Ithaca, New York
When many downtowns were losing their shopping culture to malls, Ithaca turned its central area, known as the Ithaca Commons, into a wholly pedestrian zone in the mid 1970s to promote the sense of downtown as a meeting place of local culture. As a result, more than 90 percent of businesses there are locally and independently owned today.
Ithaca’s eclectic shops have the items you’d expect to find in a downtown retail district but always with a handmade and local twist. Life’s So Sweet Chocolates offers a wide variety of sweets, and shoppers can find sustainable clothing made in-house from eco-friendly fabrics at The Art and Found. Sunny Days is the place for gifts sourced from around the Finger Lakes.
“Handmade local goods are the hub of the downtown shopping market,” said Kristy Mitchell, integrated marketing manager for the Ithaca Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’re all local. There are no chains, even among the restaurants in the business improvement district.”
Just off the commons, an alley once used for storage by the city newspaper has gone from “underutilized” space to a multistory pop-up shopping center and hotbed of creativity. The stores inside are just as modern as the concept. Ithaca Generator, a novel shared-workshop space, offers craft, sculpting and even engineering classes. Boxy Bikes builds custom folding and electric bikes, and Amuse: Modern Cottage Industry sources handmade gifts from across the country.
Perfectly positioned between New York City and Niagara Falls, Ithaca makes an ideal stop for groups, and the CVB can work with groups to set up a dine-around lunch option with downtown gift cards.
With a 16-block stretch of Franklin’s Victorian Main Street protected on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back in time when you set foot in downtown Franklin. For decades, the town has swept up awards for America’s “Best Small Town” and “Great American Main Street,” and a revitalization program has brought the shopping experience up to par with the undeniable charm of the historic setting.
The warm and casual demeanor of shops in downtown Franklin, just 21 miles south of Nashville, might make you feel like you’ve set foot in someone’s home. Gallery 202 is housed in a Federal-style brick house that has hosted three presidents. Though the gallery primarily showcases local and regional artists both renowned and up-and-coming, don’t be surprised if you spot a Picasso, a Warhol or a Dali as well.
One of the joys of shopping in Franklin, however, is not only buying handcrafted works, but also watching as they are made. Artisan Guitars sells handcrafted acoustic guitars and allows visitors to watch the guitar-making process through its partnerships with local luthiers.
At Franklin Glassblowing Studio, Jose Santisteban, who studied lost forms of glassblowing in New York and Italy, runs a gallery of works — with items as small as paperweights and as large as Venetian chandeliers — as well as a classroom and a studio.
In addition to the everyday shopping opportunities in Franklin, the annual Main Street Festival, when more than 200 local artisans descend on the square and historic district, and First Fridays, in which more than 30 galleries around downtown open in the evening for special sales and receptions, offer prime opportunities for special purchases.