In Lancaster, PA, on a recent weekend getaway, we enjoyed a mix of urban sophistication plus comforting rural landscapes. We expected—and looked forward to-- the farmlands since Lancaster County beats as the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. What surprised us: the galleries, vintage shops, boutiques and good restaurants.
In fact Lancaster city ranks among the U.S.’s top 25 metropolitan areas with vibrant local (non-chain) retail, according to Civic Economics and the American Booksellers Association’s 2011 survey. Our strolls along North Prince and Queen streets revealed an interesting diversity.
So many--a dozen plus galleries--bloom along a few blocks of N. Prince Street that “Gallery Row” is the section’s nickname. On our visit the styles, subject matter and prices varied, making for good browsing. Franz Fox, in his Franz Fox Studios, featured both Impressionistic landscapes, as well as large abstract canvases of oil and acrylic with pen and ink that he dubs “neoplasticity.”
In his gallery Freiman Stoltzfus, whose work has appeared in the Delaware Museum of Art, displayed vignettes of Lancaster with street maps as well as his Pennsylvania landscapes on notecards. The Red Raven showcased watercolors of flowers and oils of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Karen Anderer, owner of the City Folk Gallery, presented a lively mix of folk art, illustrations by Robert Nelson, a French country table and other antiques.
Queen Street proved to be for those who like poking through piles, squeezing through rows of furnishings and fingering racks of clothing in search of finds. In Mommalicious we encountered ceramic swans, a mink collar that could have been my grandmother’s and vintage fifties hats. Then & Again, along with costume jewelry, had some good deals on Art Deco bureaus and mirrors.
Scarlet Willow housed vintage apparel and sets of ice cream chairs. Among the eye-candy at Building Character, an architectural salvage shop that leases space to collectibles’ sellers, were glass jars of colorful billiard balls. Hand-made silk scarves, ceramic bowls, quilted wall hangings and a wooden rocker intrigued us at the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen’s new shop.
For a fun tour of downtown, we glided on the sidewalks with Redrose Segway. Terry and Bob offered thorough training. We practiced turning and tackling ramps in their shop before heading out duckling style, in single file formation following Terry as Bob brought up the rear.
Our headsets enabled us to hear Terry’s city history as we glided by murals, former tobacco warehouses now condominiums and the home of Thaddeus Stevens, abolitionist and congressman. We learned odd tidbits too. Peeps, the marshmallow and sugar candy shaped like chicks or bunnies, were first created by Lancaster’s R. E. Rodda Candy Company in the 1920s.
Lancaster has a long tradition of farm fresh food. Near the legendary Central Market, Carr’s restaurant emphasizes locally sourced items in its New American cuisine. Along with Lancaster County staples such as meatloaf, pork and sauerkraut as well as corn and oyster pie, Carr’s serves up tasty fried calamari; shrimp and crab scrapple and Delmonico steak. The seared tuna, however, was just okay. Carr’s also offers Kobe hamburgers, pizza and house-made vegetable pot stickers.
Since we could not get a room at the sold-out Lancaster Arts Hotel, noted for its original artwork primarily by Pennsylvania artists, we stayed at the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square, a location that put us within a few minutes’ walk of galleries, shops, the Fulton Theatre and restaurants.
The hotel maintains the historic façade of the Watt & Shand department store and connects seamlessly to the city’s convention center. That proved fortuitous as the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen hosted a craft show that weekend. When my husband napped, I took in the show, arriving back at our room with a new treasure, a hand-crafted kitchen stool by Ligonier, PA, artisan Paul Sirofchuck. Lancaster is filled with such nice surprises.