shopping on Washington Street Mall

No matter how big or small, every city that has the goods to attract visitors will undoubtedly feature one communal spot we liken to “tourist hell.”  In Cape May, that spot is the Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian thoroughfare that spans three blocks smack dab in the middle of town.  

Washington Street Mall is no “3rd Street Promenade,” yet we’re still not sure if that is a good or bad thing.  While we did not spot any annoying singer/ songwriter buskers or clowns painted in silver, we imagine they must exist from time to time, and though there may be no deluge of brand name stores like Express or Sephora... that means there are no brand name stores like Express or Sephora.  Heck, there’s not even an Old Navy!  Instead, Washington Street Mall collects together a series of one-off stores that purvey exactly what you might expect from an old Victorian-era town:  cutesy-poo small-town Americana crap!  Take a handful of shops from either side of the street and you’ll likely come up with the same items:  fudge, toffee, scary dolls, lady clothes and wind chimes.

But perhaps things are-a-changing.  Though we were shocked and disappointed to see our previous favorite shop, Atlantic Books, closed down, we were more than happy to welcome Galvanic, a surf ‘n ski boutique that, for the first time in Cape May, focuses on goods catered to men.  We loved the inclusion of the retro-spiffy Yellow Rat line, and appreciated Galvanic’s cadre of cool caps, any one perfectly suited for a day at Cape May beach - or a night out on the town back home.  Galvanic is still new to the scene (as of summer 2013), so we imagine their inventory will change a bit in coming months.  We just hope they don’t mess too much with perfection.

Perhaps by chance, perhaps by strategy, Galvanic has positioned itself next to the Kohr Bros.’ wildly popular frozen custard parlor.  You can’t miss the place; it’ll be the one with the long line of patrons stretching out the front.  While selections at Kohr’s are trim, anything from their frosty menu is guaranteed to delight - and it’s been that way ever since Archie and Elton Kohr set up their first shop almost 100 years ago!  Set of Drifters tip:  We recommend a swirl of vanilla and coffee!

Another must-stop on Washington is the tried-and-true local Dairy Queen just a few blocks down the way.  There just aren’t enough of these around these days!  Cape May’s DQ outpost is notable for that weird freaky mural of smiling children that adorns its exit.  (Is that Maggie Gyllenhaal?)  Multiple visits here have proven it to be our ultimate guilty pleasure, whether that passion happened to be in the form of a traditional chocolate-dipped soft serve cone, or a new-fangled raspberry/ chocolate chip cookie dough Blizzard treat!  (Take a cup of water to go.)

Other nearby sweet spots include Morrow’s Nut House and Dellas 5 & 10.  While Morrow’s may feature any number of scary child dolls in its front window, the aroma of candy-covered popcorn and roasted nuts found inside will easily sway visitors beyond that first impression.  Meanwhile, Dellas 5 &10, a price-gouging “General Store” run by the same Real Estate company that has bought and sold Cape May for decades, also features a pleasant 1950s-era soda shop in the back.  While the setting is ace, take your ice cream to go.  That way you can browse Dellas’ shelves to gawk at their unintentionally funny displays.  (The men’s underwear and women’s faux UGG-boot counter come to mind.)

While there’s really not much to actually purchase on Washington Street (unless you’re into Scandinavian trolls and weird soap sachets), a stroll down the mall is mandatory for any visitor to Cape May - at least once during each trip.  Since there are so many restaurants and bars in the area, it will be pretty difficult to avoid the attraction no matter what your buying preferences may be.  Oh, and in case you were wondering about those trolls and sachets?  You can find them at Swede Things and Good Scents respectively.

Shops on Washington Street retain individual operating hours, though expect most to remain open well into the 9:00 PM hour to take advantage of the cooler temperatures during the steamy summer months.  Set of Drifters video:  For a clip from this event, check out our YouTube channel!

Set of Drifters tip:
 Washington Street Mall hosts special events throughout the year, including art walks, antique auto shows, etc.  Check their website for more information, or make a pit-stop at the Information Booth while in town.  Located at the corner of Washington and Ocean (just steps from the public “Comfort Station”), the kiosk just happens to be the starting point for many walking/ trolley tours in town.

Washing Street Mall - 401 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-0555,

Galvanic - 514 Washington St, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 600-2604,

Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard - 512 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-8610,

Dairy Queen - 320 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-0421

Morrow’s Nut House - 321 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-3300

Dellas 5 & 10 - 503 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-4568,

Swede Things - 307 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-5811,

Good Scents - 327 Carpenter Lane, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 884-0014,

New Jersey thrifting

We have said it before and we’ll say it again.  We loooove thrifting!  Luckily for us, New Jersey offers its own unusual assortment of stores just waiting to be stumbled upon in the course of any crisscross of the vertically-aligned state.  During an earlier trip to Long Beach Island in 2004, we unexpectedly discovered a number of interesting shops in Little Egg Harbor, a township that lies between L.B.I. and Atlantic City.  Now, “Little Egg” is not necessarily close to Cape May’s center, but if you are traveling down from New York City or other points north, a side-trip via scenic Route 9 will be well worth the added time on your journey.  

The best thrift-stop we had along Route 9 occurred at the Lighthouse Alliance shop, a community church-run spot that features a treasure trove of impeccably-conditioned vintage items at great prices.  The only problem we encountered here was a result of the limited space in our small rental car that prevented us from carting off more of the cool furniture items on display!  That entire set of chairs fashioned out of barrels, and that super funky 1970s lampshade made out of resin, would have looked perfect in our pad back home!  Even so, we did manage to grab some nifty vintage railroad glassware and assortment of rare records in almost perfect nick.

Another memorable shopping extravaganza “closer to home” can be found at the Cape May Antique Center, a consignment shop housed in a converted boathouse with well over 50 different vendors.  Here, an impressive collection of traditional antiquities competes with more modern collectibles items like baseball cards, comics and vintage action figures.  This is definitely a fun place to browse as it also gives you a general sense of the history that envelops the area.  We’ve spent a few hours here on multiple Cape May trips just looking at the unique objects d’art that, while perhaps a bit out of our budget, are nonetheless pleasing to the eyes.  

Lighthouse Alliance Community Church Thrift Store - 481 US Highway 9 N S, Little    Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08087, 609 296 8738

Cape May Antique Center - 1228 State Hwy #109 at 2nd Avenue, Cape May, NJ  08204, (609) 898-4449,