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Pickwick's Mercantile making a business of 'modern Victorian chic'

Union Leader Correspondent

March 02. 2013 1:42AM

Rita Fabbricatore, left, proprietress of Pickwick's Mercantile in Portsmouth, and employee Hayden Magri pause while cleaning the new curiosity shop on State Street. Fabbricatore describes the shop as modern Victorian chic and each day the employees dress in costumes while describing the store's wide variety of products to its broad range of customers. (GRETYL MACALASTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH - To step into Pickwick's Mercantile on State Street is to take a step back in time to a Dickensian age of whimsy, characters and charm.

Shelves are filled with penny candy, French perfumes, Swedish linens, Italian soaps and U.S.A.-made pottery, all begging to be examined and admired.

It was Rita Fabbricatore's vision to create an inviting store with a wide range of domestic and international products at accessible prices.

And it does, from specialty shaving creams and gift ideas for older gents to vintage and modern toys for children and an eclectic apothecary for women of all ages.

Each day Fabbricatore and her employees dress in custom-made costumes with flair, from her unique hats and head decorations to Hayden Magri's matching caps and feather duster.

Fabbricatore, a Portsmouth native who moved back to the city six years ago, describes the store as "modern Victorian chic."

A mercantile is historically a place of trade where things could be bought from all over the world. Fabbricatore said there seemed no better place to open such a store than near the banks of the Piscataqua River, where mercantile played a huge role in the city's beginnings.

She said the store offers a form of nostalgia for some while introducing others to new and exciting things.

Cedar-wood shelves made by artisans at the Button Factory on Islington Street line the walls; rolling ladders reminiscent of old bookstores run along two sides. Fabbricatore brings her interior design experience to the store's layout, meticulously placing each handpicked item.

Colorful decorations hang from the ceiling and giant windows highlight the inventory from the street.

Interior decorations change with the seasons, holidays or at Fabbricatore's fancy - she does not like to give away all her secrets.

"It is a show. We like to make sure everyone who comes in experiences that," Fabbricatore said. "The store will always be a wonder, a delight and a new experience."

The variety of products Pickwick's offers seems endless: fancy hats popular with "Downtown Abbey" fans, vintage English schoolbags, a colorful selection of books, opera glasses, vintage red lipsticks, castile soaps and espadrilles from Spain, linens from Sweden, perfumes from France, calligraphy ink and sealing wax, Jane Austen melamine wear and stuffed dolls representing historical characters including a Vincent Van Gogh with a removable ear, and the list goes on.

Fabbricatore and her staff are well-versed in their products, including where they come from, how they are made and often tell stories about the people who made them. Magri is a trained perfumier with a "wonderful nose," she added.

Pickwick's opened the day after Thanksgiving at a time when many businesses in that area of State Street had shut down after the temporary closure of the Memorial Bridge.

But with the new bridge scheduled to open in July, the area is seeing signs of life again. The nearby Rosa Restaurant will soon reopen under new ownership, and the property across the street that used to serve as the restaurant's parking lot will soon be home to a new mixed-use building.

The store is also perfectly placed for those walking to and from Prescott Park from the center of downtown throughout the summer.

"The whole area, I think, is the new hot spot of Portsmouth," Fabbricatore said.

During the winter, the shop is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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