If you’re looking for the laid-back yin to Greenwich Avenue’s high-powered yang, you need look no farther than Sound Beach Avenue in Old Greenwich.
Nestled between the stately Perrot Memorial Library and the glittering sands of Tod’s Point is a collection of shops that are as unusual as their merchants and clientele.
Merchants such as the vibrant Claudette Rothman, whose eponymous clothing store welcomes you with a mannequin in the courtyard garden.
This is Rothman’s third Claudette and third year of living in Old Greenwich after some 20 in the backcountry.
“I debated going to Greenwich Avenue,” said Rothman, who’s had a long career in fashion and retail since graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. “But it’s hard to be unique there when everything else is a chain store.”
Of Sound Beach — which was the name of Old Greenwich in the 19th century — she says, “I like the neighborhood feel, the European feel. You know your customers, their children. You get to know people.”
At Claudette (177 Sound Beach), the seasons pass gently, with diaphanous hats picture-perfect for Greenwich Polo and Pucci and Lily Pulitzer-style prints giving way to wools and dark solids. But some things never change, like clothes by Julie Brown, Jude Connally and Barbara Gerwit — all customer faves — and the charming boudoir-style dressing room in which you can try them on at your leisure.
Up and down the avenue it is like that, with people walking by as they pace their errands or stop to congregate at the firehouse or on park benches. On one such bench, a black Prada purse sits open — its keys and Louis Vuitton wallet exposed — and no one thinks anything of it until a boy comes to collect it for his mother.
Strolling along the thoroughfare, you’ll recognize WAG alums. Halfway down Arcadia Road, a major side street, sits Le Fat Poodle, the Gallic-infused bistro that Jeremy Wayne wrote about in March 2015 WAG. Back on Sound Beach, we run into Audrey Aguilar, the warm, can-do owner of Lily (250 Sound Beach), the stylish women’s shoe and accessories store featured in September WAG. At the time, Aguilar told us she always wanted a small-town shop that filled a certain niche. It’s a story you hear again and again from people like Estelle Hall of The Village Ewe: A Needlepoint Studio, an Old Greenwich fixture.
“The store has been here over 50 years,” she says as a group needlepoints at a table. “I love to needlepoint, and when it became available, I bought it. I’ve owned it seven years.”
While The Village Ewe was marking half a century at 244 Sound Beach, the Caiati family was making a name for itself with Caiati Drexel Heritage furniture in Westchester and Fairfield counties. Though Joe Caiati retired in 2000, he never left furnishings, purchasing Housewarmings, an accessories and gift store, two years later. He and his family ran it for 10 years — on the other side of Sound Beach Avenue. When they moved Housewarmings to its current location (264), they broadened its appeal.
“We come from furniture,” Caiati says, “and we’ve introduced a lot of furnishings here, because we saw a need.”
Today it’s an exquisite blue and white shop run by Caiati daughters Lauren E. Lufkin, an interior designer, and Jennifer Groves, with the scent of the sea in every giclée of the shore, every gentle Felicity Kostakis canvas of a beach or sailboat, every blue or white Buddha head or Mariposa soy candle.
Sound Beach, Caiati says, is “hometown people who are very glad to patronize the hometown shops. They’re very loyal. …They’re happy the merchants are here.”
With the array of piquant stores, it’s not surprising. Sharing an address with Housewarmings is the intriguing Back 40 Mercantile, a modern twist on sophisticated sustainability, with clothing, accessories and foodstuffs like Red Bee Honey (July WAG). (The shop is part of the Back 40 Farm Group that includes the organic, 85-acre Back 40 Farm in Washington, Conn. and two Greenwich restaurants — Back 40 Kitchen and Mill Street Bar & Table.)
Across from Back 40 Mercantile is Paper + Stitch (259 Sound Beach), a small store with a big personality, featuring an array of monogrammed gifts. Other businesses have a more spiritual bent. The Rummage Room (191 Sound Beach) — run by the Women’s Fellowship of the First Congregational Church of Greenwich — has contributed $4 million-plus to local, national and international charities over more than half a century. CM Almy (228 Sound Beach) makes vestments and carries church supplies.
In need of sustenance with all this shopping? Though there are several fine offerings, we choose a flavorful, generously portioned grilled chicken salad at Sweet Pea’s Co. (212 Sound Beach) that makes us feel so virtuous, we purchase a morning glory muffin and a cinnamon-sugared roll as well (OK, three cinnamon-sugared rolls).
Speaking of sweets, we can’t resist a Coney Island vanilla custard cone from Darlene’s Heavenly Desires (185 Sound Beach), which we enjoy on one of those equally inviting park benches. No wonder everyone on Sound Beach is so happy.
Well, maybe not everyone.
“I’m reading,” a man says, scrunching his tiny face at us when we approach with our reporter’s notebook.
Perhaps he is Diogenes and we are in his light.