History of Merchant’s Square
Prior to the Restoration most Williamsburg businesses were located up and down the length of the Duke of Gloucester Street. The principals of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation had the foresight to realize that as merchants sold their historic sited properties, the area residents would still need those goods and services.
The foundation built a “down town” district which we know today as Merchants Square. This customer-oriented shopping district was built in order to make way for the accurate restoration of the rest of the town. From its inception, it was determined that the buildings for this “Merchants Square” would not be designed to duplicate the architecture of the 18th-century Historic Area, but to harmonize with the character of the restoration.
Over the years, as the town has grown, most of those early shops such as the small grocery stores have moved nearer the expanding neighborhoods and become super markets. But Merchants Square retains that friendly, quaint quality much copied today by other shopping districts springing up throughout the country. The vision of those early architects put them ahead of their time in this type of design,
Merchants Square is located at the west end of the Duke of Gloucester Street. The one block wide and three blocks deep shopping area is composed of a variety of retail merchant shops and restaurants. Although the merchants cater primarily to visitors to the Williamsburg area, many residents shop “downtown” also. I may be a tad partial but I believe some of the best food establishments on the east coast (well, at least in the Commonwealth of Virginia) offer their fare here. Our guests regularly enjoy Berrets, Fat Canary, & the Blue Talon, just to name a few.
The quality and uniqueness of the experience make most everything purchased in Merchants Square a really good value.
Included in the listing of shops is the College of William & Mary bookstore, located in the Barnes and Noble on the corner of the Duke of Gloucester and Henry Streets. Colonial Williamsburg hosts four locations selling their reproductions including everything from furniture to folk art. There are specialty shops for ladies’ and gentleman’s clothing, lingerie, kitchen wares, pewter and silver, Scottish goods and children’s clothing. A favorite spot is the Kimball Theater, offering daily features of movies and live theater. The kids will definitely want to stop in to the Wythe Candy Shop.
It is also a very friendly and peaceful place to just wander and window shop. The Street is closed to auto traffic on that block so it makes for a pretty nice outdoor mall.
A great Farmers’ Market event happens every Saturday (in season). This is one of the most highly rated Farmers Markets for its size in the country. This has become quite a locals place to gather on Saturday mornings.
For entertainment, there are “Summer Breeze” concerts on Wednesday evenings, in season. These free performances frequently feature the concert and jazz bands from the area military bases, performing rousing orchestrations of patriotic favorites!
Many of the restaurants offer love entertainment, as well.
And of course do not forget all this can be found right out the front door of our historic Colonial Williamsburg Inn!