July 11, 2003
When we walked into Lord Ravenswood Hall two weekends ago, owner Kim Cruickshank recognized us immediately.
"Hello," she said, breaking out in a broad smile. "You just missed the piper and the food we had to celebrate Prince William's 21st birthday. I'm sorry you didn't drop by a little earlier."
Customers were still milling about the shop, chatting with each other and exchanging stories about their love of everything British. One middle-aged couple starting talking about how they missed the late Queen Mum and admired her spunk. We all reminisced about this remarkable royal while we flipped through The Queen Mother's Century, by Robert Lacey. For a few moments, we imagined we were in a pub rather than a store.
Kim's British shop is one of our regular stops on our quarterly trips to Melbourne, a charming small town where the shopkeepers still take time to chat and learn your name. We've talked to Kim about British food (especially the Elizabethan orange marmalade with whisky we always buy), and the plots of our favorite Britcoms (Monarch of the Glen, As Time Goes By and Waiting for God.)
Although many British stores carry a lot of the same products, Kim and her husband, Bryan, do it with more panache. The windows are dressed with elegant lace curtains. English bone china teacups are displayed on antique furniture. Besides the food, they stock a full line of Britcom videos converted for use in the United States, gifts and British souvenirs. And you can't put a price on friendly conversation.
There's a lot to be said about a downtown where you can walk the main street and not see a Starbucks or a Victoria's Secret. It's what South Florida cities like Delray Beach used to be before trendy sidewalk cafes and chichi shops brought crowds and drove rents up, pushing out the mom-and-pop shops that gave the place its down-to-earth charm.
What makes Melbourne's East New Haven Avenue so attractive is its total lack of pretension. What you see is really what you get. No hype. No glitz. No restoration to a sanitized Disney-like experience. You can find genuine shops specializing in art, antiques or antiquarian books. There's even a shop where photographer James Miller restores and reproduces old family photographs.
This is not a weekend trip for the impatient. This is a place to go back in time before cell phones, e-mail and beepers. So, if you go, be ready to be unplugged.
Plan to sit under the trees on one of the three benches in Campbell Park in front of Austin's California Bistro, the trendiest place on the avenue.
You'll get a new appreciation of the art of tea at the Melwood Creek Tea Co., located in a circa 1919 building with Dade County pine paneling, high ceilings and rustic wood floors. Steve and Donna Schnatz, who give tea tastings and seminars on loose-leaf tea, serve more than 120 teas from the clear jars behind the bar in the front room. You can shop for teapots or gifts or stop in at 3 p.m. for afternoon tea. Steve, who was the chef who prepared afternoon tea at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, presents dainty tea sandwiches, chocolates, cakes and tea. His yummy lemon poundcake is to die for. Tea is served Tuesdays through Saturdays and is $21.95 per person.
Another favorite stop is The Chandlery, a wonderful candle shop that smells like a potpourri of spices. We discovered The Chandlery after Illuminations stopped carrying the peg candles we love. Not only did The Chandlery have Williamsburg peg candles, they had them in 4-, 6- and 9-inch heights, and in 38 colors. If you have any question about candles, manager MaryAnn Rosati has the answer. What makes this store so special is the fact most of the 2,000 square feet is dedicated to candles rather than a lot of accessories.
Melbourne is also a great place to shop for antiques. One of my favorite finds is Right Touch Antiques, owned by Lennie and John Morrison. On the most recent visit, we found an American oak dining set, including table, six chairs and buffet for $1,500, and a five-piece Heywood-Wakefield bedroom set for $1,995.
Downtown Melbourne is a marvelous oasis of artistry, '60s funk and honest prices. It touches something in our past that seems to have been lost in a world of glam and glitz.
We will keep going back to get our fix of life the way it used to be. We just hope it never changes. This charming place may only be 120 miles from our home in Delray, but it seems light years away.
Write Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub, Home & Garden Editor at: Sun-Sentinel, 200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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