People who live and work on the Northshore already know they lack nothing when it comes to shopping, and many south shore businesses, such as Earthsavers, Boudreaux's Jewelry, Frock Candy, Semolina's, Fabrixx, PJs and others, are opening up shop to the north of the lake to complement their coverage in the New Orleans area.
You should approach a shopping trip to the North Shore with a sense of adventure. You won't need to pack an overnight bag or survival kit -- the Causeway's actually only a half-hour commute -- although you undoubtedly later will wish you had more time and will plan to return. You will, however, need a game plan and a car, because the retail venues are spread out, and a cellphone if you need to call anyone, because you'll be hard-pressed to find a pay phone over there. A map isn't a bad idea either, and a big cup of whatever non-alcoholic beverage you prefer.
This won't be like shopping on the south shore. There are centers with lots of huge stores with a unifying architectural design all in one place, but you'll not find large enclosed malls in the Mandeville and Covington areas. Even the mega centers have individual, free- standing stores situated around common parking lots. Most of the centers in Mandeville are relatively new, but Covington's shopping district has few shopping centers and more small businesses in old buildings (or new buildings constructed in old styles) conveniently lined up along small streets. Take your pick of heading to Mandeville or Covington, or make a full day of it and visit both.
The trip across the Causeway itself can be a time for reflection, if you're so inclined; an artist from Covington once told me the 28-mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain was a restful and welcome trip for her because she could watch the always-active water and see a million different color variations in it. Others daydream (but make sure you don't get so distracted that you add your tire tracks to the side of the retaining walls), while some use the time to listen to music or a book-on-tape. We suggest you use the respite to organize your shopping extravaganza. There is an overabundance of options to choose among, and you'll want to stay at least a little focused in order to optimize your time and effort. We're here to help you in your endeavor.
The fun begins shortly after you exit the bridge on Causeway Boulevard on the Northshore. Follow the signs for Hwy. 190 E to Mandeville; it won't be long before you reach your first destination. On the right is a small strip of shops at Forest Park Center (129 N. Causeway Blvd., Mandeville), on the right side of the highway. This small, tastefully rendered strip of uncommon and fun shops provides fancy dressings for your home, your garden and yourself. It's small enough that you can park your car in one spot and traverse the lot to all the shops without exertion.
It's always best to reward your anticipation, so start off at Frock Candy (985-727-9779; also a store in the French Quarter), where you can find special treats for yourself or your favorite fashion-forward female. The apparel is fresh, lovely, fun-loving, easy to wear and ranges from casual to evening gowns, plus there are fashion accessories galore, including pin-up girl purses and a host of other handbags and adornments -- jewelry and otherwise -- of all kinds. The setting is a contemporary boutique; the ambience is laid-back and comfortable, with lots of personal attention from the staff. It's really difficult to leave this shop without buying something (and putting several other things on your mental "wish" list).
Now that you've got the first notch in your belt, you can continue your search for the perfect wardrobe next door at E Boutique, and to make sure you pick up something for everyone, stop in at Perlis (also with a location on Magazine Street), where you'll find everything from cuff links and money clips to casual shirts and fine suits.
But life is not all about how you look; it's also about how your home and garden look. With that in mind, stop in to Grandiflora (985-951-7107), a different kind of floral shop. Owner J. Keeth Buckley is a designer and his shop reflects those sensibilities with plants, and a plethora of unusual decorative and functional items including planters, garden sculptures, and lots of other things to decorate your home and yard.
To dwell on the inside of your house, amble across the parking lot to Nancy Robbins (985-727-4565), where the interior designer/owner has stocked fine furniture, original art by artists such as Robert Cook and William Binnings, antiques and a range of distinctive decorating accessories that range in style from classic to contemporary. Robbins also offers interior design services, custom house plans and custom-designed furniture. Be sure you stop next door at Square One (985-727-0011), a small, bright treasure trove of art -- 80 percent of it from local artists such as India Stewart and Katherine Arnet -- gifts, decorative accessories and more.
Time to move on. Before you get back on the main highway, take a right on the service road and park next door at European Expressions (1301 N. Causeway Blvd., Mandeville, 985- 727-0101), where you can fulfill your dreams of having large Roman columns in your backyard or a large fountain in your front. There are all kinds of marble and stone statuary; pottery from Provence; pavers, stepping stones and garden edgings; cast moldings; a variety of planters; lifesize and small images of goddesses, cherubs, angels and animals; free-standing and wall-mounted fountains and a wealth of other decorative accessories for gardens and patios.
Now that you've had an excellent warm-up, get back on Causeway Boulevard and follow the signs (to the right) to 190 E and Mandeville. If you want to shop at places you know, Premier Center (on the left) will sate you with Victoria's Secret, American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor Loft, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Gap and Gap Kids, Banana Republic, Bed Bath & Beyond, T.J. Maxx, Bombay Co., Stein Mart, Bath & Body Works, Hallmark, Old Navy and more, plus there's a Semolina's across the street.
Another recommended lunch option is Cappita! Italian Bistro (2891 Hwy. 190, Suite D, 985-626-5752), down the street on the right in The Village Shopping Center. The restaurant is roomy and comfortable, and the cuisine is an innovative Louisiana-Italian fusion with specials capitalizing on the seafood and fish available as well as cooking up traditional favorites such as chicken Marsala and lasagna. The flavored teas are excellent palate cleansers.
If you're ready to walk off that repast, The Village includes a Rapp's leather goods store, Nutri-Sport health and nutrition center, Playville Toys, CM Ltd. Stationers and Intimate Home, a great place to get linens, nighties or anything else for your bedroom and bath. The center also includes Bastille's men's store; Artifacts, a fun shop that has an eclectic variety of art and home decorating items; and the national stores of Talbot's, Chico's and Sunglass Hut.
Across 190 E, tucked behind the Walgreen's, there's another strip of shops that includes Planet Beach, GNC, Bora Bora Swim and Resortwear, Brenchley Shoes and Accessories, Anne Dales Jeweler, Ekhaya International, School Time educational supplies and Blue Moon Clothing Co., an apparel shop for the young and young-at-heart.
There are two other places we recommend on the Mandeville run. Monet's (3902 Hwy. 22, 985-674-2442; also a store on Metairie Road) and Gotcha Covered (4250 Hwy. 22, 985-626-5074). Monet's calls itself a florist, but that's oversimplified. It does carry a very large selection of fresh flowers and is a full-service florist for arrangements and events of all sizes, but it also is a great place to find unusual gifts and home decorating accessories. The variety ranges from candles to eclectic lamps, tabletop serenity fountains to curly bamboo shoots, picture frames, art and lots more.
Gotcha Covered is always a good bet for a fashionable outfit that is eye-catching, but you won't see it everywhere you go, and the staff are pros at sizing up customers and helping them find just the right style. Plus, you can leave fully accessorized without melting down your credit card.
If you're pondering constructing a new building, renovating an old one, building or landscaping anything, you'll want to take Hwy. 59 to Abita Springs, Tree City USA. Along this scenic, rural stretch of road, you can find any and everything construction-related, from gazebos and outdoor buildings to specialty stores for tile, fireplaces or doors. Doors of Elegance (68443 Hwy. 59, 985-893-0057; also a location in Metairie) provides an array of beautiful doors, featuring cut glass, insets, fine woods and more. If you plan your trip for the third Saturday of the month, you can visit Abita Springs All Town Market, which features dozens of vendors offering antiques, art, jewelry, crafts, food and more. Come early; it closes at 2 p.m.
Any trip to Abita Springs requires a pit stop for a cool libation from the local brewery, Abita Brewing Co. (21084 Hwy. 36, 985-893-3143). If you're in this picturesque berg around mealtime, indulge yourself with the delectable tastes at Artesia (21516 Hwy. 36, 985-892-1662). Chef Gerard Maras directs the kitchen at this beautiful restaurant, which is located in an old mansion in a tree-graced pastoral setting. If you proceed further on the road the restaurant is on to the intersecting highway and turn left, you can drive straight to Covington.
To get to Covington from Causeway Boulevard where you started, you just head toward 190 W (left-hand lanes) instead of turning onto 190 E to Mandeville. The left-hand turn onto a frontage road that leads you to the city's main thoroughfare, Boston Street, is a little tricky. Make sure you're in the left lane when you come to the stoplight at Claiborne Pass near the Walgreen's. Straight before you, you'll recognize the golden arches of a McDonald's silhouetted against a skyline of trees. Your next turn will be a left at the next stoplight, which will bring you over the Bogue Falaya River bridge to Boston Street and Covington's historic downtown.
Break into renewed shopping vigor with a stop at the new Boston House Antiques & Interiors (708 E. Boston St., 985-898-3526), a collection of antiques, art and other home furnishings and decorating accessories from more than a dozen different vendors.
Continue down Boston Street and turn left on Lee Lane, a virtual treasure trove of uncommon shops. You might as well be systematic and start with the first store on the right, The French House (235 Lee Lane, Covington, 985-893-4566; also at Interiors Market on Magazine Street), an antiques and French home decor store owned by interior designer and colorist Susan Brechtel. The shop boasts French tableware, both old and new, exquisite antique furniture, French culinary tools, home and body scents, birdhouses by Louisiana architect A. Hays Towne and lots more.
Next door is The Partridge, a Christmas specialty store and gift shop. When you first enter Vie Paysanne, you might think it's a tiny shop of especially sweet clothes for moms and daughters, but once past the front displays, you'll see it's roomy and has rack after rack after rack of clothes in a nice variety of styles and colors. Walker House Ltd., a few steps down the street, is worth a stop in with some antiques, lots of home decorating finery, vintage clothes and garden décor that includes birdhouses with mosaic walls fashioned from mortar and broken porcelain. Southern Cotton always has a bounty of comfortable and fashionable clothing, and on the right corner of the street is Country Corner antiques and collectibles.
On the other side of the street be sure to stop in Possibilities Inc., where you will have to take it slow, not because it's hard to maneuver though the very large collection of decorating accessories, but because there is so much to see in every inch of space. Allison Yancy and Re'Elle provide upscale apparel for women, while Fabulous Finds is a wonderland of antiques and pretty home decorating stuff. It's time for a break at the Coffee Rani on the corner.
Back in your car, drive two blocks to Columbia Street, where you'll want to stop in Metal Orchids & Wildlife Fine Arts, a gallery that offers just what its name implies, then across the street for a look at the new Brunner Gallery (215 N. Columbia St., 985-893-0444), which places today's artists in an graceful contemporary setting. The architectural design is stunning, and Brunner stocks an eclectic and intriguing variety of artwork, including sculpture, oil paintings, ceramics, metalwork, mixed media, turned wood and much more. Also make sure to stop in the Hampton Collection (985-898-3400), which features quality antiques, reproductions, new accessories and more.
Across Boston Street on Columbia, make sure you visit Earthsavers (528 N. Columbia St., 875-0300) for gifts, aromatherapy to soothe your soul, skin care products to make your soul more beautiful or, even better, a facial, massage or other service from the day spa menu. Also on this stretch of Columbia Street is Obsessions Antiques and Interiors Mall, Legato Fine Art jewelry and crafts gallery, Le Jardin Day Spa, Art to Wear, Petite Pence and even Spring of Life organic produce shop.
Parallel to Columbia and a few streets over, you'll find Hasslock Studios (334 N. Vermont St., 985-893-6648), where artists/owners Tika Hasslock Vales and Stephen Hasslock create a wealth of ceramic tableware and decorative items as well as custom-designed, hand-painted majolica tile murals and borders for buildings.
As you pick up a final cup of coffee or caffeine-free drink for the trip home, remember to have $3 cash handy for the bridge toll back to the south shore. The trip back over the Causeway will give you time to mentally scope out your next trip to the north, which shops you missed that will be on your list and your next round of restaurants.