With big-box stores, megamalls, and online sellers dominating the retail landscape, the pleasure of shopping at mom-and-pop stores in a quaint, small-town Main Street shopping district is getting harder to find. But every state has a few such homespun settings left. Here are some of the best downtown shopping districts in the country — each in a town with a population of fewer than 90,000 residents. (More than half are home to fewer than 10,000 people, and some claim populations in the triple digits.)
The downtown Main Street district in Columbiana hosts a concert series, nightlife, and sporting events, in addition to unique shopping, and transforms for Christmas and other major holidays. Although it's in Greater Birmingham, Columbiana feels like the quintessential Southern small town, with a population of over 4,600.
The largest city in the Arctic Alaskan interior — and one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the legendary Northern Lights — is actually a beautiful small town with a population of about 32,000. Visitors to the downtown shopping district can enjoy music and art festivals, as well as businesses unique to Alaska's rich culture, from beading to fly fishing to tanning (leather, not skin).
The border town of Bisbee has a hip, artsy vibe in stark contrast to its rugged, unforgiving surroundings. The historic downtown has resisted encroachment from big-box stores and remains sprinkled with galleries, shops, and nightlife and entertainment venues. A thriving arts scene has helped lure a generation of transplants who now call Bisbee home.
EUREKA SPRINGS, AR
More than 50 shops and galleries await visitors in what Eureka Springs bills as "a real downtown." Named one of America's Top Small Art Towns by Americans for the Arts, Eureka Springs has a dining district with local fare, casual tavern-style eating, and goodies such as funnel cake from kiosks. More than 20 nightlife venues beckon adult revelers, while kids are drawn to a meteorite store, a kite shop, and geocache games.
Solvang is a Danish village hidden in Southern California's Santa Barbara County. Its Main Street district is filled with boutique shops, traditional Danish bakeries, and more than 20 wine-tasting rooms pouring the best from the 100-plus wineries in the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley. Visitors can explore the town by horse-drawn carriage or surrey ride and stay for Solvang Julefest, one of the most unique Christmas festivals in the country.
IDAHO SPRINGS, CO
From a log cabin to an annual Christmas tree lighting, Idaho Springs has a Western small-town feel. While tourists can get a taste of pioneer life through gold mine tours on the edge of the Arapaho National Forest, there are also plenty of shops, eateries, and award-winning breweries in the historic district.
The colonial town of Ridgefield is only an hour's drive from New York City, but visitors will feel far removed strolling through the cozy, 300-year-old town tucked away in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. Main Street and Danbury Road are adorned with shops and boutiques, as well as an art museum, an agricultural historical center, a theater, and a playhouse.
No matter which town you visit, shopping is always better in Delaware: It's tax free. Tiny Lewes offers additional incentive. Founded in 1631 at the junction of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Lewes is one of the oldest towns in the country, and its downtown oozes every bit of that history. Tourists can enjoy fine restaurants and shops, historical museums, and the beauty of the landscape.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FL
Founded by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine and its massive stone fortress, Castillo de San Marcos, are major tourist attractions. The downtown Old City is another destination, with its antiques district and George Street business hub.
Bustling Rome's historic clocktower, nightlife, and outdoor activities keep a steady flow of tourists coming all year. The real charm of the town, however, is in the brewhouses, restaurants, boutiques, lounges, cigar shops, courtyards, bars, and theaters that make up the Main Street shopping district.
Tiny Pahoa is an undeniably American small town (population: less than 1,000) in the middle of a tropical Pacific paradise. Known as the hippie capital of the Big Island, Pahoa is a peculiar blend of raised wooden sidewalks, false-front stores, historical structures, and a Marketplace district of restaurants and shops.
Hailey is a quintessentially scenic Western town of about 8,200, and among the state's most historically significant. The center of town is crowded with landmarks, along with restaurants, shops, and boutiques. At the Hailey Holiday Market, a two-day event, local artists and artisans sell crafts, food, and gifts.
One of the oldest towns in the state, Lebanon was founded in 1814. St. Louis Street, known locally as "the Brick Street," takes visitors through a historic shopping district with a playhouse, an arts center, a park, and quaint shops, restaurants, and antique stores.
Madison's downtown goes all out for the holidays, but also shines in the offseason with a Main Street district of artisanal candy and coffee shops, restaurants, carriage rides, tours, bed and breakfasts, antique shops, and galleries. Visitors can also find one of America's best cheap burgers at Hinkle's in Madison.
FORT SCOTT, KS
The past meets the future in Fort Scott, founded during Kansas' tumultuous 1842-1873 prairie frontier period. Take a trolley past antiques shops, spas, and restaurants sprinkled throughout downtown, which is transformed by a bevy of festivals and events year-round.
Elizabethtown is the kind of place where people visit shoppes, not shops, and the heart of the city is the Towne Mall. Visitors will find colorful stores such as the Bug's Ear, Kentucky Art Lady, and Ali's Bubblegum Boutique. There is also a packed calendar, including a season-long Christmas in the Park and holiday ice skating event.
Some people may recognize Natchitoches, founded in 1714, as the location where "Steel Magnolias" was filmed. It has a National Historic District of shops and restaurants, and during the holidays, it hosts a nightly Christmas celebration that shows why it's known as the "City of Lights."
Bath is a 9-square-mile town with a half-square-mile downtown — easily walkable in 15 minutes and bursting with the 400-plus year history of the Kennebec River shipbuilding town, as well as artisans' shops and stores. It's home to a local historic district and two districts on the National Register of Historic Places, which helps preserve its character and bar big-box retailers.
Although big compared with some towns on this list, at more than 66,000 people, Frederick is as quaint and cozy as any. It's hip and historic at the same time, with diners eating modern fusion cuisine in Civil War-era buildings. There are shops, bars, wineries, theaters, and galleries just a short distance from mountains, the Appalachian Trail, and the nation's capital.
Stockbridge stands out even in a state bursting with small, charming New England towns. With festivals honoring music, art, and culture in the summer and dazzling holiday displays in the winter, it also boasts a farmers market, historic sites, dining, and a range of boutiques with artisanal pottery, coffee, chocolate, and glasswork.
The motto of Calumet in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is "respecting our past, building our future" — evident in the friendly Sixth Street downtown hub. In summer, Pasty Fest celebrates the Cornish food devoured by miners a century ago. In winter, Christmas in Calumet features caroling and horse-drawn carriage rides. No matter what time of year, there's dining and shopping in this town of about 700 people.
Visitors to Stillwater can watch old-fashioned paddlewheel riverboats and gondolas pass by on the St. Croix River while going from boutiques to restaurants. Although close to the Twin Cities, Stillwater feels remote with its bed and breakfasts and historic inns.
Parkville's historic downtown is known for its wide variety of stores and merchants, including antiques, art, home decor, and boutiques. There is also an eclectic mix of eateries, restaurants, and snack shops in this traditional small town of about 7,000.
RED LODGE, MT
On Red Lodge's Broadway Avenue, visitors follow in the footsteps of figures such as Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and the Sundance Kid, who once robbed a bank there. Today, the downtown has the modern trappings of restaurants, hotels, shops, and galleries against the stunning backdrop of the Beartooth Mountains.
The site of the first claim under the 1862 Homestead Act, Beatrice has a newly revitalized and beautified downtown with a farmers market and a strong lineup of small businesses, theater, and events such as a Ribfest and a Chocolate Lovers' Shopping Day Extravaganza.
VIRGINIA CITY, NV
One of the largest historic districts in the country, downtown Virginia City is a former silver mining camp that looks like it was created by Western movie set designers in Hollywood. Amid a lively shopping, dining, and arts scene, along with a half-dozen antiques dealers, there are three shops that take old-timey photos.
Known for walkability and a commitment to preserving its architecture, culture, and history, Keene features downtown buildings that have stood for more than two centuries. It's now filled with buzzing stores and restaurants serving everything from Belgian frites to Mexican fare to an all-vegetarian menu.
The hub of Keyport is Front Street, with a traditional Irish pub, artsy espresso shop, local-catch fishery, and killer pizzeria among its shops and restaurants. There are stunning views of New York bridges — it's just across the water from New York City's Staten Island — and outdoor concerts, festivals, and movie viewings on the banks of Raritan Bay.
Roswell has long been synonymous with alien landings, and its shops have embraced the reputation. UFO-themed stores, museums, activities, and events fill the town, which even has alien-themed streetlights.
The quaint upstate New York town of Poughkeepsie is known for stunning foliage and a walkway over the Hudson River. Market Street, the downtown hub, boasts shopping, theaters, festivals, and dining. The presence of Vassar and Marist colleges helps keep it lively.
Billing itself as "large enough to serve you and small enough to know you," Lisbon has small-town charm and a population of about 2,000. The Main Street features a theater and an opera house, nearly a dozen eateries, and plenty of shopping. The weather is even beautiful, at least by North Dakota standards, through much of the winter.
YELLOW SPRINGS, OH
Downtown Yellow Springs boasts more than 15 eateries and pubs, hundreds of events annually, and more than 50 locally owned shops selling goods including handcrafted pottery and custom jewelry. Surrounding farmland produces the bounty for farmers market and restaurants, and even the grain for local breweries. It's also known for its vibrant art scene.
A Historic Preservation Commission has worked hard to maintain Ardmore as a thriving business district, helping fund hundreds of building and streetscape improvements. The city has dozens of stores — 10 just for apparel — and eateries that include Boomarang Diner, Two Frogs Grill, and the Edamame American Sushi Bar.
BAKER CITY, OR
Situated among alpine wilderness and cattle ranches, Baker City's charming downtown includes the Geiser Grand Hotel, built in 1889, and the famous Barley Brown's Beer. Visitors can get lost in time as they shop, eat, drink, and take in the rugged surroundings.
The smallest state in the country has an overabundance of traditional town centers — and Narragansett is a standout. It has a maritime history dating back to the mid-17th century, and Narragansett Pier (and its marketplace) offer boutique shopping within view of the ocean.
In addition to being known for equestrian culture, Aiken is home to one of the country's largest urban forests. The city also boasts a burgeoning arts scene and a downtown alive with outdoor concerts, dance, festivals, history, food, sports, and shopping.
Deadwood's raucous gold rush roots feel intact in the town's architecture and more than 80 gaming halls. There's tons of Old West-themed shopping to be done, sometimes amid free Old West-themed entertainment. Deadwood is also home to the Legends Steakhouse, the oldest restaurant in the state.
Forget Memphis and Nashville. Tennessee's biggest tourist mecca might be Gatlinburg, known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. It's home to numerous winery and distillery tours, along with galleries, specialty shops, and eateries.
In Georgetown, a downtown billed as "the Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas" is adorned with a historic courthouse, coffee shops, bakeries, cafes, and bistros. It also features a high-standard toy shop and stores with local themes, such as one selling moccasins and headdresses.
BRIGHAM CITY, UT
Brigham City contains a tidy collection of shops and eateries around a pillared courthouse with clocktower dome, a Mormon Tabernacle (home to a free Christmas spectacular), and the century-old Capitol Theater. A farmers market runs June through September in this "refuge" from big-box stores and commercialism that dates back to 1851.
Stowe, long known to skiers, has a charming downtown filled with locally owned shops. Visitors will encounter more than 70 storefronts filled with specialty foods, fine art, hand-crafted furniture, crafts, clothing, and jewelry.
Appalachian Abingdon is home to the Barter Theater, whose stage has been graced by Ernest Borgnine and Gregory Peck. A 20-block historic district also features a farmers market, shops, art galleries, and locally owned restaurants including a 1799 tavern. Look for "Rooted in Appalachia" signs to spot locally sourced food.
Behind the yesteryear facade of Winthrop is a healthy community of artists and craftspeople from around the Methow Valley. In addition to shops and restaurants, a museum, galleries, and a rhythm and blues festival are part of the experience.
Buckhannon is artsy, vibrant, and bustling. One resident calls the town's vibe "slow, but still progressive." Among the boutique stores that visitors will encounter are art galleries, antiques shops, and specialty Appalachian artisan shops.
PORT WASHINGTON, WI
Port Washington bills itself as "a combination of New England Charm and Midwestern friendliness" on the shores of Lake Michigan. Its 28-block Main Street district boasts restaurants, entertainment, festivals, events, and water activities.
Rawlins, a historic city of about 9,000 founded on the Union Pacific Railroad line, has been visited by Butch Cassidy and Thomas Edison. Modern tourists can feel as though they've stepped back in time as they eat, shop, and explore a downtown of some 100 stores.