Daily photo by John Godbey|
Customers have lunch outside Bank Street Deli.
down Bank Street
Congregation of stores in Decatur areaís premiere spot for boutique shopping
By Eric Fleischauer
Bank Street, an Alabama treasure, is located here.
Even Decatur residents can be forgiven for missing the delightful congregation of shops that make up the areaís premier spot for boutique shopping. The street is just south of the Old State Bank, with its beautiful and (thanks to pranksters) perpetually sudsy fountain. To get here, though, take Canal Street off Wilson Street Northwest and hang a right on Church. For you out-of-towners, Wilson is also Alabama 20.
Bank Street is not long, and its main retail stretch is even shorter. But the street, like the stores on it, is densely packed. The century-old buildings are all brick, and you wonít find much linoleum here. Most storeowners have preserved the original wood flooring, and many have the original — and ornate — tin ceilings.
I had some time on my hands, so I started with my favorite Bank Street hangout: Bank Street Antique Mall, owned for seven years by Gloria and James Arthur. The rambling, wood-floored structure was a dry goods store in its distant past but has been an antique store since the 1970s. Its three creaky floors are packed with an unusual variety of antiques.
The fishing lures alone keep me occupied for more time than I care to admit. Coins, books, china, furniture, clocks and a bewildering array of historical curios are displayed in the cozy rooms throughout the mall. No decorator items from Taiwan here; this, Gloria Arthur said proudly and accurately, is ďa real antique store.Ē
The variety is not by accident. Gloria Arthur said she uses more than 50 dealers, selected carefully both for quality and for diversity of product.
Many people stop by if their antiques need repair. The Arthurs keep a long list of craftsmen whom they trust with fine antiques.
Bank Street, she said, is the place to be.
ďI love Bank Street. Itís like a little neighborhood. Everybody knows everybody. We help each other out, we share things,Ē Arthur said. ďItís like business used to be.Ē
Wide variety of stores
There are too many stores to name — much less describe — on Bank Street, but many deal in antiques. Thereís Sykes Antiques, with its gorgeous merchandise and an affectionate, non-antique schnauzer. And you donít want to miss Tammy Eddy Antiques and Gifts, or Bank Street Antiques, Books and Collectibles.
Sam Frank & Moore has featured a bridal registry throughout its century in Decatur, but itís gone a bit upscale since its early years. Beginning as a hardware store, it now is a showcase for gifts, including china, oil paintings and home decorations.
If youíre interested in a bridal registry sans screwdrivers, this is the place. It manages to be both quaint and elegant, a Bank Street classic.
Whether your goal is a gift for the bride or for your own home, youíll find plenty of options at Inglis House Lamps. Itís crammed full of — you guessed it — lamps. Quaint, cluttered and elegant, Inglis is a major Bank Street attraction.
For a delightful lunchtime repast, stop by Bank Street Deli. Itís wildly popular among those who work downtown, and itís a rare day when thereís not a group of neighbors from historic Decatur sitting inside or on the outside tables.
Owners Jim Ridgeway and Keith Spivey, who started the business in May 2005, specialize in hot and cold sandwiches. My favorite is the Reuben, but in these dog days of summer, the crowd favorite is the chicken salad sandwich.
Sandwiches are good, but for evening fare try out Simp McGhees, named after a riverboat captain who docked nearby in the 1800s.
The ubiquitous creaky floors and historic curios spice-up some of Decaturís best food. Try out the seafood-filled mushroom caps (my favorite). Other customer favorites include the snapper topped with shrimp, crab, mushrooms and green onions; and beef tenderloin. And definitely leave room for dessert.
Whatever your age, donít exit Bank Street without visiting Wykerís Toys. It started as a hardware store in 1888 and, in 1981, evolved into a toy store that offers specialty toys and dolls. The toys, of course, are new, but they share with their environs a comfortable oldness. This is Americana.
Other childrenís favorites on Bank Street are Eloise & Henry, which carries fine childrenís clothing and shoes, and Little Feet Boutique.
On the north end of Bank Street is Paper Chase, which decades ago was Decatur Band Instrument Co. Like many stores here, itís tough to describe its merchandise without an inventory printout. That may be one of the beauties of shops here; they evolve around their customers.
Owned by Ashley Ashwander, Paper Chase specializes in customized invitations and birth announcements. On its hardwood floors, though, you will find everything from party favors to decorative china.
ďI love Bank Street,Ē said Ashwander. ďWe pick up traffic from tournaments and weddings. The businesses here share customers. We promote each other.Ē
Bank Streetís shops carry brands you canít find in chains, Ashwander said, and thatís a part of its attraction to customers willing to make the trek from places far away from Decatur.
You will find more gifts for sale at J. Ross the Florist.
For olfactory delight, open the door of Bank Street Uniques & Candy Bouquet. Marvelous candies abound on the first floor.
Climb the stairs for new-baby gifts, Christmas decorations and even luggage. Bank Street is nothing if not eclectic.
Across the street you will find Behind the Glass, owned by Gavin and Leigh Ann Underwood. Its specialty is picture framing, but itís worth a visit if you have no pictures to frame. It is a veritable art gallery. All of the paintings, of course, are framed.
If art is your thing, keep walking. A collection of art galleries operated by various local artists is just down the street, as is Design Factory and Legacy Portraits by Jennifer Culp.
Unlike many Bank Street businesses, Country Inn and Suites by Carlson is not in an old hardware store.
Itís in a new building with all the amenities, including a pool, but the all-brick structure meshes with Bank Street architecture. If you want a weekend to explore Bank Street, this is the place to stay.
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