Olde Mistick Village: A Shopping Center Disguised as a Colonial Hamlet
Olde Mistick Village is, at its base level, a shopping center disguised as an 18th-century Colonial hamlet. It is neither “olde”, having opened in 1973, nor is it truly a “village.” It’s a collection of stores, many of which are quite nice and unique, and overall, it is the sort of spot my wife could spend hours wandering around while I search the store she’s in for a Husband Chair to look at my phone on. It’s a bit of an odd phenomenon, the creation and curation of a New England town designed to mimic a historical center but not too closely since the purpose is to support commerce – a bit like Main Street in Disneyland, engineered to evoke the Platonic ideal of an American town center but with none of the messiness that comes from a variety of people living in and sharing a public space. It is privately owned and managed, and while there are many things to do, from dining at a restaurant to watching a movie, all exist solely to coax you into leaving the money you entered with behind.
The faux-Main Street trend in outdoor shopping centers has been booming in recent years as indoor malls become increasingly obsolete. However, the concept of a full-scale village as a shopping center still has relatively few examples in the United States. When Martin Olson purchased the 19 acres of farmland Olde Mistick Village would be built on in 1963, he intended to build a mall much like the multitude of other malls that were being built at the time. His plans stalled when the Edward Malley Company advised him that the area didn’t have the population to support it, and his twin children Jerry and Joyce looked to Peddler’s Village in Pennsylvania for inspiration. Their vision for Olde Mistick Village was to create a replica complete with trees, walking paths, a gazebo, and a meeting house where none of the buildings looked the same. Built for roughly $3 million, the village sported 46 stores, including a grocery store, two banks, and hair salons, all of which adhered to an aesthetic that avoided all but the necessary anachronisms. Though there was a parking lot, once inside the village, there was no strip lighting or flyers, and shrubs obscured the air conditioning units. It seems enforcement of these standards is much more lax now. An early article in the New York Times mentions tourists walking around the shopping center who had mistaken it for the Seaport Museum, which is a compliment of sorts to the design.
Olde Mistick Village celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023; in fairness, it is charming and fun to explore. The stores are diverse, ranging from an anime emporium named Arisu to Cloak and Wand, a store sure to enchant fans of Harry Potter and all things related to magic and wizardry. There are typical shopping village staples: a beef jerky store, for example, or a shop that sells fancy olive oil and vinegar – and there are others that sell high-end kitchen wares, home and garden gifts, chocolates and coffees, clothes and toys. I’d also recommend stopping into Toy Soldier, which opened with the village in 1973, as well as Bestemors, which carries a diverse array of Scandinavian gifts, and Raining Cats and Dogs, which has a lot of unique items for the pet-obsessed person in your life. My personal favorites were Alice in the Village, a tea shop with fantastical recreations of scenes from Alice in Wonderland, and the adjoining Alice’s Haunted Little Bookshop, which had a wonderful but playful gothic horror vibe and a fantastic selection of books and tchotchkes for those who are fans of writers like Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe.
The spectrum of different shops and the well-curated goods and displays inside are fun. It is a perfect place for Christmas shopping, as the items to peruse largely fall outside the sphere of those found in the thousands of identical chain stores selling identical wares across America. For someone who enjoys shopping, that is not a quality to be overlooked or underrated. While the faux-historical village conceit is a bit jarring to me for reasons I’m not sure I can fully articulate, there’s no denying the village is quaint and fun to walk around. Maybe it’s the fact that so many actual historic town centers are gone, vaporized by chain stores, malls, and urban planners who never valued “authentic charm” until it was too late – and the replacement for them is a manufactured facsimile, a theme park recreation of what once was.
That’s not really Olde Mistick Village’s fault, though. What it replaced was farmland, and what it offers is a fairytale New England Colonial town with a lot of fun places to peruse and shops that clearly have a lot of love put into what they have on display. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience in that sense, and if all of this sounds like something you think you’d enjoy, you most likely will! And if, like me, you’re more interested in the genuine article, the Seaport Museum, with 60 actual historical buildings arranged into a fascinating recreation of a 19th-century seaside town, is only a five-minute drive away.
Matthew Christopher CT Stonington Dec 05, 2023 Places to Visit Retail Stores Reviews
Location: Stonington, CT
Matthew Christopher Dec 05, 2023
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