Make it a joyous shopping weekend in this Lowcountry city.

By Ellen McGauley
December 11, 2018
Chris M. Rogers

I can't take my eyes off him — this older man standing in front of a bench in Chippewa Square. He's got a Santa hat and a flute, and there's a string of colored lights draped around his neck. It's not clear whether he's setting up or closing down, so I figure I'll wait. He's got no Christmas hustle, but that's what I like about him.

The last time I was here during the holidays was 1988, when I rode up on an Amtrak from Jacksonville, Florida, with my dad and two of my sisters. I remember stepping into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency, a mid-century giant straddling River Street, and gazing up at a Christmas tree so bright it could have been on fire. Outside, a street fair lit the riverfront. The old city sparkled.

The irony of that memory is that showmanship isn't really Savannah's style. Behind the evergreen-decked manses and swinging shop doors is an old soul who carries no airs, a grande dame who mixes decades of finery with new-school funk. It's perfect for retail drifters like me, who see holiday shopping as less of a sport and more of a ramble around corners, like a treasure hunt without a map.

Chris M. Rogers

I'm staying at The Marshall House, a 19th-century hotel with an aged brick facade and a parade of emerald shutters stretching along Broughton Street, the city's retail thoroughfare. Though the neighborhood has seen an invasion of familiar chains among its storefronts, a sharp mix of local shops remains.

The jewel of the group is The Paris Market and Brocante, a cafe and boutique designed in the spirit of a French flea market. There's a variety store feel to the well-curated space, an air of discovery that follows me off Broughton and through a network of historic city squares. New and old are woven together, thanks in part to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD); its artistic fingerprints are everywhere—in alum-owned shops like leather boutique Satchel and in mini design labs like Gryphon, an early 20th-century pharmacy on Madison Square that students have turned into a popular tea room.

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Farther south is Whitaker Street's design district, a collection of home stores and niche boutiques that has emerged as a shopping neighborhood (think Italian pottery, vintage maps, and handmade jewelry). It's the kind of place where you find yourself leaning on counters and chatting with owners, many of whom are behind registers.

At night, I cozy up in warm, affable eateries such as Atlantic, an updated 1930s filling station south of the historic district. Out on the patio, folks huddle around fire pits, and inside, the scene reminds me of those shop counters. It's less Southern folksiness and more of a genuine, approachable nature that drifts through the city. The sparkle that I remember from 30 years ago is still there, but it's different. It's like she's lit from within.

Chris M. Rogers

My final morning, I grab breakfast at Little Duck Diner—a dapper, vintage-inspired spot—and head south toward Jones Street, where oaks form a mossy canopy over cobblestones. Christmas trees peek out from behind tall double-hung windows, and a parade of iron banisters curves down half a story from colorful front doors, their long, elegant symmetry like a Southern version of the Rockettes.

It's quite a Christmas show, but I'll be back for the street musician wearing the lights, too—the locals assure me he's around. I want to see his version.

5 Places to Shop in Savannah During the Holidays

THE PARIS MARKET AND BROCANTE

With its jade columns and cornices, this swank former grocery store is filled with everything from cleverly curated kids' toys to antique dishes, dapper barware, and vintage lighting.

Chris M. Rogers

WRIGHT SQUARE VINTAGE AND RETRO MALL

This mid-century emporium (just a block behind Broughton) is packed with fabulous collectibles, from throwback LPs and groovy cocktail glasses to orange slag vases and bygone chapter book series.

ONE FISH TWO FISH

An anchor of the design district, this shop is a go-to for gifts. Find colorful tabletop pieces and beauty goodies like bespoke hairbrushes and sleep masks.

MAMIE RUTH

This forward-thinking clothing boutique doubles as the owners' design studio, turning out women's apparel like striped tunics and party dresses. Check out their line of baby clothes, which arose out of a desire to eliminate waste and find a use for fabric remnants.

THE BOOK LADY BOOKSTORE

Though you will stumble upon some new titles, this iconic shop specializes in classic tomes. Find Steinbeck and Shakespeare, old copies of Doctor Zhivago, and thick volumes of Poe that are filled with notes and highlighted passages.

Chris M. Rogers

WHERE TO STAY IN SAVANNAH

THE MARSHALL HOUSE

Named for the savvy 19th-century businesswoman who developed it, the 68-room hotel includes 7 rooms that step out onto the iron balcony overlooking Broughton Street. Check out the famed "pineapple tree" in the lobby, the hotel's trademark holiday welcome. Rates from $129.

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