There are cities — legitimate cities, cities you’ve heard of — that do not have within their borders the range and diversity of shops that you’ll find on Providence’s Wickenden Street.
A long-time Providence resident, I have taken Wickenden for granted for many years. I know that if I need a hit of European influenced-fashion I can go to Mignonette, or if I need high-end wallpaper, I can go to Adler’s Hardware. I know now that bachelorette parties require a trip to Mister Sister Erotica and when I need my antique oriental rug cleaned (or even replaced) I’ll go to Rustigian rugs. When I’m jonesin’ for pizza (healthy) I head to Pizza Pi-er and when I’m craving pizza (exotic), I go to Fellini’s. Most coffee needs are satisfied at Coffee Exchange. Through the years, I’ve also visited a chiropractor, several hairdressers, an optician and a picture framer on Wickenden. (Haven’t required the legal or church services yet.)
So this is a big street, yes? You’d be surprised.
It is a narrow and compact strip, about 1/3 of a mile from stem to stern. If you wanted to throw the ultimate, but walkable, scavenger hunt, this is where you’d do it. You couldn’t get obscure enough: “Bring me one guppy, a towel rod, a tube of indigo gouache, two peonies, an eel sushi roll and a picture of yourself with a bronze bust of George M. Cohan.”
That would take about eleven minutes.
In the last decade, when the phrase “mixed-used development” has made urban planners from coast to coast all hot and bothered, Wickenden stands as a nearly perfect template. Nestled up against Narragansett Bay, it became home to the British first in the 1600s (most notably, minister William Wickenden), then the Irish, followed by a heavy influx of Portuguese and Cape Verdeans in the early 20th century who worked the nearby ports of Fox Point.
The 18th -and 19th-century triple-deckers that housed the ebb and flow of these immigration swells still stand as the major draw of this appealing street. With urban professionals, Brown University students, and artists living on the second and third floors, it is the first floor of these often Necco-colored buildings that host the rich mix of shops and restaurants that serve the neighborhood foot traffic.
Wickenden also prospers as an 18-hour community, another element in the holy grail of mixed-used development. From early morning breakfast at Amy’s Place (get the gourmet French toast) or Café Zog to last call at Z-Bar or Abe’s, there’s action on the street all day and into the wee hours. And best of all, unlike most of the planned mixed-used communities rolling off developers’ laptops and into cities near you, Wickenden does all of this without a single chain store. (OK, one chain: Utrecht. But it’s a small chain, only 37 retail outlets, and it traffics in art supplies, so we’re going to let it pass.)
Wickenden is a genuine organically grown neighborhood that morphs from generation to generation but only seems to become more vital as it goes. If you want to sample a real, enduring and highly entertaining section of Providence, you can’t go wrong wending your way over to Wickenden.
A few highlights:
Adler’s Hardware (173 Wickenden): A mom-and-pop hardware store, yes, but not in the quaint way you’re thinking. The finest wallpapers, paints and upholstery are offered alongside more quotidian things like rope and nails.
The Curatorium (197 Wickenden): A design and gift store run by a RISD industrial design professor whose sense of humor and keen eye can be felt in the cheeky, thoughtful products.
Mignonette (301 Wickenden): Where you go when you need that one thing – the bronze cuff bracelet, the lacy lingerie, the French perfume – that will escalate your outfit to new heights.
Black Lotus Tattoo (270 Wickenden): I don’t know from tattoos. It just looks really cool from the outside.
Abe’s (302 Wickenden): The bartenders can put all their focus on making interesting house-infused drinks because, in part, they don’t have to bother with a kitchen. Those tedious details can be handled from nearby brother restaurant United BBQ, leaving all the attention for you and your apple cinnamon martini.
Wickenden Pub (320 Wickenden): Alternatively, go right for the beer. 99 of them at last count.
Wickenden Farmer’s Market: From June – October, right off of Wickenden on Brook St., you can find a cornucopia of Rhode Island-grown produce and specialty prepared items.