Santa does the Seacoast

OK, I’ll admit it. I am seriously into retail therapy. When the stresses of running my own business get to me, there’s nothing like a little shopping to chill me right out. And with Christmas around the corner, you don’t even need an excuse.

My first stop is generally the Button Factory for the annual Open Studios on December 4 and 5. More than 50 artists and craftspeople open their studios and you can buy everything from necklaces made out of buttons to books made out of granite. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who thinks this is a great place to start Christmas shopping.

The building isn’t set up to handle the hordes that descend so come early. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (855 Islington Street, Portsmouth)

Once I’ve shopped my way through all four floors of the Button Factory, I do the circle of downtown Portsmouth, where I take a leisurely walk through Atrezzi, for my gourmet friends, NW Barrett and Strawberry Bazaar when I just need inspiration. For kids, Treehouse Toys is a must, and for gardeners you have to go the garden shop at Strawbery Banke.

Once I’ve done the circle — up Market Street down Congress and across to State Street, if I haven’t found what I need, it’s time to head out of town. I frequently wander through Kittery Foreside, and I’ve found great earrings and antiques at its various shops. Plus, the coffee at Crooked Lane Café (70 Wallingford Square, Kittery Foreside, Maine) is great.

Then it’s time to go to the place I can almost always finish off my shopping list, the end-of-season sale (December 4 and 5) at Great Bay Pottery (69 Lafayette Road) in North Hampton. Their new line of ikebana vases makes for great presents for anyone into flowers — and who isn’t these days? They have a whole line of pots that every gardener on your list will covet. While you’re supporting local artists and in the neighborhood, there’s a League of N.H. Craftsmen’s shop just down the road at 122 Lafayette Road.

My next stop always causes something of a quandary. I have to stop at the garden shop at Rolling Green Nursery (64 Breakfast Hill Road in Greenland). Allegedly, I’m buying presents — right — but their new garden shop is the sort of place where I inevitably buy something perfect for someone else and then can’t bear to give away.

When I was little, my mother’s favorite shopping spree was Bargain Days in downtown Dover. Now that wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy, except that, when she wasn’t in New Hampshire, she spent most of her waking moments dictating the hem lengths of most women on the planet as editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. So the notion that this fashionista did her best shopping during Bargain Days always caused great amusement among the locals. Dover has changed a lot since then, and now I go to Dover to do my serious shopping. In addition to some good bargains at the antique and secondhand stores, you can find some wonderful gifts at Just the Thing (451 Central Ave.) or Traders of the Lost Art right next door. If you get thirsty, pop over to Crescent City Bistro for the best rum drinks this side of Miami.

While you’re in the neighborhood, head out of town on Rte. 4 and take a left at your second stoplight. Keep going until you hit The Mills at Salmon Falls in Rollinsford — one the best kept secrets on the seacoast. Filled with painters, potters, fabric artists and who knows what else, their annual Christmas open house shouldn’t be missed.

If you still haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, head back toward Durham, stay on 108 towards Newmarket, take a right in downtown Newmarket onto 152, go past Dover High and take a left on Grant Road. About a mile down on the right-hand side you’ll come across Sara Pellerin’s seasonal shop. Sara’s an artist with flowers and at Christmastime she puts all of her best work out in her shed, lights the wood stove, brews up a mean pot of cider, bakes some irresistible cookies and invites the public in. If you’re looking for truly stunning wreaths, hand-painted vases, and a million other things made with found objects and dried flowers, this is the place to go.

At Christmastime, Exeter looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, so it’s a perfect place to get in the mood. And if by this time you’re getting hungry, a slice of Anadama bread and a bowl of soup at the Loaf and Ladle in Exeter are the answer. Head down Route 108 out of Newmarket till you’re in downtown Exeter and just after you go over the bridge, the Loaf and Ladle is on your right. When you’ve had a sufficiency (as my Aunt Serena used to say), wander across the street to Serendipity. Just try to resist the urge to buy something. Between their earrings and their clothes, it’s pretty hard to do.

And if after all of that you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, you probably need more than just retail therapy. NH