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Biss Botanicals is a lovely and sophisticated boutique, filled with beautifully curated houseplants, lush textiles, housewares, and antique and vintage rugs. It’s a woman-owned shop and the first LGBTQ-owned plant shop in Massachusetts.

But it’s not in Boston or Salem, as you might expect. It’s in Reading.

“I had a customer come in from another town and say her town doesn’t have shops like this,” says Biss Botanicals’ owner Michaela Mann.

Indeed, Reading and North Reading boast several wonderful small businesses—many of which are women-owned—where residents and visitors can support the local economy, find the perfect holiday gift, take a class, or simply browse for the fun of it. 

“There are some really cute local stores in both towns where you can pick up something unique,” says Lisa Egan, executive director of the Reading-North Reading Chamber of Commerce. “They’re both very good shopping locations because it’s a little more personal going to a small, local business versus a mall chain store.” 

Reading’s downtown is shaped like a T with Main Street and Haven Street making up its shopping district.

“You can park once, and everything is two blocks long,” Egan says. “It’s very pedestrian friendly and easy to go to five stores at once.”

One popular shop is Whitelam Books, which just celebrated its five-year anniversary in November. In addition to selling books, it also hosts book clubs, author talks, story times, and other events for the community. 

“There’s more to Reading than meets the eye,” says owner Liz Whitelam. She’s reminded of this each July when Whitelam Books participates in the national Find Waldo Local, a scavenger hunt that hides 25 Waldo standees around town in different local businesses. 

“When I do our Find Waldo passport every year, it’s hard to limit it to just 25 destinations for people to go to,” Whitelam says. “It helps bring to the fore what an amazing diversity of shopping and dining that there is in a pretty small downtown area.” 

Shops like Biss Botanicals and Whitelam Books make Reading a great place to do local holiday shopping, and they’re not alone. Another is Tin Bucket, a gift shop with goods made by local artisans, home décor, and jewelry, as well as an art space that hosts creative events like sign—and jewelry-making and—painting parties. It also hosts seasonal events like wreath-making parties. 

Tin Bucket owner Pam Keating grew up in Reading and loves the “New Englandy” feeling of the town, along with its good schools, sense of community, and great location. Now, as a small business owner, she appreciates the way local businesses band together.

Julie Centrella | Photograph by Jared Charney

“People support each other, and the businesses support each other,” she says. “It’s a lot of women-owned businesses.” 

Another women-owned business is Pamplemousse, a wine and gourmet shop that’s a favorite destination downtown.

“Our forte is fine wines,” says founder and co-owner Diane Manahan. “A lot of people seem to just drink the same thing over and over again, and we do our best to stay away from big brands.” 

Instead, Pamplemousse favors organic and biodynamic wines made by farmers who grown their own grapes and “put a lot of love into it.” 

The shop carries wines from all corners of the world, including ones you might not expect, like Mexico and Lebanon, as well as craft spirits and an “amazing selection of beer.” However, it’s definitely not a “packie,” Manahan says. Instead, shoppers can also find a large selection of cheese, gourmet foods, and household and kitchen items, along with grab-and-go foods made in their commercial kitchen. They also do catering and gift baskets. 

Pamplemousse is just one of the places in town where shoppers can buy hard-to-find items. Another is GoodHearts Children’s Shop, which specializes in clothing for children up to size six, as well as special occasion clothing for events like christenings and First Communions. In fact, owner Amy Collins says they’re the only shop in the area where you can still find not only the clothing for such milestones, but also the socks, shoes, veils, gloves, headpieces, and other accessories. She’s opening another shop for older kids, Love Struck, across the street. 

North Reading is also worth checking out for its open spaces, restaurants, and historic structures, as well as shops. 

“North Reading definitely has some gems and shops where you can tackle a bunch of your errands at once,” Egan says.

Among those shops is Brissonté Gifts & Home Décor, a family-run business that sells gifts and home décor and hosts classes, workshops, and even a monthly book club in a beautiful space that owner Colleen Perry says has a “European flair.” They also do a lot of custom work, like signs, gift baskets, and wreaths, and every purchase is beautifully wrapped. She says she was warmly welcomed to town when she arrived 13 years ago, and that’s still the case in North Reading.

“The people are very warm and friendly,” Perry says. “People are very willing to support and shop in local stores. I have many repeat customers who have been customers for years and years.” 

Now and even at the height of the pandemic, businesses in the Readings made sure to keep serving their communities. Amy Collins of GoodHearts Children’s Shop sums it up perfectly.

“When people came in, they found what they needed,” she said, “And they left with it gift-wrapped.”