Baltimore Sun, May 6, 2007
The Commonwealth of Virginia is known for a lot of things –Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown’s 400th birthday celebration this year, small college towns, Busch Gardens and fine seafood on the Chesapeake Bay. However, a tourism component that may get overlooked amidst all of Virginia’s rich history is the commonwealth’s varied shopping opportunities – everything from mega-outlets, shopping malls and quaint historic towns lined with antique shops and boutiques.
So, whether you’re looking for a quick day trip to Northern Virginia or a weekend trip to the Shenandoah Valley or Virginia Beach, making good use of those credit cards won’t be a problem. Pick a region and head south for some power shopping!
NORTHERN VIRGINIA – quaint shops and outlets galore
A stone’s throw away from the Nation’s Capital, Northern Virginia boasts tony bedroom communities, small towns, picturesque wineries, grand estates and the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Northern Virginia also has a host of shopping opportunities, everything from large outlets to small towns dotted with brick sidewalks.
For bargain shoppers, head straight to Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, conveniently located along I-95, 30 minutes south of Washington, D.C. The dizzying amount of stores includes a litany of clothing retailers, such as Eddie Bauer, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Liz Claiborne and Brooks Brothers, as well as sporting goods, electronics, jewelry and toy stores. In Alexandria, fans of the national chain Crate & Barrel can take advantage of discounted prices at the Crate & Barrel Outlet, while northwest of Washington, D.C, Leesburg is home to the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets, a unique collection of more than 100 outlet stores set in a quaint outdoor village atmosphere. Retailers include Barneys New York, Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor and Burberry. Also, check out Leesburg’s historic downtown, packed with locally owned businesses. Closer to Washington, you’ll find Tysons Corner Center, the largest shopping mall in Virginia and 10th largest in the United States where large department stores such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Lord & Taylor can be found.
If you’re more of a “small town” shopper, Northern Virginia is also home to several of the commonwealth’s designated “Main Street Communities,” where you’ll find locally owned businesses and per- sonalized service. “Main Street Communities” in this region are Culpeper, Manassas and Warrenton. Although not a designated Main Street, Old Town Alexandria, founded in 1749 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts eclectic shopping surrounded by 18th- and 19th-century buildings. Dubbed “The Fun Side of the Potomac,” Alexandria has antique shops, pet boutiques, crafts, art galleries and relaxing spas.
CENTRAL VIRGINIA – state capital, college towns
Farther south lies the Central Virginia region, home to the capital town of Richmond, the University of Virginia and the historic town of Lynchburg. For mall walkers and shoppers, head to Richmond, which has five major shopping malls.
Anthropologie, Louis Vuitton, Restoration Hardware and Saks Fifth Avenue can be found at Richmond’s Stony Point Fashion Park, an open-air shopping center consisting of more than 90 specialty stores and restaurants. Plus, you can bring Fido along, as many of the stores are pet-friendly, allowing you to bring your pet inside; just look for the pet-friendly sticker on the outside of the store. The 3-year-old Short Pump Town Center boasts more than 100 shops and restaurants, while the palm tree-decorated Chesterfield Towne Center provides a unique atmosphere to shop. Other malls in Richmond are the newly renovated Regency Square and The Shops at Willow Lawn. If you’re looking for a more neighborhood feel to your shopping experience while in the capital city, check out Carytown’s nine blocks of specialty stores or the Shops of Libbie & Grove “On the Avenues.”
Outside of Richmond, Central Virginia’s Main Street Communities of Bedford, Franklin, Lynchburg (home to 500 significant buildings in its downtown) and Orange offer small-town shopping, as does the college town of Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia and ranked by Frommer’s Cities Ranked & Rated 2004 as the No. 1 Best City to Live in the United States and Canada. Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall, considered one of the finest urban parks in the country, is a pedestrian mall consisting of more than 120 shops, situated in the historic buildings on and around old Main Street Charlottesville.
SHENANDOAH VALLEY – more than just fall foliage
Northwest Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is a fall foliage fan’s delight, when autumn brings radiant hues to the trees and driving through the area is breathtaking. Mile-deep caverns, riverfront homes and Civil War cemeteries add to the region’s special nature. But, of course, there’s shopping, too!
The Shenandoah Valley is home to more “Main Street Communities” – seven in all – than any other region in Virginia. So, slow down, take your time to browse and enjoy small town shopping in the Shenandoah Valley.
Often called the “jewel of the Shenandoah,” Staunton’s Beverley Historic District includes about 150 buildings within 11 blocks of downtown Staunton, while the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive and the Luray Caverns bring tourists to Luray, who also discover downtown shopping. Lexington may be best known for its Civil War heritage and as the home of Washington & Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute, but the town’s Main Street should not be ignored either. Other Main Street Communities in this region include Berryville, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro and Winchester.
Bibliophiles will delight in the Green Valley Book Fair in Mount Crawford, an outlet bookstore featuring 500,000 new books discounted from 60 percent to 90 percent and named by US Airways Magazine as “The Best Bookstore on the East Coast.” If you’re in Winchester visiting the Shenandoah Valley Museum, peek into the museum’s store for pottery, dazzling jewelry and toys.
HAMPTON ROADS – gems by The Bay
Along the Chesapeake Bay, the region called “Hampton Roads” is where you’ll find landmark towns such as Yorktown, Williamsburg, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Stroll along the new Riverwalk Landing or shop in historic brick buildings in Yorktown, head south to Virginia Beach’s boutiques, walk back in time in Williamsburg or shop amidst the 400th birthday celebration events taking place this year in Jamestown.
Of course, the highlight of this region – including shopping – is considered to be Williamsburg. Sure, you can enjoy the Colonial atmosphere here and brush up on your history, but that just takes time away from shopping, right? Instead, look for the bargains at the nearby Williamsburg Outlet Mall in Lightfoot or at the Prime Outlets-Williamsburg, home to such stores as Calvin Klein, L.L. Bean and COACH. Across the street from the Williamsburg Outlet Mall, you’ll find the popular Williamsburg Pottery Factory where you can pick up salt glaze pottery, garden ornaments and glassware made by local artisans. For more information on shopping in Virginia, visit the Official Tourism Web site of the Commonwealth of Virginia, www.virginia.org.