Leesburg native Carolyn Landes recently journeyed home to finish up her holiday shopping, and provides us some insights on her favorite shops. You can read more of Carolyn's work as a contributing writer to The Georgetowner here.
Strolling around Loudoun County this time of year feels a lot like entering a scene from a vintage holiday postcard. Paned shop windows are trimmed with snowflakes and cheer, the street lamps glow merry and bright, and in the air is that distinct aroma we all recognize but can’t quite articulate in sensory terms – the spirit of the holiday season. While I grew up in Loudoun, returning to its streets after spending the last 10 years in college and consequently Washington, DC is a bit like stepping back in time, where nothing has changed and yet everything is different. There still stands the iconic Tally Ho Theatre on West Market Street in downtown Leesburg. There's the enticing scent of freshly baked delicacies wafting from Mom's Apple Pie on Loudoun Street. More than anything, there permeates the understated, old-school charm that continues to make Loudoun one of the best tourist destinations in the state of Virginia, beloved to anyone who can appreciate the slower pace of quintessential small town America.
I wrap my wool scarf a bit tighter around my neck one brisk but sunny Saturday afternoon in December and get ready to finish my holiday shopping in Leesburg's historic district. I doubly check to be sure the cheery, crimson-hued "Parking is Free for 2 hours - Happy Holidays!" hood covering the parking meter is real and not a mirage (remember, I'm coming from DC where such a sign is the stuff of urban legend) and with a smile on my face, a spring in my step, and a warmness in my heart incurred by my parking meter savings of what’s gotta be at least a buck fifty, I embark on my quest.
The first stop is to the festively adorned Rouge Boutique & Spa. I remember when this beauty store/spa/apothecary boutique occupied a tiny, white building a bit further outside Leesburg's historic downtown. My stepmom was always a frequent patron and would rave about the excellent facials given. Obviously she was part of a much larger consensus, as Rouge now fills a gorgeous, expansive, brightly lit space that feels a bit like the epicenter of King Street in Historic Leesburg.
I enter and am taken aback by row after row of neatly arranged wall shelving and store displays filled with sensory-pleasing beauty products, accented by festive stringing of holiday-lights garland hung from the mantle, er, ceiling with care. The store has everything from soaps, to hand lotions, to candles and facial scrubs, as well as a new men's cologne line that a shop attendee confides has been flying off store shelves since its arrival. Product guru that I am (Sugared Almond Body Scrub, anyone?), I am basically ready to end my day of shopping right here in what I have quickly discovered to be the equivalent of Santa’s workshop for beauty-connoisseurs, but I remind myself the day is young and there is more shopping to be done. After selecting a trio of Shea butter bar soaps after conducting a careful scent comparison (my 7-year-old niece has "My Own Soap" numerated on her Christmas list this year – and who could blame her? Don’t we all need our own soap, sometimes?), I am on my merry way.
Next stop: I cross the street to the aptly named “Very Virginia” store, a delectable shop filled with “Virginia’s finest goodies and gifts,” as declared on the state-shaped sign hanging out front. Goodies and gifts? Some may question the specificity of the shop’s contents, but I have enough info to already know I am going to be a fan. Upon entering, I’m promptly greeted by the energetic owner who is serving up a variety of peanut-flavored snack samples for tasting. Amongst Very Virginia’s goods?
There are salted peanuts, roasted peanuts, peanut brittle, peanut soup – between delicious snaps of my peanut brittle snack sample I find myself having flash backs to the endearing “Bubba” from Forrest Gump listing every variety of shrimp recipe known to man. This shop is kind of like that, but for peanut people; this is Virginia, after all. I find myself moving quickly through the space, delighting over the well-curated selection of gifts. There are chocolates, jams, soups, BBQ sauces, and finely-edited Virginia-themed gift baskets, in addition to t-shirts, post-cards, wine glasses, Virginia college alumni paraphernalia, and more. I purchase a few different flavors of Virginia peanut canisters, a bag of Nancy’s Chocolate-drizzled Popcorn, and a Porch Party Salsa jar (the label promises “it is so salsafying!”) and beeline determinedly toward the door before succumbing to any additional snack samples.
Just up the block is the absolutely delightful Crème de la Crème. Where I live in Georgetown, I spend an inordinate (some may call it strange or alarming) amount of my time (and okay, money) at the Paper Source store on M Street. It’s my go-to for crafts, cards, wrapping paper, unique gifts, and the list goes on … For anyone who may be familiar with Paper Source, Crème de la Crème is Loudoun’s locally-owned answer to the corporate entity. The boutique retailer has 3 locations – the King Street store in Leesburg, in addition to two others in Middleburg and Charlottesville – and is your one-stop-shop for, well, basically anything for the home, kitchen, or bath! The store offers an amazing array of French and Italian table linens, cutlery, and handmade pottery, in addition to note cards, stationary,
coffee table books, unique gifts and trinkets, lotions, candles, pillows, and more. This time of year, exquisitely crafted Christmas ornaments are for sale, as well as holiday-festive serving ware. You can check out the store’s Instagram account to get a pictorial idea of some of their offerings (@shopcremedelacremeboutique) since I can barely begin to cover the range of fantastic items to be found in this blog post. In addition to the trove of other treasures, I find myself completely taken with Crème de la Crème’s featured artist, Lena Murray’s amazing paintings for sale in the store. Many portray lustrous scenes of European cities in beautifully hued brush strokes that incorporate bright pops of color. Le sigh. I manage to extract myself from Crème de la Crème with only an Eiffel Tower-shaped Christmas ornament and a “Yeti Rescue Kit” (you’ll have to Google this one) before continuing on my way.
A few steps down Loudoun Street and I find myself at the “duplex boutique” building that houses both “The Jeans Whisperer” on the first floor (in addition to selling denim, as you may have guessed, the store has a great collection of boots, jewelry, belts, and other women’s wear items) and the newly opened “Whisper Wear” on the second floor, an active lifestyle boutique. Whisper Wear embraces the current trend of workout clothes that you can wear right from the gym to the street without sacrificing comfort or chic, and they pull it off quite well. I am greeted warmly by the store owner who takes time to show me around and points out a few of her best-selling items that, in addition to super-cute active-wear, include a variety of scarves and jewelry. I pick up a knitted infinity scarf in a beautiful, dark turquoise shade for my sister and hurry back outside as I am nearing the 5 ‘o clock hour, which in downtown Leesburg means just about closing time for many of its retailers.
I pause for a moment across the street from my parked car and gaze upon the Leesburg Courthouse, a perhaps solemn institution of lawmaking, but a festive sight to behold this time of year as the Christmas tree on its lawn sparkles with lights, a beaming beacon in the fading light of day. Loudoun is a special place for many people – transplants, first-time visitors, and long-time residents alike – and I gently chide myself for not making it back this way to appreciate all it has to offer on a more frequent basis. The day has provided a welcome respite from the oft too hurried pace of life that a city can unwittingly encourage and today’s excursion has been a comforting reminder that although we may all stray from home at times – whether that place be the quaint town of Leesburg, or an abode of another place or type completely – there is comfort in knowing it is a place we can always return. For as the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”