Put on Your Shopping Shoes

November used to be a quiet time for shopkeepers and innkeepers in the Mt. Washington Valley. No longer. Talk to any shopkeeper, and they’ll tell you that the November weekend customer base now largely consists of small groups of women who annually head north in the fall for foliage and shopping blitzes.

Not only do people shop, the mostly-women visitors often mix in a lot of social fun and spa/massage activity at such locales as the Red Jacket in North Conway, the Inn at Thorn Hill and the Christmas Farm Inn and Spa in Jackson during their time in the mountains as well.

“We’ve had the same groups of three to six women who come up every year, and now some bring their daughters, too. They shop at our outlets, go to Settlers’ Green or sample the novelty shops in North Conway Village. They’ll then go to our local restaurants and relax. It’s now one of our busiest seasons on weekends,” says Chris Kanzler, co-owner with his wife, Virginia, of the Cranmore Inn, an old-fashioned bed and breakfast located just around the corner from Zeb’s General Store. Zeb’s, which offers all New England-made products, has become a one-stop shopping mecca for many holiday shoppers for its gift baskets full of New England jams, mustards, salsas, Bloody Mary mixes and more.

Nearby are such village restaurants as Horsefeathers, Decades and Rafferty’s, and just down the road is the Wild Boar Tavern, the Up Country, Flatbread Pizzas and Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, to name a few.

For nighttime entertainment, many of the shoppers can be seen at such local lounges as the Red Parka Pub in nearby Glen, where entertainment is featured on weekends.

“It’s now a very busy time for us on weekends,” notes Terry O’Brien of the Red Parka, one of the member establishments of the Valley Originals, a group of 19 locally-owned and -operated restaurants that work with the chamber and lodging properties in the Harvest to Holidays promotion.

Dot Seybold is vice president of Settlers’ Green Outlet Village, the complex of 58 stores located to the south of North Conway Village on the site of what once was the White Mountain Airport, prior to its development in the late 1980s as a shopping mecca of name brand stores such as Banana Republic, Old Navy, Nike, Gap and more: “The shoppers at that time of year are primarily women between the ages 25 of 65. They come in groups of moms and daughters and sisters and come in groups of co-workers and church groups. We’ve had more than a few groups who wear matching T-shirts and baseball caps. They make it a fun weekend, not just a shopping outing,” says Seybold, noting that the shopping season for the ladies is also the hunting season in the woods. The men hunt for deer; the women hunt for shopping bargains.

Seybold says November is now “probably one of the top three selling months of the year,” with Veterans Day a busy shopping weekend. “People now want to go to the parades and events. So they want to get away, and they want to shop as well,” says Seybold, noting that the MWV Chamber has worked with the three local American Legion Posts on Veterans Day celebrations.

Settlers’ Green offers a popular “Bring a Friend Shopping” promotion each year.

“We give away good stuff over a three-day weekend. It has become a huge event. Last year, we had 500 shopping bags, full of coupons and goodies. They were gone by 1 p.m. on Friday,” says Seybold, adding that this year’s Bring a Friend Shopping Weekend is set for Nov. 10 through 12.

As the calendar turns to December, shopping experts such as Seybold note that shoppers tend to stay more at home for their last-minute shopping.

“The closer you get to Christmas, the closer they stay to home and go to more traditional malls at home. But they do seem to shop earlier now,” says Seybold.

Marti Mayne, publicist for the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Executive Director Janice Crawford note that Mt. Washington Valley’s retail sector is going through yet another growth spurt, echoing the period in the 1980s, when the outlets first sprang up.

Among the current projects under way is a renovation of the 1980-built Mountain Valley Mall by KGI Properties. When finished, it will include a new Lowe’s and a relocated JC Penney Store.

The old Yield House site — a gateway property at the entrance to the Route 16 strip — is soon to be redeveloped as Settlers’ Crossing, a new retail complex built by the developers of Settlers’ Green. A Home Depot is also under construction on the road behind L.L. Bean.

Settlers’ Green’s Seybold says it’s all about having a good time shopping — as opposed to rushing from store to store during the frantic holiday shopping season. ”Christmas shopping can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be if you do it with a group of people you like, and you take the time for a bite to eat, and maybe a martini. You’ll still have some sanity, versus waiting until the end of the holiday season. It can be a really good time to visit the mountains, just before the start of the ski season,” says Seybold.

And if you get tired of hunting for bargains, it’s a great place to people watch. Keep your eyes open and you might see Olympic bad-boy skier Bode Miller cruising into town for a little shopping and entertainment. He lives nearby and is a regular on the local scene. NH