Hope Springs

“Hope St. has everything you could really want, right here.” Says Aaron Lentz, who has been working at Hope St. Pizza for 8 years, and who has lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Admittedly, he’s biased. But he lays out the local landscape well. “You have your restaurants and bars – they’re night-life friendly, but they’re also family-friendly. Then you have your section for shopping, and your boutiques. There’s the part with all the beauty parlors [threading, nails and hair are represented]. And then there’s the park at the end. I love it here – it’s great for people watching, and it’s become so much busier over the last few years, in terms of foot traffic. We get a lot of interesting people, and lot of regulars.” Those interesting people no doubt add to the appeal of the al fresco dining – thin but prevalent here during the nice weather.

At the “top” of this gently sloping section of Hope, called the “Summit neighborhood,” sits the airy Rochambeau Library. Nearby you’ll find CreaTOYvity, a toy store with an intellectual and hand-crafted bent. Also for the little ones, there’s a children’s thrift clothing store nearby.

If you walk down Hope and talk to the people manning the stores, you’ll find lifers interspersed with a lot of people who have been working there “about 4 or 5 years.” And a lot of remarks about how much they’ve seen it change in that time. “Renovations have made it much friendlier for foot traffic,” Says Cathie O’Shaughnessy of Frog & Toad, a fun and unique little gift shop packed to the rafters with RI-gifts and tchotchkes (see photo). “It’s become much more of a walk-up-and-down street,” she adds.

J. Marcel patron Sara Rapport agrees. “I was going to CVS, but I love this little store, so I came in. This is a great area to wander down. And this studio is fun – a lot of funky but reasonably priced stuff.”

What other shopping can you find on an amiable amble? Rhody Crafts, a relative new comer, was opened this year by local maker Kim Clark, who also has lived a few blocks away for over 20 years. Strolling by the door, I met Ms. Clark hanging out on the sidewalk with a number of other local residents. “It’s my day off,” she said, to explain why she was in front of the shop instead of inside it. “A lot of people confuse hand-made with home-made. Our craftspeople are professionals who make these products full-time, with a high-level of expertise,” Clark says. “It feels great to support that part of our local community. To help support those makers and to send out checks at the end of the month.” Why on Hope Street? “It’s fully local shopping, and people on this street get that. We have amazing customers and amazing staff here.”

The Kreatelier (a fusion of “creative” and “atelier,” the French word for an artists’ workshop) takes a similar approach with fabric-based creations. “All the pillows, those clutches, and a number of other products we make ourselves, right here or at home,” explains creative manager Lisa Billings. The shop also specializes in custom home interiors, and where local products aren’t available, they only carry US-made products, with a heavy emphasis on recycled materials (including the wrapping paper).

There’s also a culinary aspect to the street that extends beyond the many exceptional restaurants and bars – you have not just the spice shop, but also Olive del Mondo’s gourmet olive oil and vinegar collection, and Stock, a haven for fine cooking instruments. Aimed at providing industry professionals with their tools of the trade, Stock also appeals to “Anyone who loves cooking.” Not surprisingly, they have a section of merchandise made in RI. “Obviously, we have Japanese knives, too,” says Cody Shelly, who was manning the store when I visited and referred to their exclusive Korin knives selection. “Hope St. is a great space and a great community. The shop owners know each other and cooperate. We give a discount to anyone who works on Hope St., as well as to chefs and JWU students,” he says.

There are specialty shops to visit in many niches – little boutiques dedicated to antique coins or antique cameras. A jewelry shop, a number of clothing shops and gift shops. Among the numerous restaurants, side-by-side pizza places Pizzico and Hope St. Pizza are just a block from side-by-side Asian restaurants Apsara Palace and Gourmet House (plus Lucky Kitchen up the street), showing that even direct competitors seem to live in harmony on Hope.

One mystery that has long confounded me is why two of Providence’s premier Asian restaurants are right next to each other. Turns out, both were owned by the same people – Gourmet House opening to handle overflow from the excessively popular Apsara. Menus differed only slightly. Recently, both spots changed owners, so watch for small changes in menus and preparation techniques. “Between the college students and the families, it’s a very nice area for a business,” add Rosie and Theresa from Apsara.

Hope is also home to Festival Ballet. While major performances take place downcity – and there is no summer schedule – the company is renowned for its Up Close on Hope series, which presents a wide range of performances, in contemporary, experimental and classical styles. These happen in the practice and training space, which is far bigger than it looks from the front, including a performance space that’s still theatrical, but known for its intimacy.

The neighborhood is anchored at the far end by Lippitt Park (named for RI’s 44th governor – you remember, from the 1890s). The park leads conveniently into the tip of Blackstone Blvd, a great trail for quasi-suburban, quasi-park walking and jogging. And perhaps the best part of jogging up and down “the Boulevard” is that when you return, you’re almost on top of 3 sisters ice cream – the recently expanded home of hand-made, hand-packed, RI-born melting dairy goodness. In Ice Cream tradition, this includes a lot of flavors with ridiculous names, and the recent RI Food Fight award-winning Kulfi blend. It’s a reward you’ve totally just earned with the aforementioned walk or jog.

Hope St. betrays the upscale nature of the neighborhood with the price tags in some (not all) of its shops – but also the universal emphasis on buying local, made-in-the-USA, eco-friendly wares and green shopping can raise prices. Everything is friendly and homey, and nothing feels ostentatious. Almost every shop on this row has at least a section for RI-produced products, recycled products abound and there is enough green to create the illusion of lawns and forests. “Green and recycled are important to us,” says O’Shaughnessy of Frog and Toad. And Billings of Kreatelier. And Clark of Rhody Crafts. And probably any other shopkeeper you might ask on that street, outside of CVS.

Hope has a number of events during the year that can provide a great reason for a visit. This neighborhood has one of the longest-running farmers’ markets around (celebrating a 25th anniversary), meeting in Lippitt Park on Wednesdays from 3-6pm and Saturdays 9am-1pm, from now through the end of October. This neighborhood has its own Tshirts, its own Facebook page (fb.com/hopestreetprov) and its own music concerts. On June 6th there’s the Hope Street Spring Block Party, a festival of kid’s rides and activities, sales, live music and entertainment. And later in the summer the Summit Concert features top-grade live musical talent along with kid-adventures, visiting brewers and more.

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