Cape Island, the extended area south of Cape May canal that includes the city of Cape May, West Cape May, Cape May Point and parts of Lower Township, is an ancient and storied destination spot that has served as a playground for travelers grand and humble for hundreds of years.
And like any respectable and venerable metropolis, the island is slow to reveal its secrets. Always the virtuous Victorian, Cape Island doesn’t just peel back her petticoats for every shiny carload of sun worshippers that passes by. Ask any of the locals – they’re not always so easy to spot – and they’ll probably tell you that Cape May is a city of secrets. Of course when the population drops to around 4,000 souls in mid-January, and there’s not much to do except sit around and talk about other people’s secrets, well, secrets don’t stay secrets for too long.
It never hurts to have a little help finding things.
So I checked with some of the most fashionable, frugal, and fresh-faced locals in the area for their ideas on where to go for everything from a butcher and a baker to a candlestick maker. I asked them to reveal some secrets and here are a few they let loose. Check it out.
First, not sure where everything is? Grab a free copy of The Friends of Cape Island’s fabulous map/route guide entitled Car Free/Care Free on Cape May Island, NJ. It’s a biking, walking and birding map and it’s quite helpful, so grab it and get familiar. The map is available at various spots around town (including Whale’s Tale on the Washington Street Mall – my wife loves that store, yours will too – grab a quick brew at the world-famous Ugly Mug just up the street while she shops). The map is also available at the Welcome/Transportation Center on Lafayette Street.
Now, waddya need first? Haircut? Yeah, we know that deal.
Your best bud’s getting married at “the cove” tomorrow and bridezilla told you not to show up unless you get that mop cropped, right? Try John’s Barber and Style Shop, 1352 Washington Street. “A nice neighborhood barber,” John is famous for his “drive-in haircut” and you can get a shave there too.
And you girls? Be you bride or bridesmaid or just a girl who needs a new ‘do, Heather at Heather’s Hair Salon, also on Washington Street, is the perfect stop and convenient too. Heather’s technique is particularly great for you curly-headed gals or the gal who wants her hair color exactly like Julianne Moore’s.
Plan ahead though. Heather’s appointment calendar books up quickly. Feel like venturing off the island? Well before you do, pop over to West Cape May and give Artizan Salon & Spa on Park Blvd. or Accent on Beauty on Sunset Blvd a try. Now off the island, the fashionista in the “your best bud’s getting married at the cove” bunch agreed to give up one of her favorite secrets for the sake of this article. Her recommendation? Hair Cuttery in the Bayshore Mall, North Cape May! Sean is your man, she claims. Now before you roll in there for a Mrs. Physick cut (visit capemaymac.org for that reference), know that Sean sports a blue mohawk, tattoos and plenty of piercings, but according to our fashionista, “he cuts hair likes nobody’s business.” Plus Hair Cuttery only charges $15 (so leave a nice tip).
We may as well stick with the wedding theme seeing as Cape May is one of the top three spots in the country to tie the knot. If you don’t know where to take your vows, well I can’t help you – call the mayor – but for a relaxing massage before you take the leap, call Touch and Go Massage. Certified massage therapist Kathy Kint will come to you, where ever you may be. Kathy also has a studio on Clearwater Drive in North Cape May. Cape May Day Spa, with locations in Congress Hall and on Franklin Street, is luxurious and worth the price.
Now if you need some party supplies for that wedding… oh, OK enough of the wedding. How ‘bout party supplies for a party happening, say, after one of the fabulous productions at Cape May Stage on Lafayette Street (best theater within 100 miles, along with the American classics of East Lynne Theater). Head to Swain’s Hardware. Swain’s? Really now, must I go on? Center of town, sorta, and a true institution. Yes, it is a hardware store. It is also the best-kept secret in town. You can get everything at Swain’s from a grill to elegant outdoor dining ware to party lights to tiki torches. Your stop for party hats, fancy themed paper plates and streamers is that old standby, the chain drugstore. There is a CVS on Myrtle Avenue in West Cape May. If it’s party balloons you need, Dellas General Store has an assortment of Mylar balloons, plus the helium to go with them.
While you’re in that section of town, Cape May’s best packaged goods store is, drum roll, Collier’s. On the Beach front, the Promenade Restaurant located at the Montreal Hotel on Beach Avenue also has quite a nice liquor store. If you’re out in North Cape May, it’s Gorman’s in Bayshore Mall, on Bayshore Road next to the Acme Grocery Store.
Back to the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Westside Market on Broadway in West Cape May has what you need. Westside is straight out of the old Andy Griffith Show. Wooden floors and a staff that’ll remember what you’re having after a few orders. Westside has cold cuts and party trays and is known as a fine caterer. Drop by, hang around outside a bit and greet the West Cape Mayans as they saunter in.
Baker? Well there are a three. A Ca Mia Bakery on the Mall is a French bakery with a great reputation. They have a great selection, but their bread is what keeps the locals happy. It’s simply authentic. There’s the Bakers Shoppe on Broadway, a new kid on the block, and Cape May Bakers on Perry Street across from Wilbraham Park is a local favorite with great fresh-baked selections. Get there early. But they don’t make donuts in the winter. I’ve been dying to say something about that. I mean what’s up? Locals don’t get donuts in winter? Wawa is pretty good for donuts. In fact, Wawa is pretty good for a lot of things, with locations on Bank Street and Texas Avenue.
And for a candlestick maker, one of Cape Island’s favorite haunts for candles is Good Scents on the Carpenter’s Lane side of the Mall on Jackson (close to the ghosts). Neatly tucked behind the mall, simply fabulous and still unspoiled, Good Scents has a great vibe inside and quality merchandise including fashionable and well-priced jewelry, candles, books, cool stuff, and music. Music choices include CDs from local favorite Bluebone. Don’t know Bluebone? Mayers Tavern off Route 109 just this side of the Cape May bridge on Saturdays. Great food at Mayers too. The crowd is a lot of locals and fishermen, but don’t be intimidated.
Man, after all that I could go for a steaming cup of java. I, as well as a bunch of other locals, recommend one place – Magic Brain in Carpenter’s Square Mall on Congress Street. It’s one of my favorite spots on the island. A few months back, I needed to access my email quickly. I simply cruised into Magic Brain, ordered the house Nantucket blend (I‘m a straight-up coffee guy but owner Drew Robinson has a great and varied menu and plenty of great munchies), then I bought some internet time, logged on and accessed my email. Drew also has a wireless connection if you bring your own laptop.
How ‘bout just a few miscellaneous items like, oh I don’t know, pet grooming. In West Cape May, there’s Kasey’s Canine Castle on Park Boulevard. For an upscale pooch pampering, Boche the Bichon recommends Carriage House Grooming on Seashore Road in Cold Spring. And our contributing paison recommends A Place for Pets on Bayshore Road in Villas. “Great team there,” he said. “My dog loves ‘em.”
Speaking of pets we also recommend Cape May Veterinary Hospital just across the canal on Petticoat Creek Lane. D.V.M.s Bob Panaccio and Bob Moffat are true pros who care about their patients. And Bob Moffat throws a heck of a party. He helped organize the Guinness Book of World Record’s longest dinner table during a 125th anniversary celebration in the Borough of Cape May Point.
Dry cleaners and laundry service, Model Cleaners on Texas Avenue; crib rental, Wildwood Crib Rental on Pacific in Wildwood; optician, Arlene Gorny-Hughes, OD, on Columbia Avenue; jewelry repair, Victorious Antiques in Congress Hall and Pat Jackson on Bank Street.
Need a good mechanic? Me too, let me know. I guess a good mechanic is hard to find and the locals are not giving up that bit of info. Either that or they all ride bikes. Speaking of bikes, try Cape Island Bikes at Howard and Beach as well as at Sunset Blvd, heading out to the point. Also try Village Bike Shop on Lafayette next to Depot Market (they’re friendly) and Shields on Gurney.
For boating supplies try Sea Gear on Route 109, accessible by driving under the bridge; cleaning service, Gophers in Wildwood (“gawd I wish I could afford one”).
A tan? Nobody I know does the fake kind, so try Queen Street for the hip crowd, Poverty Beach for more mellow and “the cove” after 5 pm if you’re a local. Of course, you could go out to Higbee Beach on New England Road to avoid the crowds.
Beach umbrella, beach chair, beach toys are all available from Steger’s Beach Service located on various beaches throughout Cape May. Otherwise try Swain’s Ace hardware. For groceries there’s an Acme on the corner of Lafayette and Ocean and for everything else – suntan lotion, digital camera supplies, after-sun lotion – there’s the CVS in WCM.
For more info go to CapeMay.com and if you can’t find it there, just drop the nice folks there an email; they’re pretty knowledgeable and they’ll get back to you before summer.
If you need anything else, ask a local.