SOLD OUT! in White River Junction, VT
June 8th Statewide Conference Sells Out
Word is getting around to the local community that the VT Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference, an annual meeting sponsored by the VT Dept. of Housing and Community Development, has sold out. That means 260 people from all over the State and beyond will be coming to town, according to the Town of Hartford's Planning and Development Services director, Lori Hirschfield. But how do you find White River's historic downtown district? No road signs show the way from the Interstates, so you'd better rely on GPS and a finely-tuned sense of what to look for if you're from outside the area. (Hint: Plug in "Northern Stage White River Junction" to your handheld's map app and that will get you to your destination where the conference will be hosted.)
An early vision of White River Junction's future. Who knew!
Certainly there's no better a place than White River Junction right now for a conference like this. The town has made great strides in breathing fresh life and excitement back into its downtown historic and arts district. In fact, right now White River Junction may be THE place in the northeastern United States that's the hottest growth town of its size for the arts. From First Friday nights each month when live music in a dozen small venues can be heard flowing mellifluously into the streets, to many small businesses dedicated to fostering the visual and culinary arts that have popped up of late, to an ongoing celebration of the arts with Northern Stage and its world-class theatre, The Center for Cartoon Studies and its MFA in sequential arts, and Long River Gallery & Gifts with now more than 150 local artists and artisans showing their work, White River is popping. There's also the Newberry Public Market space and first-rate eateries like PieceMeal Pies (you must try their savory pies soon!), Tip Top Cafe, Big Fatty's BBQ, and Tuckerbox cafe, to clothing shops like Revolution and Fat Hat Clothing, and even an artisan lamp store, Lampscapes, where hand-painted lampshades are the order of the day to brighten any home or office decor.
Downtown White River Junction, perfectly situated just a mile or so from the intersection of where Interstates 89 and 91 overlap, seems to have just the right mix of what people of all ages, sizes, and stripes are looking for these days. Yet, passing motorists still find this spot hard to locate due to a lack of road signage to guide the way.
First Friday celebrations each month in downtown White River Junction are hugely popular with more than 10 live music venues thanks to the efforts of Dave Clark, music promoter for Yellow House Media. See also: https://www.facebook.com/WRJctFirstFriday/ for more First Friday of the month celebration information.
But, more to the point, this is a walkable and livable town, easy to navigate once you find it, on foot after parking your car, by bicycle, or carrying or pulling your overnight bag if you've arrived by train. The Amtrak train station is right in the heart of town, with trains arriving from Washington, DC and NYC daily. It's also a friendly town, where people meet on the streets or in the cafes for the first time and find they have much in common to discuss. It's a community that defines the word "community." It even has some pretty decent pizza at C&S on So. Main Street.
Stroll around the downtown block and you'll find numerous doors to push through, revealing wonderful surprises like fine furniture creations (Fletcher Creations—Scott Fletcher can make pretty much anything, and beautifully at that), fine locally-made art and craft (Long River Gallery & Gifts—including jewelry, fine furniture, artist cards, and all kinds of gift items locally made), artful framing and art to be framed (The Junction Frame Shop), space to kibitz and relax (BoHo Cafe), or to grab a growler of craft beer just down South Main Street a bit (River Roost—try the Mellow Submarine pale ale for a brew you'll never forget). Elixir is a palate-pleasing eatery located in the old Freight House Hall close to River Roost. And Scavenger Gallery, a storefront that's nearly part of the Hotel Coolidge lobby space has art, jewelry, and even some wood products you'll love to explore. You can also discover hand-made jewelry and one-of-a-kind cool objects for home decor at Oodles (just a few strides up North Main Street in the Tip Top Building), or enjoy a refreshing break with Upper Valley Yoga to recharge your body and mind with classes ongoing daily. My favorite place to browse, flanked by the train tracks, is Vermont Salvage, which is a massive warehouse space where visitors can discover architectural salvage items from former homes and farmsteads, churches and businesses that have been carefully taken down and carted here bit by bit.
Want your hair cut or styled, washed and blown dry, permed, highlighted, or colored? Rio Blanco Salon on Currier Street is your kind of place.
Let's also not forget Valley Flower, which makes deliveries of beautiful custom floral art bouquets every day for all kinds of occasions, and POST., Pam Post's wonderful venture of cards, pens, pencils, games, and lots of other fun surprises that await the unsuspecting entrant with great color and vibrancy in a bit of a throwback to more relaxed times. Even home design is available at Kitchens of Distinction where custom kitchens are designed for your needs, and at dpf Design in the Tip Top Building next to Oodles where sustainable design to wine cellars, custom cabinetry to whole home interiors are the order of the day. Uncommon Home on North Main Street also carries great and unusual items for your interior decor. Oh, and, lest we forget, you can get your hair done while visiting at Rio Blanco Salon or cut at a great little barber shop on So. Main Street at the aptly-named Junction Barber Shop where prices are extremely affordable and the cuts are great. [I'd make a trip from anywhere for a good haircut like this spot offers.]
POST. on North Main Street. Slow down. Read, laugh, play, relax, and enjoy your surroundings in this lively little shop.
The people who have, for many years, been investing in White River Junction — think Matt Bucy, David Briggs, Mike Davidson, Byron Hathorn, David Fairbanks Ford, and others — have finally helped it turn the corner to a new and vibrant future. (Click Here for a Seven Days article about Matt Bucy and his accomplishments.) It would seem the next generation for White River Junction—affectionately known as River City—has arrived, and it's a bright and positive future to be sure.
The Main Street Museum. It's the people behind the shopfront windows that make all the difference in White River Junction. A creative mix of curiosities and artifacts graces the walls and shelves of this Museum that's so crucial to River City's cultural tenor of fun and footloose sense of freedom and individuality. (Photo of Robert Craig Baum, by permission.)
Now, June 8 brings Vermont statewide movers and shakers, thinkers and dreamers to town. There's much to be learned from White River's history of accomplishments. Click Here to see a dailyuv.com article about "place-based creation" that lists many of the places that make this town a living town and a great place to be and live, too. Click Here for another dailyuv.com article that compares what's happening in White River to the resurgence of places like Roanoke, VA and New Castle, DE that have drawn national attention (as in NY Times reporting) under the heading of "placemaking," the industry buzzword for downtown revitalization efforts. And if you really want to take a deep dive into "placemaking," have a look at this online MIT Publication called Places in the Making that discusses the subject topic, with case studies of real places around the country, in great detail.
With all that's happening in River City's downtown area, the next trick will be getting passing motorists off the Interstates to move beyond filling up their gas tanks and hopping back on the highway to their final destinations north or south. With luck, this will be an issue that will be addressed at the upcoming conference. Signage can be magic, especially when it's done right and placed in the right locations. After all, if passing motorists aren't aware of the wonders that exist in the lovely downtown White River Junction historic and arts district, then we'll never realize just how fully this town can blossom.
Another exciting addition to town, the Long River Gallery & Gifts artist collective, brings the work of more than 150 local VT and NH fine artists and artisans to South Main Street and as the gift shop for its hallway neighbor, The Hotel Coolidge whose motto, "the cure for boring travel stories" makes adventure travel a whole new experience.
Today, White River Junction is at an exciting crossroads that goes beyond the weight of its train tracks and cars that lumber through, stopping to let off passengers who delight in what they find, or the confluence of two great rivers or two main Interstate arteries that carry travelers throughout this stunningly beautiful region. The foundation has all but been laid by many real people who care about the future of this town. Now, "awareness-making" of what's in the lovely hamlet of River City will bring it forward even further.
Click Here to sign up to receive an email each time Dave Celone posts a News article here on the dailyuv.com. And please Click Here to see Dave's previous article about the gallery that's now moved to White River Junction, VT after spending its first 25 years in Lyme, NH.