By Dorothy Bloy
The third annual Gingerbread Walk is underway in Red Bank now through December 21. Stores spread across the town’s business district feature Gingerbread creations baked by local businesses and schools. At each destination, visitors can enter for a chance to win a Grand Prize Raffle or one of 14 gingerbread creations. Red Bank is a hip destination for virtually every generation and the Gingerbread Walk is a map to exploring the essence of the town through the dedicated small business owners who work hard to make it special.
Big box stores might offer discounts, but they could never compete with the personalized service or specialized product lines offered by Red Bank merchants. Local shop owners take pride in getting to know their customers and building their businesses around the needs of those who support them.
At Fragile Earth Stuffed Animals, 9 Monmouth Street, Helen and Mary Beth Graham pooled their resources and creativity, and left their corporate jobs to follow a dream.
“We wanted to be that neighborhood store where we know our customers, and our customers know us,” said shop owner, Helen Graham.
Indeed, the sister team opened their doors in April, after building the capital and courage through an eight-year online business. They are devoted to their community of repeat clientele who return for that customized shopping experience.
“It was always our dream to have the store. Online is just not personal enough. We love working together with our customers to build gift baskets and create really unique gifts,” Graham said. “In fact, this year we placed our Christmas orders with specific people in mind. This is what we wanted to achieve.”
No wonder Fragile Earth customers call it the happy store. The gingerbread house displayed at Fragile Earth was created by Readie’s Café and fits in perfectly with the stores enchanting collection of plush toys and whimsical storybooks.
Just across the way, at the Cheese Cave, 14 Monmouth Street, a fairytale gingerbread clock tower, created by The Culinary Education Center of Monmouth, holds a place of distinction on a farm table amid the savory aroma of cheese. The shop opened its doors in February 2011 and offers a full array of cheeses, dried fruits, and condiments as well as affordable spices and coffees from local roasters.
“I’m here every day,” said Cheese Cave owner, Stephen Catania, “and I enjoy the direct contact with my clients.”
The Cheese Cave is a popular meeting place on Friday nights for its BYOB $5 cheese tastings. Bring a friend and a favorite bottle of wine for this happy hour alternative inside the store’s warm rustic setting, where you will find a variety of cheeses with complimenting breads and jams. Catania enjoys mingling with the crowd. He revels in his mission to help people broaden their cheese appreciation.
“My customers tell me they really want to see the shop succeed,” Catania said. “I chose the Red Bank location because this is the kind of town that embraces a business like mine.”
Traversing the length of Broad Street from one gingerbread stop to another it becomes obvious Red Bank is a town in tune with the rhythm of its surrounding community. There are toys, antiques, a pharmacy, fine jewelry, a dance school, treat shops, delectable pizza, and Yestercades, 80 Broad Street, an arcade boasting a demographic spread across many decades. There is something for everyone from all walks of life.
Rare Breed Professional Footwear, 16 White Street, sells a full line of brand name sport shoes at great prices. Unfortunately, the tasteful gingerbread replica of the Red Bank Train Station on display there met a tragic end. For the full story, you must trek across the street to Nina’s Waffles & Sweets where the ill-fated house was created.
“We suspect a band of shoemaker elves overcome with hunger tore into the spiced station while working late one night,” said Nina’s manager Michael Loff.
All that remained were a few remnants of icing sugar tucked inside some running shoes and a photo captured by Shawn “Cakes” Lawson, Nina’s baker, who created the misfortunate but delicious house. The good news is Nina’s Waffles & Sweets, 15 White Street, who opened their doors about six weeks ago, have plenty more treats to share.
“We love this locale,” said Loff. “Red Bank is a cultured and forward thinking place and it’s business-friendly, too. It was a natural progression for us to open a retail store for the community here. And our customers tell us we are very affordable.”
At Nina’s you can treat yourself to a premium coffee, cappuccino or a variety of tea and enjoy an awesome petite pastry on the spot. In addition, Nina’s offers a full line of gourmet pies, tartes, and cakes at excellent prices. Stop by the store or call 732-530-1140 for their full holiday menu.
On the edge of town at the Melting Pot, 2 Bridge Avenue at The Galleria, a warm glow shines through the spun sugar windows of their gingerbread abode. Created by The Gingerbread Man, the house looks as if it might have leapt from the pages of a Candyland version of Architectural Digest. In addition to providing unique dining experiences, many local Red Bank restaurants and businesses participate in charitable events, and The Melting Pot is no exception. The restaurant will be preparing passed hors d’oeuvres for their Beer & Wine Tasting to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The event takes place on Monday, December 19th at the Two River Theater. For more information, call The Melting Pot at 732-219-0090.
This holiday season revive your local community connections with a visit to Red Bank for the Gingerbread Walk. You might just be able to check off some of those hard to find gifts on your list as well. For a full listing of store participants and bakers and a map of the Gingerbread Walk, visit www.OnlyOneRedBank.com or call 732-842- 4244.