Main Street in Downtown Keene, New Hampshire
When I accepted my position at Yankee four months ago, our Web Editor Brenda laughingly cautioned me that southwestern New Hampshire was going to be a little bit different than what I had been used to living in Boston for the past six years, but she needn’t have been worried. Different was exactly what I was looking for.
The Yankee office is in Dublin, a small town in the shadow of Mount Monadnock with a charming village center that you zip through almost before you even know you’ve arrived. I love working in Dublin, but my years in the city had me hoping for a place to live where I could smell the grass and hear the birds chirping, but also sling my bag over my shoulder and head into town on my own two legs.
I found that in Keene, a small college-town less than fifteen miles from the Yankee office, whose 5,400 students make up over 1/4 of the population. In just ten minutes I can stroll to the head of Main Street, punctuated by by the sparking white spire of the United Church of Christ. Below it, is Central Square, dubbed one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2009 by American Planning Association’s Great Places in America program, and spreading out below the square are two clustered rows of mostly independent shops, restaurants heading towards the Keene State College campus.
Let’s visit some of my favorite places!
As a baker, I am smitten with Your Kitchen Store. If you want it for your kitchen, they have it. Equally swoon-worthy is Urban Exchange (formerly Saks Thrift Avenue), an upscale consignment boutique that caters to both fashion and frugality, which is no easy feat. The Colonial Theatre, which first opened its doors in 1924, lives on today as a site for live and film entertainment, thanks to a dedicated group of Keene residents that saved it from demolition in the early 1990′s.
The Stage is probably the first place in Keene where I became a regular, thanks to their delicious homemade veggie burger and sweet potato fries, and their Tuesday “Noodle Night” deal (a Caesar salad, any pasta dish on their menu, and a rotating dessert – all for just $12). Stop in there on a Tuesday at 6:00 and you have an excellent chance of spotting me (along with fellow Yankee Keene residents Brenda, her husband Jim, and Yankee Communications Manager Heather) having a hard time choosing between the Bistro Fusion Noodles and the Penne Capri.
The second place I became a regular is the Life is Sweet Candy Store. Yes, I am an adult, and yes, I love candy. There is another excellent spot on Main Street for chocolate lovers, Ye Goodie Shoppe, but since I have always been more of a fruity, chewy kind of girl than a chocolate girl, I head right for Life is Sweet. It’s a lower-level shop, so you’ve got to step down before stepping in, but once you do the shiny glass jars and sanitary plastic gloves are there to greet you.
All good Main Streets need a pizza shop, and my favorite in Keene is Amicci’s. They are always friendly and fast with my single cheese slices, and at only $2 each, I feel like I can eat lunch with just the change in my pockets.
The movie Jumanji, starring Robin Williams, was filmed in Keene in late 1994 as the setting for the film’s fictional town. One painted prop was the Parish Shoes sign where West Street meets Main Street. The painting was removed after filming, but then repainted as a reminder of Keene’s role in the film.
Technically it’s a short walk from Main Street, but another one of my favorite places to visit in Keene is the Antique Shop at Colony Mill Marketplace – large, open, sunny room lined with consignment stalls selling jewelry, furniture, books, china, figurines, tools, art, and a whole lot more. On my last visit I pored over a shelf crammed with community cookbooks (and snagged one from the 1970′s put out by the North End Union) and admired a 1920′s red and white paper garland draped over an art deco print.
If you visit the Antique Shop, make sure you also stop by The Toadstool Bookshop on the first floor – it’s an extra touch to hear the creak of footsteps on the wooden floors above you while you browse their excellent selection of both new and used books.
Of course, I don’t think I can write about visiting Main Street in Keene without at least mentioning the largest feather in the town’s event hat – Pumpkin Fest. Keene has been celebrating pumpkins with an annual festival of food, music, and everything pumpkin since 1991, and the event has become a major tourist destination to the Monadnock region each fall. For many years festival-goers set and beat the world record for largest number of lit jack-o’-lanterns in one place, a title they lost to Boston in 2006 for a whopping 30,128 lit pumpkins.
This is just a sampling of some of the fun places to visit on or near Main Street in Keene, but for each things I’ve mentioned there’s something else I missed (like Hannah Grimes Marketplace for local-made gifts and food, Lindy’s Diner for the quintessential slice of pie and table-side juke box experience, or Twenty One for the perfect martini) – giving you all the more reason to plan a visit soon.
I’ll see you there – most likely with a bag of candy at the ready.