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Shopping Queens and Sidewalk Scenes 

When I told one of my colleagues earlier today that I planned on writing a blog post about Church Street in the summer, her response was somewhat less enthusiastic than I expected. She was wholly unimpressed with the topic. 

"Oh, I'm riveted already," she said drolly, as she watched me shove leftover party cake in my fat gob.

Well, hmmmph. What does she know about awesomeness? Church Street in the summer is quite possibly the best free entertainment going. Forget free concerts or festivals — all I need to make me happy is some bright summer sunshine and an excellent people-watching venue. Today our fair pedestrian thoroughfare provided all the essential ingredients for a kick-assy day.  

This was the second day of the annual three-day Church Street sidewalk sale. No, as one slightly batty Church Street character deftly noted, they were not in fact selling the sidewalk bricks. Good one, Slim. The sidewalk sale is a chance for all the downtown merchants to unload all the crap they haven't been able to sell for the  past year. Some of it's not actually crap. I really have been wanting an entire pallet of Hanukkah cards for a while now.

Sales of any kind always draw out the characters. Bargain hunters are their own special breed of crazy, the kind that will straight up run you over if you are standing in the way of that decorative wicker dog that's marked 60 percent off. I love the way they run their hands over items they couldn't possibly have a use for: pieces of wooden fruit, a paisley velour blazer, a ceramic mug with a broken handle.

Today was a great day to watch people get their bargain basement shopping on. I started my ramble at the bottom of Church Street, but apart from some craft vendors outside of the Firehouse Gallery, not much was going on. Michael Kehoe was selling some pretty outrageous jackets (see paisley velour blazer above), but since I'm not in the market for menswear, I walked on by.

Crossing College Street, I paused to watch the human lemon at the King Street Youth Center lemonade cart pitch a fit over having to wear such an undignified costume. He must have drawn the short straw that day. Beyond the lemonade stand, the shopping intensified. A crowd of women buzzed around the Zinnia's table, which was full of deeply discounted jewelry. The cheapest piece was $2.99 and bore a sticker boasting that it was lead-free. Thank god. I could eat it without getting sick.

I continued up the street browsing from afar. I don't like to get too close to the merchant so as to indicate that I might be interested in purchasing something. I feel it's too much of a letdown for them when I walk away without buying a thing, wallet solidly jammed at the bottom of my bag. Plus, I don't like talking to strangers.

I made my way up Church Street and paused to check out the scene at Bertha Church Intimate Apparel. If there's one thing I don't want to do it's bra shopping in the open air. Christ knows I need new underwear, but I'm not willing to suffer the indignity of rifling through the XXXS bin in the middle of the street. I wasn't the only one seemingly embarrassed by the thought of buying underwear in the open. I watched as one older gentleman's eyes darted all over the place as his wife held up a variety of brassieres the size of life jackets for his approval. His discomfort was made worse by his accessory: his wife's handbag hanging from his arm.

At the top of Church Street, I poked around the items on offer outside the newly defunct Damsel's. The Montpelier store only just moved to the neighborhood a few months ago and already it's out of business. They were selling everything plus the kitchen sink — fixtures, mannequins, wigs, maybe even the doorknobs. So that makes for a pretty vacant Upper Church. Eddie Bauer's getting lonely.

Here's a round-up of my most and least favorite moments of the sidewalk sale stroll:

Most: the dude in baggy basketball shorts checking out jewelry at Zinnia's wearing an electronic monitoring device around his ankle. If you had to wear one of those, would you try to hide it by wearing pants? Just asking.

Least: the arrival of yet another precious chain store on Church Street. This time it's Life is Good, the feel-good T-shirt and tchotchke company from Boston. They'll be right at home next to Hatley, the equally precious Canadian pajama purveyor.

All this entertainment in one glorious day was quite enough for me. I mopped my brow and sallied on back to work, remembering why I love living in Burlington.

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Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2011.

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