The Still Bountiful Blocks of Georgetown

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Shopping at Relish in Cady's Alley. Courtesy Relish.

We are all guilty of it on some level. I certainly am. Over coffee and cocktails, we have been complaining about empty storefronts and store closures in Georgetown. I like to do my complaining while wearing something cute I ordered online.

I remember when I strolled past the former Max Mara store and it was empty. I gasped — failing to remember that I hadn’t been in there for at least a year, but still purchased its line at Saks or Neiman Marcus.

Yeah, that would be a trip that would require me to move my car from its perfect spot in front of our house and fight traffic, all to buy items, many of which could have been purchased two blocks from my house. Shame on me.

So I decided to do something daring, something I had never done: spend a day shopping in Georgetown. The holidays are here, and I couldn’t think of a better time.

I recruited my friend Karin Wheeler to accompany me on the expedition. I needed a witness and someone to point out things and say, “Isn’t this cute?” — or the proverbial “Does this make my … arms look big?”

I organized my Longchamp’s backpack with provisions: water bottle, CAG discount card and leftover Halloween candy. I looked at the map of Georgetown to determine the route we should take, lunch options and the ending point — so as to return home easily. I was skeptical at first whether I would have any purchases to haul. Still, off I went to meet Karin at the corner of M and Wisconsin. We headed east.

It was a lovely day, that time between pumpkins still on doorsteps and fresh wreaths on doors. We noticed right away that a few shops were already in holiday mode, putting us in the mood. We even sang along with a Christmas carol playing loudly in one store. (We also did a little dancing in a few stores playing Today’s Top 40, I am sure to the horror of store employees.)

First stop was such a nice surprise: Francesca’s. I had never been in, thinking it was for the college crowd. Cheerful, helpful clerks greeted us, announced they were having a sale and asked if we were looking for anything in particular. This was a pleasant and recurring theme throughout the day — sales and attentive customer service.

I realized that I had judged them unfairly. I was certain all those young sales associates were saying with their unlined faces, “Don’t come in here, you old hag.” But it was so not the case.

There was, of course, plenty of clothing that was too short or inappropriate for my body type, but there were lots of other things for me and many gift items. I purchased the cutest earrings for my daughter-in-law and, of course, a pair for myself. They were on sale, two for $25, after all, and as Karin noted, we both can still fit into the earrings we wore in high school (just sayin’). We oohed and aahed.

We were off to a great start, albeit feeling a tad guilty for never having been. Since we would be coming up the other side of the street at the end of our journey, they even held Karin’s purchases for later pick-up — another recurring theme. (I already had the thought that I could always use a car service and deliver my shopping bags home, if need be, and continue shopping.)

Then, another surprise, Lush. Again, I had never darkened their door. The strong handmade soap smell always wafted out the door and kept me from going in. We took a deep inhale and went in. What a great place! The lovely clerk offered a hand scrub and moisture treatment, which we did. Then came a nice bowl of warm water to wash the scrub, followed by a great smelling cream, which I purchased. I also grabbed a handmade soap called “Honey I washed the kids” for my son-in-law (they just last week had their second child) as a fun stocking-stuffer.

I highlight these two stores, which honestly did happen right at the get-go, because we had a great experience and, more importantly, because I had never even cleared their thresholds. I was being judgy. I quickly realized that we really do have to support these stores, or they too will fall prey to the empty storefront epidemic. Whether they be chains or independently owned, it is all about revenue to pay and justify the rent. I had walked past them on my trips to the post office to return online purchases, for crying out loud!

We popped in Potomac Wine & Spirits for Karin to place a wine order with Josh, and I noticed our favorite wine was on sale. So I purchased a case for our upcoming holiday party. They are delivering that today, along with a couple of other bottles I will use for hostess gifts. (FYI: I love a man appearing at my door bearing liquor bottles I didn’t have to schlep home.)

Lunch was an important and strategic decision. We opted for Angolo Ristorante. Italian doesn’t usually scream out “girls’ lunch” to me, but this was a great choice. Warmly welcomed, we chose a window table, where we watched the passersby and judged their shoe choices. We each had a delicious soup and split the lovely salmon salad, plenty to share. You need a little protein to shop. They have a nice wine-by-the-glass list, but we forewent the day-drinking, although there was a discussion. Serious shopping sometimes requires sobriety.

We strode up one side of the street and down the other. We bravely entered the upscale, where we were welcomed, even in our shopping safari attire and me in my FitFlop walking shoes. Do not be afraid or let gaunt, aloof-looking mannequins in the upscale store windows deter you.

In Hu’s clothing and shoes, we saw gorgeous clothing and designer offerings, along with beautiful gift items highlighted to us by friendly sales associates. We fondled Italian cashmere in Niccolo Giotto and vowed to return to try on dresses when we weren’t on a mission. Granted, you can find some pretty fancy and higher-priced offerings in these stores, but we were giddy to find less breathtaking price tags as well.

Again, I thought, “Why am I driving to shop, and in some cases buying the exact same thing?” We searched for men’s active- and outerwear in the chain stores like Patagonia and Nike. We came across another new store for us, State and Liberty, where the men’s clothes are “machine washable, wrinkle free, and moisture wicking.” Who knew? Karin purchased shirts for her sons. Yay!

I didn’t even know we had a Moleskin store in Georgetown. I am not alone in my “creature of habit” wanderings. I tend to head in the same direction, as if I have a phobia of making lefthand turns. By the time we got there, I was really feeling foolish and like a big, two-timing hypocrite. Worse yet, I am a huge lover of paper goods. I have never met a notebook that I didn’t want to possess. In the store were beautiful displays and great gifts, useful and stylish. The store clerk was so helpful and cheerful. I was impressed. Yep, you guessed it, I bought a set of detachable paper notebooks for myself and also snagged a 2020 calendar for a gift.

We laughed, we talked, we held up totally inappropriate clothing items and suggested the other buy them. Although we were supposedly gift shopping, we couldn’t resist an occasional dressing room excursion. I just kept saying, “I am trying this on for someone else.” So many stores, so many great gifts, so much stuff for me, too.

The Intermix store that I had not entered since they moved from their previous location proved to be another surprise. Again, I had convinced myself I was too old for their young-blood offerings. Nope: bought some pants for myself and a scarf for my daughter.

We even strolled into Cherub Antiques Gallery, where Bruce, the proprietor, was so gracious, giving us a history lesson as we began looking at the gorgeous collection of antique silver cocktail shakers from England and France. Spoiler alert: my big purchase of the day was an English classic shaker for my husband. I never know what to get him. He is a man of little wants, so he always ends up with clothes he probably won’t wear. This was a real find. And, once again, it just wouldn’t have occurred to me to venture in there to buy a gift. (This required another visit to Potomac Wine & Spirits, as I couldn’t have my husband putting cheap gin in his new fancy shaker.)

We covered a lot of ground. We checked off many a name on our Christmas lists. We shopped them all and gave them their due: J.McLaughlin, Anthropologie (purchased a cute Aries Star Sign book for my goddaughter — great gift — and Karin snagged a cozy sweater), Sephora, Kate Spade, Relish, Paper Source, Alice and Olivia.

I unapologetically ate a mini red velvet cupcake at Sprinkles. But Karin bought it — so who is the enabler here? Walking home after our shopping, I felt satisfied and a tad smug until I passed Madewell, Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor Loft, Massimo Dutti and, one of my faves, LiLi The First, only then realizing we never even made it up Wisconsin Avenue. Okay, now I have an excuse for another shopping day.

The holidays are here, people of Georgetown — gifts, party wear, decorating, oh my! — all of this, and I kid you not, blocks from your house. So pick a pal, grab a map from the Georgetown Business Improvement District, pack provisions and trek. You will find just what you are looking for.

Shop, eat, repeat … support.

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