange Street without visiting my absolute favorite store in Portland, Maine—Abacus. Two floors of distinctive jewelry, art, and accessories for the home make this the perfect place to shop for the person who has everything. Be sure to venture downstairs to peruse their unusual selection of metal sculptures.
As I drive around Portland, skimming sheets of snow off the banks that push into the winding streets, looking for a new parking spot and trying to decide where to grab a bite to eat, I spy something I’m not expecting—Walter’s Restaurant is open for lunch. Back when Jim and I lived in the greater Portland area, and Walter’s was located on Exchange Street, it was our restaurant of choice for all special occasions. When it comes to culinary notoriety, Fore Street and Hugo’s may garner most of the attention—and deservedly so—but in my opinion, Walter’s is a worthy contender. The day’s special (slices of rare seared tuna circled by delicately seasoned edamame, rice, and cashews) did not disappoint.
With an eye on the Time and Temperature Building, I head back to Fore Street to pop in and out of a few more shops and gather more gifts before the sun goes down. I’d love to stay to see the twinkling lights that coil through the trees come to life against the city backdrop or step inside Bull Feeney’s or Brian Boru’s for an hour or so, but I’ve accomplished what I’ve come to do. I’ve finished my Christmas shopping in Portland, Maine, and now it’s time to head home.
This post was first published in 2013 and has been updated.