Old Port, New Vibe
Today's Commercial Street in Portland is a hipper, livelier version of its former self.
- Photography by: Jennifer Baum
Article by Ellen London
Ten years ago, Commercial Street in Portland was better known for shipping than for shopping. However, a stroll down this avenue today reveals an entirely revamped Commercial — a hipper, livelier version of its grittier former self. “It’s such a great spot,” says Gail Antos, manager and buyer for Foundry Lane, one of the street’s most upscale stores. “You have the working waterfront right across the street, but also fabulous shops and restaurants.” Gone are the days of Exchange Street supremacy; lower rents and sheer opportunism have led several stores to make the move closer to Casco Bay. While still home to the “commercial” stores of old — hardware, appliance, and other daily staples — a fresh crop of high-end shops makes today’s Commercial Street a delightful Old Port destination in itself.
If the Tibetan prayer flags waving from the entranceway are any indication, Nomads is a store for adventurers. Whether your definition of adventure is trekking in the Himalayas or a weekend of leaf-peeping in the foothills of Franklin County, Nomads has the gear to get you going: Mountain Hardware zip-ups, Prana capris, and SmartWool socks that won’t quit when you need them most. 100 Commercial St., 207-347-7464.
Back in 2003, a sprinkler system gone awry forced LeRoux Kitchen’s nearly complete renovation back to square one. Undeterred, owners Michael and April Levandowski took advantage of the deluge and completed an even more impressive renovation than originally planned, including a spacious second floor and hundreds of new gastronomic gizmos. From staples, like peelers and potholders, to specialty lines, like Le Creuset bakeware, LeRoux Kitchen offers products for the casual cooker and culinary genius alike. 161 Commercial St., 207-553-7665.
If heaven came in a toothachingly, delicious bite-size version, it would be the penuchi fudge at Maine’s Pantry. The fudge’s creamy maple-sugar taste is one of many delicious treats in the well-stocked store — and it’s not surprising, since 90 percent of the store’s products are made in Maine. “That’s our thing,” says Liz Wanzer, one of the store’s knowledgeable clerks. From canned Bar Harbor clam chowder to Cape Shore blueberry coffee, you can find all of your favorite Pine Tree State goodies under one roof. 111 Commercial St., 207-228-2028.
At Company C, it’s all about color. Chris and Walter Chapin founded the contemporary furnishings store out of their Concord, New Hampshire, garage in 1994. Four years later, the shipwreck of a boat laden with Company C rugs nearly caused the fledgling company to go under. The Portland store is now one of three under the “C” label, and the duo sells their hand-hooked rugs, luxurious bedding separates, and distinctive furniture — all in vibrant colors like kiwi green and chili red — to more than a thousand dealers worldwide. 123 Commercial St., 207-780-1232.
Is Fido feeling fatigued from a busy day of exploring the Old Port? Take him down to Fetch, where he can lap up a cold drink from its outdoor doggie bowls. Treat him to a bath in the store’s self-service wash station, and then let him browse — right along with you — through the store’s impressive inventory of pet food, embarrassing apparel, and, of course, tons of toys. And don’t forget: Fetch is also friendly to felines. 195 Commercial St., 207-773-5450.
Shipwreck & Cargo Co.
Every summer, when the cruise ships moor off Portland’s waterfront, Shipwreck & Cargo Co. is one of the first stops for thousands of visitors. A life-size — and life-like — sea captain statue greets customers at the door. The store swells with eager tourists jostling for Maine goodies to stuff in their suitcases before shipping out — it’s packed with T-shirts, mugs, nautical decor, and even those little lobsters that become behemoth when dropped in water.
207 Commercial St., 207-775-3057.
As a one-of-a-kind contemporary craft gallery, Foundry Lane’s merchandise is the definition of diverse. The bright, organic space houses handmade jewelry, pottery, and glassware, with many of the pieces by Maine artists — including the store’s owner, Jenepher Burton. And there’s something to lust after for every budget, from a $15 beaded bangle to a $1,500 ring by Alex Sepkus. 221 Commercial St., 207-773-2722.
Barbour by David Wood, McKenzie Tribe
For that stiff-upper-lip look favored by locals at leisure and vacationers alike, jointly-owned Barbour by David Wood and McKenzie Tribe are just the thing. Within the Barbour side of the store, a vintage motorcycle stalls for a minute amid tidy racks of tasteful Barbour sweaters, jackets, and polo shirts for men and women. McKenzie Tribe occupies the adjacent space and offers men’s casual wear in classic navy and salmon hues, perfect for layering on autumn afternoons. Barbour by David Wood: 235 Commercial St., 207-773-3906, www.davidwood.com; McKenzie Tribe: 237 Commercial St., 207-699-5575.
When owner Tod Dana set out to open a store sixteen years ago, he envisioned “an Urban Outfitters of sorts, with funky apparel and a groovy style.” His pursuit of unique fabrics led him east, far east, where he discovered a bounty of Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian furniture, home décor, and jewelry. He’s made countless trips since for what has morphed into a full-blown import haven for fine Asian goods. Be sure to look out for its fun acrylic bangles — at four dollars each, they were the star of the summer. 219 Commercial St., 888-775-0066.
Old Port Wine Merchants and Cigar Shoppe
Whether you’re a table wine enthusiast or specialty wine connoisseur, Old Port Wine Merchants and Cigar Shoppe offers one of the most robust wine collections in the area. The deep merlot hue of the store’s walls sets the mood for browsing hundreds of bottles on display in wooden crates. Chilled wine and champagne sparkles from several chest refrigerators, and cigar aficionados can find their finest in the store’s walk-in humidor. 223 Commercial St., 207-772-9463.
Looking for a vintage-inspired clawfoot tub that could double as a swimming pool? Okay, you’re probably not, but massive tubs are just one of many home furnishings and decorative hardware accessories found at Decorum. Antique drawer-pulls are ideal for revamping an old bureau, while colorful glass vessel sinks lend any bath a contemporary feel. 231 Commercial St., 207-775-3346.