GARTH SVENSON WAS HAPPY for a number of years working on Capitol Hill. But he found himself at a crossroads in the late 1990s, and his father John made him an offer: come home and manage the family Christmas shop until he got things sorted out.
Finding everything he needed in Barrington, the younger Svenson never left.
Barrington has promoted itself as “Spend a Day in Barrington,” and that’s not hard to do, with several locally owned shops within walking distance of each other. The tiny town has made itself a destination on the level of any “downtown” in the 603.
Svenson’s parents, John and Linda, opened The Christmas Dove in 1973. “My dad was a geology major, my mom a teacher,” Svenson recalled. “She wanted to create a beautiful place to shop, and he wanted to create a fun place to shop.” The dazzling colors of the ornaments and displays came from Linda, the model trains from John. The 16,000-square-foot shop expanded to 16,000 feet and 30 different display rooms.
In the beginning, Svenson recalled, his parents focused more on Christmas collectibles. But society changed, and the next generation wasn’t interested in knickknacks, according to him. So the Svensons and their son, the eventual general manager, built on the idea of an “experience.” “You can spend an afternoon here,” Svenson said. “You walk through the door, and it’s a world in itself.”
The remodeled farmhouse goes on and on, with magical vignettes around every corner. Life-sized figures add to the ambience: an angel, a ‘50s Santa with a lap prime for sitting, a Rudolph awaiting his assignment. Rooms and alcoves are themed, with one room focused on Nativity sets, one on iterations of Santa, one on gingerbread and more. The shop offers artificial trees of every size and shape, in a glittering walkway, and one of the area’s largest selections of Melissa and Doug toys. It’s easy to get lost in the rambling structure, but all paths lead back to the foyer and a dizzying array of items that can be personalized: Baby’s First Christmas in different genders and skin colors, professions, grandchildren and even grand-pets. (That’s a thing.)
Generations of children were delighted with the shop’s Christmas villages, and these have been moved to the second floor along with a simulation of a German Christmas market. The Christmas Dove still caters to collectors with Christopher Radko, Department 56, Kurt Adler, Byer’s Choice carolers and Fonanini nativities.
Svenson has evolved too, and is now president of the company. “That means I unload trucks, sweep the floor,” he said cheerfully.
The toy branch of the store grew under Svenson’s tenure, and, he said, they focus on quality, heirloom-style toys. In addition to Melissa and Doug, there are reproductions of playthings from other eras, all built to last. And he expects to see more.
“My daughter went to a birthday party, and she came home raving about a toy she saw. She said it lights up, makes noises if you follow the pattern. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s Simon,’” he recalled.
Svenson is an observer of trends, and he noted that this year, the rustic country look is winning out. It’s not necessarily pandemic-driven, but the majority of his customers are looking for nostalgia in an uncertain world. “They want the cranberries, the popcorn strings, the acorns,” he noted. “At the turn of the century it was glitzy, but this is more of an organic palate.”
The complex includes a full-service florist and also a decorating service, according to Svenson. His team decorates medical offices and the like, and “what’s cool is that this trend is transitioning to commercial decor too. It’s not ‘showy.’”
For more information, visit www.christmasdove.com.
Food & fun stops
No Barrington visit is complete without a stop at Calef’s Country Store across the street. Calef’s, on the spot for 152 years, offers a little bit of everything: jams and jellies, pickles and mustards, maple everything, and its signature Snappy Cheese. Maple doughnuts and gingersnaps by the bagful satisfy the sweet tooth. The shop is fragrant, crowded and fun.
On a good day customers can purchase a sandwich or hot dog and eat it at the porch picnic table. For more information, visit www.calefs.com.
Another lunch option: Millo’s, the Italian restaurant across Route 125. Millo’s is something of a hybrid: customers order at the counter, but the booths, tables and large windows evoke a full-service restaurant. The Italian specialties are good and plentiful. For a menu, visit millospizza.com.
Browsers shouldn’t miss the Elfmade and Company LLC gift shop next to Calef’s, another old farmhouse brimming with candles, trinkets and primitive decor. The shop is a must for Early American enthusiasts and can be reached at www.elfmade.com.
Across the street, George Calef Fine Foods offers a butcher shop, deli, craft beer (and tastings!), and an extensive selection of gluten-free foods. Look no more for GF cider doughnuts; George has them and more. Check the offerings out at www.georgecalef.com.
Barrington is a destination in itself, but can be combined with other outings. Spend the day in Dover browsing boutiques, and shoot across Route 9 to end the day in Barrington. Or satisfy your antiquing needs on Route 4, the noted Antique Alley, and turn off at 125 for a flourishing Barrington finish.