A quick walk down Centre Street in Jamaica Plain and it's clear that this is a town where "main street" is still valued. There are a few big chains, mainly banks and New England's own Dunkin' Donuts, but the majority of storefronts are independents. There are enough restaurants to keep you trying something new for quite a while, whether its spicy Indian cuisine, succulent sushi or sandwiches named after gangsters. I passed a martial arts school, a yoga studio with an adorable monkey on the sign and Kitchenwitch, a kitchen supply store I'm itching to go back and wander through.
It's always a bit depressing when a store can't come up with anything interesting to put in those huge storefront windows that face the street. I've noticed hair and beauty businesses seem to find this especially difficult. But Kitchenwitch caught my eye immediately with their wedding gifts display filled with matryoshka doll inspired wares, tea pots and did I mention the life-size mannequin wearing a wedding dress and witch's hat? Anyone who can come up with a window like that must have a unique perspective to share inside. I tried to capture it in a picture to share with you, but the glare from the sun on the glass worked against me.
This idea of shifting where we spend our money so it supports the local economy and independent sellers/growers whenever possible, really appeals to me. I heard Heather Ordover of Craftlit talking about the book Switch, in which an economically depressed town tried all sorts of expensive projects to keep from dieing. And then a group of students realized that if each person in town just spent $40 a month there, in town, the economy would turn around, and it has. It's something to think about.
A small sign for the Blue Frog Bakery drew me down a side street, where I couldn't miss the shop.
I'm always impressed when a food establishment is willing to give a glimpse behind the scenes at food preparation. There's a dessert restaurant in Boston called Finale where they've placed a mirror on the ceiling above where they torch the creme brule so patrons can watch the caramelizing magic. Blue Frog's action that afternoon wasn't so dramatic, but it certainly made me want to stop in and sample a bite, or two, or three the next time I'm in JP.
There must be something about JP and 3D animal signs. The toy shop had whimsical, Jim Henson-esq aliens climbing its store front, and JP Licks, the ice cream shop which started in JP and spread across the greater Boston area, has a larger than life cow emerging from its brick facade!
The interior is a bit of an ice cream Disney world. The tall ceilings make the space feel huge. There are figures hanging from the ceiling and large paintings, not to mention a display case of pastries and the scent of freshly brewed coffee. And of course the ice cream is rich, flavorful and original.
Outside is a bit more relaxed. There's a bubler with a bowl beneath it labelled "Homemade Dog Water". I don't even own a dog, but I always think it speaks well of an establishment when they remember their customer's furry friends. To the right is an area designated as Belle's Park. Not so many years ago Belle sold her handmade jewelry from this spot. In addition to being craftminded, she was also an avid backgammon player and belonged to the New England Backgammon Club. When she passed away JP Licks set up this little memorial.
My favorite part of this spot, is the giant mural on the adjacent business's wall. What could be an eyesore, an alley leading to trash cans, is turned into an attraction, a celebration of the space.
When I was here just two weeks before, there were different murals. I don't remember what they were of, but they didn't look old or faded. I wonder if they change them out regularly to give more artists a chance to share their work. The abundance of murals was one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and take a closer look.
And then there's my favorite.
It stands opposite to the sports mural, bookending the parking lot. The scene looks like something out of a children's book, but it actually commemorates the annual lantern parade around Jamaica Pond. People bring their own homemade lanterns or buy one on the spot, and join together to walk the 1.5 mile trail around the pond. It looks like it happens in the fall, based on their dress. I'll try to go to it this year and bring back photos to share.
You can see the same boat house here that appears in the earlier mural. I like the variety of the people, the pregnant woman, the women with dreadlocks, the child with the giant hat who is clearly marching and having a great time. And why not? Being outside, at night, with a touch of fire is a recipe for magic.
Can you remember being small enough to ride on someone's shoulders? I remember being on my dad's at the local air show. I was two parts thrilled (I could actually see above the crowds), and one big part terrified, but I wasn't about to let on. Then I'd have to get down and walk!
If you'd like to see more murals, some of which have been replaced by the ones I showed here, visit the JP Community Arts Advocates website.
There's just one more intallment to come of this trip through JP. Fittingly, it will continue from where we've left off, Jamaica Pond.