Friday, May 11, 2001

Walk 'til you drop in Lebanon

It's small-town ambience, with sophisticated inventories

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Once a month, Insatiable Shopper Joy Kraft will venture outside the I-275 Loop in her search for the best shopping — and best shopping experiences. Come along as she scouts everything from quaint towns to busy outlet malls to regional crafts centers. Today, she writes about Lebanon, the Warren County seat.

        Turning onto Broadway in Lebanon, you think you've stumbled into “small-town America.”

[photo] Shoppers stroll down Mulberry Street in Lebanon.
(Dick Swaim photos)
| ZOOM |
        There's a cozy corner park centered by a Victorian gazebo, brick walkways, historic architecture, an inn where Henry Clay and Daniel Webster rested their feet. Plus an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and a railway station that looks like it was plucked from a Lionel train set.

        But don't kid yourself. Somebody up there was thinking.

        While other small towns in the Midwest were losing business to malls, Lebanon's city fathers and mothers figured out the secret: cash in on the small-town atmosphere.

        Many towns catering to tourists lose control to T-shirts and taffy shops, ending up with a cotton candy atmosphere — too sugary, no substance.

        But Lebanon has done it right . . . except for the trucks that thunder down the main street, a reminder of the whiz-by world outside of town.

        There are collectibles stores and antique stores aplenty in Lebanon, the seat of Warren County located about 40 minutes north of Cincinnati, just off Interstate 71. You can wander through a sea of metal lunch boxes, wooden shutters that haven't screened the light of day in decades, Fiestaware, trunks and crippled tricycles.

   Things to do: Look for green pamphlets describing the stores, restaurants and restroom locations in Lebanon at most shops, the Chamber of Commerce on Mulberry Street or the Lebanon City Building on Broadqay.
    Parking: The two-hour street meters are free Saturdays and Sundays. There are two free city lots — at Sycamore and Mulberry and at Main and Sycamore streets.
    Turtle Creek Valley Railway. On Broadway. Rides depart at 10:30 a.m. and noon Wednesday and Friday; 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday. Cost: $10 adults; $9 seniors; $6 ages 3-12. (513) 398-8484.
    Warren County Historical Museum. Exhibits on early Americana, especially Shaker living. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. Cost: $3 adults, $1 kindergarten-high school students. Children must be accompanied by an adult.(513) 932-1817.
    Two self-guided walking tours of historic Lebanon are available, one concentrates on historic Victorian housing and architecture; the other describes the city's biggest and oldest trees. Available at the Chamber of Commerce and city building.
    Restaurants: The heart of Lebanon is the historic Golden Lamb Restaurant and Inn at Broadway and Main.
    Other eateries include the Best Cafe, 17. E. Mulberry, an uptown cafe with an imaginative lunch and dinner menu; Breakfast Club, 102 N. Broadway, specializing in gourmet pancakes; Gourmet on Broadway, with soups, sandwiches, desserts and coffee by the pound; Mighty Casey's Eatery & Brewhouse, 20 E. Silver St., with frog legs to fish; Sycamore Tree Tea Room, 3 S. Sycamore St., serving lunch and antiques; Village Cellars, 42 E. Mulberry St., deli sandwiches, imported and domestic beers and entertainment Friday and Saturday nights, and Village Ice Cream Parlor on Broadway, serving hot and cold sandwiches, soups and sodas to sundaes.
        But there are also custom-furniture stores that offer hand-made Shaker armoires, beds and even kitchen cabinetry. Fine antiques stores carry sterling silver, hand-painted china and estate jewelry. There's a baby shop where you can custom-design crib bedding, a store where it's Christmas 365 days a year, and a palce that specializes in African, American Indian and Asian art and antiques.

        And for respite, there's a tobacco shop (Doc's) so steeped in ambience that even the surgeon general might be tempted to kick up his feet, lean back and light up.

Walk and shop

        “Everything is close together here. You can buy or window-shop,” says Ang Gottmann of Delhi Township, shopping with friends Carol Murphy of Delhi and Mary Gardner of Mason.

        “We like the antiques and all the nooks and crannies,” Ms. Murphy says. “And the garden clubs here do such a wonderful job of landscaping. It's just a wonderful place to walk around,” adds Ms. Gardner.

        Women flock to places like this and often spend a day here on a “shop 'til you drop” mission. Few men share the fervor.

        Not to worry. In Lebanon, every block has several benches. And there are restaurants or coffee shops sprinkled around. Train enthusiasts and kids can ride the Turtle Creek Valley Railway, and history buffs can immerse themselves in the past at the Warren County Historical Society Museum.

        And, if the gifts and antiques are too much, non-traditional shoppers can try on boots and hats at Liberty Western, sample chocolate at the Golden Turtle Chocolate Factory, gawk at autographed race-car fenders and track memorabilia at Classic Impressions or pore over antique reference books at Dickens' Book Shop.

One shopper's finds

        Everyone who spends the day will have favorite shops and finds. To give you an idea of what you'll find, here are mine:

        • Rugamuffin Keepsake Rugs at Matthew House on Broadway: A hand-hooked scatter rug or wall hanging can be custom-made with one of the $58 kits owner Beth Brandabur sells. You buy a kit, send in the form with your child's artwork and the company reproduces it in a 28-by-20-inch plush rug. She also sells a Birth Announcement Rug that has the name, date and weight on it in pink or blue and a Personalized Rug with a child's name and design. They're made of machine-washable acrylic.

        • Short bib cotton overalls in American flag motif for kids (S-M-L) by Limited Edition, $48 (matching hats available) from Good Housekeeping on Broadway, one of the town's best-stocked stores. It has everything — stationery, birdbaths, antiques, splatterware, M.A. Hadley pottery, furniture, throws.

        • Art Deco-style imported four-piece silverplate tea service, $250 at the Gerald Miller Co. on Broadway. Don't miss the 12-tune cylinder music box for $10,950, the antique walking sticks and the cocoa fiber bristle pigs for $15-$44.

        • Antique christening gown, $125, found at Broadway Antique Mall, a multidealer shop with about 50 booths offering a nice selection of antique clothes and linens, among other old items.

        • Iron frog garden sculpture on a one-piece spring base than can be adjusted for more bounce, $45.95 from the Garden Gate on Broadway, which carries, antiques, clothes, books, soaps and garden accessories. Don't miss the Tete de Tete iron bench at $975 and drawer pulls in the shapes of dragon flies, watering cans, trowels, snails and birdhouses for $6.95-$8.95.

        • Warren Kimble rabbit lantern, $62 at Isaacs' Shaker Hill on Broadway. The furniture shop owned by Brian and Elizabeth Isaacs sells handsome Shaker furniture reproductions made by Brian's brother, Tom. They also sell hand-made Basketville baskets, Shaker prints by Warren Kimble and accessories.

        • Quilts, shams and linens in newer French-country colors and patterns from Oh Suzanna. Owner Joan Townsend has managed to stock her store with one of the nicest collections of quilts (new and antique), matelasse spreads, vintage camp blankets and duvet covers. And her collection of funky socks for men and women will make you giggle.

        The Open Hearth, across the street, also has a beautiful, more traditional, quilt selection.

        • Hand-crafted furniture always sounds expensive, but if you stop in at Benner's or Isaacs' Shaker Hill, you might be surprised. Many reproductions are no more expensive than pieces in a chain furniture store. And here the pieces are hand-made, often to order. Both shops craft kitchen cabinetry as well as individual pieces.

        “Everything here is handmade, all dovetailed and jointed in solid wood, with no staples, no pressboard,” says Michelle Benner of Benner's Custom Woodworking on Mulberry. The store has a workshop outside of town where you can watch artisans at work.

        The Open Hearth on Broadway also sells distressed furniture reproductions made by Sam Earnhart, husband of shop owner Sharon.

        • Look up to find the Christmas shop. It sits in a building on Mulberry Street that sports a Christmas tree in the bell tower. Appropriately, it's called Beneath the Tree. Inside, you'll find at least a dozen fully decorated trees — one hung with golf memorabilia, another decked out in fishing paraphernalia, another in hunting and moose motif and a Mary Engelbreit tree. There's even a John Deere tree with miniature tractors. Here is where you will find the one-of-a-kind clay Santa head ornaments ($38-$48) and sculptures by Mark Harrison of South Lebanon.

        • The Cadillac of baby bedding can be found at Heaven Scents on Mulberry. Owner Cindy McCarthy has hooked up with Californian Wendy Bellissimo to offer customers the chance to choose their own color schemes and fabrics for crib comforters, bed skirts, bumpers and sheets. Choices are made from a swatch book, and it only takes seven to 14 days for delivery. A bed skirt and quilt start at about $240. Complete sets cost about $350. Ms. McCarthy also has hand-made quilts and quilted diaper bags by Sharon Brown of Centerville, Ohio, and other accessories for baby's room.

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