South County has its fair share of unusual venues, and there is also a significant amount of history to explore. One location that brings these two elements together is the Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown.
First things first: this isn’t a factory that makes umbrellas. While you can probably find an umbrella at one of its stores, the Fantastic Umbrella Factory is more of a wacky gift shop than anything, making it the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind present or want to find some unique décor for your home.
The Fantastic Umbrella Factory is well-known among locals because of its quirky nature, and also the fact that you can pick up things like handmade soaps, locally produced art, and rare clothing in one convenient location. A cafe and garden are on-site, as well, so you can spend some time exploring the shops before grabbing a bite to eat and enjoying rare flowers and plants that only the Umbrella Factory can provide in South County.
History of the Farm
In the early 1800s, the land that now hosts the Fantastic Umbrella Factory was a working farm. In fact, the original home, built in 1810, is still standing, although the barn, which doubled as a temperance hall and was home to the first store on the property, burned down in 1990.
As for the bazaar, it first opened in 1968 when landowner Robert Bankel decided to sell candy and unusual gifts out of the old farm. Soon after, Bankel expanded into a second building on the grounds, selling more products and adding a cafe.
Bankel also brought in local artisans to create and sell their products, which was the start of the international bazaar that we have today.
By 1974, the venue had blown glass, stained glass, and pottery, all of which were made on-site. You could also buy jewelry, clothing, handicrafts, and musical instruments from around the world, all of which remain part of the bazaar's offerings. A greenhouse was also built, making it possible for customers to purchase flowers and exotic plants.
In 2011, Bankel sold the farm to David and Linda Turano who are continuing the tradition of selling unique, odd, and rare gifts to the people of South County. David was one of the first artisans to sell products at the Fantastic Umbrella Factory, so purchasing the property when it came for sale seemed like a logical step.
The Umbrella Factory’s Current Stores
Yes, the Umbrella Factory has expanded considerably from its modest beginnings and now boasts a collection of stores, each offering something different.
The original store on the property is called Small Axe Productions, and that is where you'll find clothing, jewelry, blown glass, musical instruments, and that type of thing. The shop is described as a department store, but without the departments.
There's also The General Store, which offers a collection of toys and gifts for children, or the young-at-heart person in your life. If you bring your kids, they'll love browsing the selection at this shop.
Frills is a funky store offering products from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, specializing in unusual jewelry, while Axiom sells vintage eyeglass frames from Europe, while also offering creations from local artists and organic soy candles.
Another store at the marketplace is Block Print Graphics, where you can buy original t-shirt designs with distinctly Rhode Island-esque features. It's a shop that is very popular with young people. And there is Henna Body Art, offering temporary tattoos, and South County Artisan Loft, featuring the work of local area artists.
Or, if you're looking for items to add to your garden, you can stop by the Umbrella Factory Gardens, which not only has exotic plants and custom planters but also contributes the expertise of horticulturist Patrick Shellman, who can help you put your garden together.
Finally, there's the Small Axe Cafe, where chef Gino Turano serves up a variety of dishes using local, organic ingredients, many of which he grows on-site. The prices at the cafe are quite reasonable, and you can bring beer from home. The restaurant is open for lunch daily and dinner on Saturday nights in the summer. There's also live music in the cafe on Sunday afternoons.
A Must-Visit While in Charlestown
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Fantastic Umbrella Factory has animals. Right now, there are two goats, three emus, some chickens, and a whole lot of ducks. Kids love seeing the animals, and the venue has a mini petting zoo type of feel to it. You can even grab some food for the animals if your kids want to get involved.
The Fantastic Umbrella Factory sits on Old Post Road in Charlestown, just north of Ninigret Park, so if you're looking for a different way to spend an afternoon, stop on by for a visit. The shops are open all year round, although the cafe closes for the winter before re-opening in March.
You never know what you'll find at this historic venue, but the chances are good it will be something you haven't seen anywhere else in South County.