In an era where it seems like chain stores are sweeping the mom-and-pop shops off the market, Northampton feels refreshing.
There’s a tunnel bar, independent bookstores on what feels like every corner and more than a few wacky vintage shops. No matter what day of the week or time of year, downtown is usually bustling and there's even a parking shortage to rival that of Saratoga Springs. Yet, scoring that rare print or visiting the infrared sauna at THELo seems worth the challenge of hunting for all-day parking.
“We have a great mix of small, independent businesses. They’re unique and there’s a great blend,” said Amy Cahillane, the director of the Downtown Northampton Association.
It can feel a bit crunchy granola. But there’s a certain charm to the city that isn’t lost on crowds above and below the millennial age group.
Here are a few must-dos:
The Tunnel Bar
What used to be a train tunnel is now a chic martini bar. The Tunnel Bar kept the brickwork and the stone from its train days (circa 1896). Between the decor and the classic drinks, the bar has garnered a reputation as must see. It made Buzzfeed’s list of bars to see before you die, and it certainly makes ours.
Book lovers, this might be your favorite road trip in this entire section. There seems to be no shortage of bookstores in the heart and on the outskirts of Northampton. For used books, check out Raven Used Books, Boomerang Booksellers, Book Ends (which is actually in Florence, Massachusetts, Old Book Store and Gabriel Books. For new, there’s Broadside Bookshop and Booklink Booksellers.
Starting in the heart of downtown, the trail stretches all the way past Amherst College and into Belchertown. It’s a great way to see the area from a different perspective.
See a show
Bands from Lake Street Dive to Unknown Mortal Orchestra to Sean Rowe have made it a point to book gigs in Northampton. Some of the venues, particularly those owned by the Iron Horse Entertainment Group, have a bit of vintage charm that makes not only the band’s performance memorable but the space as well.
Northampton Sidewalk Sales
From Thursday through Sunday in July and August, the entire downtown scene is like a flea market. Shops move their goods out onto the street and usually have some sales on quirky products, artwork and even designer goods. If you’re looking for something really kitschy, try Faces, the shop that has everything from fake teeth to cards. (Photo by Nate Jasper, @DesignNorthamptonMedia: View of St. Mary's Church in downtown Northampton.)
Whether you like to be scared or just like history, the Northampton Ghost Tours should be right up your alley. Running from April to October, the tours get into the supernatural stories surrounding the city along with a bit of classic New England folklore.
Spring is over, but there is still plenty in bloom at the Smith College Botanic Gardens. It’s home to over 2,500 species of plants, not only from Massachusetts but from across the world. There is a suggested admission of $2.
Whoever said pie is only a dessert has never been to the Florence Pie Bar. Just outside of Northampton, the eatery serves up pies of every kind and for every meal. They’ve also got soups and scones, but really, go for the pie.
If you’re more in the mood for pizza than pie, check out Mimmo’s Pizza, where their slogan is “Building a better America, one slice at a time,” and their website address is bigpizzaslices.com. With slices as big as an average human head, I’d say they live up to that URL. Also, there’s a money-back guarantee if it’s not the best pizza you’ve ever had.