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Who needs a mall?

Who needs a mall?

By Jon Gorey

The Boston Globe

HOLIDAY SHOPPING, UGH. I want it to be strolling around downtown amid twinkling lights and spontaneous caroling, but the reality is usually way more depressing. More than once, I’ve found myself at CVS on Christmas Eve, desperately weighing the gift-worthiness of various overpriced miscellany. That’s because even when I try to do it right  (albeit last-minute)— hitting the mall for some hard-core holiday shopping, Christmas list in hand — it’s just a dismal experience. Between the overrun stores, the retail clerks who seem like they burned out on Black Friday, and the parking-lot cocktail of car exhaust and road rage, I leave feeling more like Scrooge than Santa.

But there’s one type of holiday shopping I do enjoy: when I randomly find a thoughtful gift for someone while traveling. That’s why this year I tried to inject some tranquility into my Christmas shopping experience by taking my list on the road to Manchester, Vermont. With the requisite white church steeple and seasonal aroma of smoky firewood in the air, this little mountain town has all the charm and outdoorsy appeal of a weekend escape. Even the sidewalks, made of marble mined from Vermont quarries, remind you that you’re a long way from Route 128. And you can follow them to a surprising bonus: dozens of outlet stores and artisan shops to help you tackle your holiday gift list. (Warning to my friends and family: This article may contain spoilers.)

A day of serious shopping deserves strong coffee and a good breakfast, so I kicked things off at the Spiral Press Cafe (802-362-9944; spiralpresscafevt.com) in the heart of Manchester Center. Tiny up front but surprisingly long in the back, it’s a marvelous mullet of a coffee shop. I turned up the stairs and found an enormous, inviting dining room with warm wood floors and tables, mountain-view windows, and free Wi-Fi to accompany my organic Mocha Joe’s coffee (roasted in Brattleboro) and “ultimate” breakfast panini.

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