Portland specializes in iconic craft shopping

By Mark Pechenik, Portland Local Expert

Portland is a city that holds true to its illustrious transoceanic shipping trade past. Walk its streets and you can almost picture dock workers busily unloading the latest Oriental treasures from fast moving Clipper ships. As a result, the city was influenced by styles and customs far beyond its wharves. With the influx of immigrant labor – first, the French Canadians and, later, Eastern Europeans and those from Hispanic societies – this cultural diversity became even more pronounced. Today, the city’s shopping options accurately reflect this global flavor in establishments selling everything from furniture to food. Stroll into antique stores and you’re likely to be dazzled by Federal era furniture. Artisans proudly display their hand-made wares that include everything from pottery to clothing. The city features a strong offering of craftspeople who specialize in one-of-a-kind jewelry fashioned by their own hands. These artists often incorporate natural materials, such as sea glass or shells, into their decorative pieces. Specialty food shops feature imaginative condiments, sweets and beverages influenced by cultures from throughout the world. Portland also does well by second-hand clothing stores where you’re likely to find that retro jacket or dress that will be a real standout in your wardrobe at an equally attractive price. Discount shops such as Reny’s, a Maine retail tradition, offer surprises ranging from the kitschy to the cool. Bargain hunters will undoubtedly find Portland to their liking with deals seeming to lurk around every corner. The following are 10 of the best shops to be found in Portland:

10. LeRoux Kitchen

Foodies are naturally drawn to this gourmet food shop along Portland's busy Commercial Street district. Here you'll find kitchen gadgets that you never knew you needed but you readily envision yourself using for that next friends' dinner party. It's all here from shiny, stainless steel cheese graters to high-end electric mixers and hand-crafted pottery bowls, dishes and cups. Not to be overlooked is LeRoux's superior selection of wines from casual, after-dinner light varieties to hearty versions that can complement even the most elaborate formal dinner parties. This shop also specializes in fresh, made-in-Maine products that highlight the Pine Tree State's natural, tasty approach to food merchandise.

9. Abacus Gallery

Opened in 1984, Abacus Gallery has done much to give Old Port its distinctive reputation for signature boutique shopping. This Old Port landmark features a vast selection of jewelry ranging from high-end to fun and highly affordable. Original crafts are always a favorite with shoppers who stop by and feature everything from handbags, totes and travel bags to decorative sculptures for the home and notecards and calendars with fun Maine themes. Located in the heart of the Old Port, the Portland store features two floors of shopping amdist exposed brick, stone walls, and high ceilings characteristic of the neighborhood. Always among the top shopping destinations for locals and visitors alike, this location is busy throughout the year thanks to a city with much to offer.

8. Renys

For many Maine shoppers, Renys is as traditional as lobster and New England clam chowder. This discount retailer specializes in inventory close-outs and off price goods. You never quite know what you'll see at Renys � from gardening tools to seasonal yard decorations to bird seed. One word of caution: Don't walk into Renys expecting to find a particular item. Half the fun of this establishment involves coming upon buys that are impulse purchases � something you never expected to find. The prices are heavily discounted so your dollar goes quite a bit further at this store (which, by the way, is one of 15 Renys in the state). All in all, this is as traditional Maine shopping as it gets and sure to be included on any Portland purchasing excursion.

7. David Wood Clothiers

David Wood Clothiers is one of those rare breed of clothing retailers who realize that what you wear is key to making the right impression. This establishment's highly experienced and informed staff have a keen eye for what looks good � helping shoppers find their own individual style. Their inventory consists of finely tailored shirts, suits and slacks made of the highest quality fibers from some of the most renown makers across the globe. The focus here is on individual attention as David Wood's clothiers help shoppers find what looks good while also comfortable and presentable. For those serious about their wardrobe, David Wood Clothiers is a sure bet for even the most discerning shoppers.

6. Cotton Garden of Portland

Chances are that lovers of cotton fashions will find what they have been seeking at Cotton Garden of Portland. This boutique shop specializes in high-end and specially designed cotton garments ranging from sweaters to blouses. Famous makers such as Habitat, Windriver and Flax can be found here. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, store managers and staff are more than happy to assist with purchasing decisions and have a good eye for just the right fit. Shoppers will also appreciate a full range of styles and sizes from infants to 3X for adults. Accessories are also available such as jewelry and watches to further enrich the shopping experience.

5. Old Port District

Those seeking to get the most out of Portland's boutique shopping culture will do well to tour the Old Port district, located in the Fore Street area. Here it is possible to wander and explore classic cobblestone streets while discovering unique shops and galleries. The atmosphere is kick-back comfortable as you sample the distinctive specialty stores that have made this shopping district famous. Many of these businesses specialize in goods made in Maine, as well as high-end imported items. There is always something to catch shoppers' interests and tastes within this area � even pet specialty goods can be found here. And when you're done with your day of shopping, be sure to relax with a cup of gourmet coffee or patronize one of the special eateries that also abound in Old Port.

4. Stonewall Kitchen

Perhaps no other store exemplifies the little known regional cuisines of Maine better than Stonewall Kitchen. This shop, which has locations throughout the Pine Tree State, specializes in highly creative food products that tantalize and expand the palate. Over the years, Stonewall Kitchen has become a "must visit" for everyone from casual cookers to gourmet chefs seeking new variations for standard dishes. The sheer variety of products is impressive and includes jams, sauces and mustards. Favorites include sun-dried tomato and olive relish, chilie grilling sauce, and peach tea jam. Frequent free tastings give shoppers the opportunity to sample these appetizing offerings. At its Old Port store, Stonewall also features cooking classes for aspiring amateur and professional chefs.

3. Maine Potters Market

The Maine Potters Market provides visitors with a dazzling display of the high level of artistry and creativity that exists in Maine's largest commercial city. Here you can witness a delightful sampling of the potter's art from bowls to cups and saucers and even decorative pieces. The variety of colors and styles are enough to please even the most discerning collectors of this age-old craft. These works are all local and comprise the artistic visions of many of Maine's finest potters. You may also want to keep in mind that shipping can easily be arranged for out-of-town visitors seeking to make purchases.

2. Allen and Walker Antiques

Strolling into Allen and Walker Antiques is like a journey into Portland's storied past. Many of the items in this fascinating shop will remind you of the prizes brought home during the city's thriving ocean trade. You never know what you'll find and items range from the near antique to classic finds. The store owners are veteran dealers who are well versed in antique values and lore. The atmosphere is quiet, serene, allowing shoppers and even the curious to take in and appreciate the treasures before them. Inventory ranges from landscape oil paintings to colonial-era sideboards and even sake porcelain decanters. You'll never know what is available but you're likely to find something of interest.

1. Sturbridge Yankee Workshop

Fans of Americana design and good old fashioned Yankee craftsmanship will find plenty to like about Sturbridge Yankee Workshop. Since 1953, this furniture and decorative shop has been offering beautiful, durable items with that New England country flair. Their vast inventory is a tribute to more than 200 years of American design with representations of Colonial, Shaker, Cottage Chic and Nautical styles. Here you'll find home furnishings such as Windsor chairs, Shaker peg racks and even folk art prints. Sturbridge can help you design entire cottages or homes in these American styles with everything from braided rugs to delicate cottage curtains. Those who cherish American stylings will enjoy visiting this iconic shop.