Before I moved permanently to a resort community, I grew up, like many people, taking ski vacations in the mountains with my family. After three or four days of skiing, bruised and sore, one of my sisters or I would inevitably say one morning over breakfast, "Let's just go shopping today."
Even for those of us who really enjoy it, shopping often becomes a mission-based activity: a mad dash through crowds of people for the one or two needed items followed by a hasty retreat to the safety of the parking lot. Particularly in the midst of the holiday hangover, it's not particularly appealing.
But shopping in Summit County is different. Here, it's not about the purchase, but about the process.
The tiny, historic towns of Breckenridge and Frisco are designed for the aimless day shopper, who has time to browse and isn't looking for anything in particular. Cute little Main streets are lined with historic buildings where, over the decades, saloons and animal feed shops have been replaced by bakeries and outdoor apparel stores.
The shops are incredibly specialized. In Frisco and Breckenridge, shoppers will find different retailers dedicated to gloves, socks, beads and spices. For many of the business owners, their product is their craft, meaning whatever they sell tends to be of the highest quality and often unique.
"I make each one of my hats," said Diane Harty Sclaefer, who owns Diane Harty Millinery in Frisco and has been in the hat business for more than 15 years. "They're something you can't find anywhere else in the country."
The distinctiveness of the merchandise sold in boutique shops in Summit County doesn't make shopping efficient, but it does make it fun. Meandering through quiet, brightly colored little shops with no particular purpose is relaxing, while picking through hand-made gifts, decorative trinkets and novelty items feels a little bit like treasure hunting.
Then, to break up the hunt, there are cute little diversions, such art galleries, restaurants and historic museums on and adjacent to Main Street in both towns. In Frisco, the historic park on Main Street allows visitors to wander through a late 19th and early 20th mountain mining town, complete with a chapel, jail, schoolhouse and general store housed in rescued historic cabins. In Breckenridge, the Barney Ford House is a memorial to one of the town's first black businessmen. Both towns are also home to bakeries, coffee shops and eateries, as well as photography and art galleries that round out a day of shopping.