The Fantastic Umbrella Factory of RI
Last weekend we decided to forego the normal fall weekend in Rhode Island activities of pumpkin picking, haunted hayrides or corn mazes and seek out something different. We were out and about with our favorite toddler, so we needed to find an outdoor activity with room to run and explore. A visit to The Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown, RI fit the bill.
The Fantastic Umbrella Factory is a mostly outdoor shopping and wandering experience with something to interest almost anyone. There are unique shops, awesome greenery and landscaping, a bamboo forest and for good measure, a handful of barnyard animals.
Visit the Animals
On this visit we were able to see one emu, chickens/hens and rabbits. We did not purchase the feed for the animals, but I understand that you can purchase feed in Small Axe Productions, a store located in the shopping area.
Lush Gardens and Whimsical Attractions
If you wander toward the back of the property, you will find the Bamboo Forest. The entrance is marked by a huge peace sign.
As you wander through the paths among the bamboo it feels so peaceful but take care and watch where you are walking as there are bamboo remnants in some spots, and you can easily trip.
The entire property itself is a treat for the eyes as you meander through lush trees, flowers and water features. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the peaceful beauty of the property.
My husband made himself comfortable on several of the shady benches that are found all around the shopping areas for those who prefer to enjoy the scenery rather than partake in some retail therapy.
The collection of shops includes an eclectic combination of items that are a feast for the eyes and imaginations – no matter what your age. From jewelry, fun clothing and candles to a variety of plants and landscape art. I would definitely use the term “funky”.
As a group, the shops and items for sale make me feel like I am stepping back in time. The things that you find are not likely found in regular stores these days. They tend toward the “vintagey” and are the kinds of items (incense, tied dyed clothing etc) that you might expect to find in a collection of shops in a natural setting. There is also a general store with inexpensive gifts and items from local artists. We wandered through every shop at the Factory and found no shortage of items to comment on and many that gave us a good laugh.
At the time of this publishing, the following is a list of the current shops and vendors listed on their website that make up the Fantastic Umbrella Factory:
- Small Axe Productions: Domestic and imported gifts, clothing, jewelry, musical instruments and much more.
- Rustic Gardens: Offering lush tropical and seasonal plants and a large array of unique garden containers, accessories and décor.
- The General Store: Treasures for the funky soul, candy, toys and gifts for the young and the young at heart.
- Frills: Treasures for the funky soul – 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
- Block Print Graphics: Distinctive Rhode Island t-shirt designs since 1993.
- Henna Body Art: Maria is a local artist from Rhode Island who offers a variety of designs of Henna Body Art.
- The Purple Shell: An authentic eastern native trading post featuring Wampum, native crafted jewelry, along with many other hand-crafted items based around the ocean and eastern native life.
- WICK-ed Candle Co: WICK-ed Candle Co uses soy wax and non-toxic scents to create clean burning candles you can feel good about burning in your home. We use a variety of originally designed and upcycled vessels that are environmentally conscious and fun!
- Sugaree’s: It is an old-fashioned candy shop offering retro candy as well as a candy buffet and a large soda pop selection.
If you work up a hunger while wandering the property, you can stop by the Small Axe Café. We decided to have a light lunch of sandwiches and salads, but they also have a variety of smoothies, snacks and baked treats. We are not vegetarian but there seemed to be a good selection of vegetarian selections.
Seating at the cafe is outdoors and it felt a bit like being in Key West as there were beautifully colored hens and chickens wandering around the grounds as we ate.
During lunch I began to wonder if they actually manufactured or ever sold umbrellas at The Fantastic Umbrella Factory, so I decided to do a bit of research and here is what I found. The roots of The Fantastic Umbrella Factory have nothing to do with umbrellas. Robert Bankel planted the first seeds of what would become The Fantastic Umbrella Factory in the mid 60’s when he decided to make a career change from teaching to retail and decided to turn an old dairy farm into a retail shop. Initially he sold gifts and candy from the store but invited craftsmen like a stained-glass worker, a woodworker and a leather-maker to form a cooperative. The cooperative eventually dissolved but the concept of featuring artwork and crafts from local artists in the main shop continued and blossomed as other shops have opened over the years featuring similar crafts and gifts.
All in all, it was a fabulous way to spend a mild fall afternoon and a nice alternative to the typical fall activities but do not visit if you are expecting to be able to purchase your next umbrella!
The Fantastic Umbrella Factory is open year-round, but they do have limited hours in the off-season. You can visit www.fantasticumbrellafactory.com for more information.
Elise Olson is a Broker Associate with The Donovan Group at Homes By Connect in Portsmouth, Rhode Island