Connecticut: Books, Ice Cream, and Amusements

Used book stores rarely attract the tourists, but The Book Barn in Niantic, CT is unique. The two locations in downtown Niantic really aren’t special, other than the immensely knowledgable staff, but the original location just past the Niantic Center Elementary School is incredible.

There must be a dozen or more sheds and shacks filled with books, and then there is the big red barn. Most of the books are well-organized, but like Powell’s Books in Portland, you’d better get a map or talk to someone at the organizing desk if you are seeking something specific.

I think this store has a special place in my heart because I went to that nearby elementary school and grew up in that tiny town. There’s more to the book barn than you could ever imagine. In fact, this region of the country is strangely comforting — mom-and-pop shops are scattered all over southeastern Connecticut. Shops like Hartford Grinder in Niantic, Goldy’s in New London,  Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream in Salem, and even an amusement park called Lake Compounce in Bristol, have something down-to-earth about them. Makes you feel good to know you’re supporting a small community.

Each summer, I make a pilgrimage to this region to visit friends and family. The truth is that I come for the amazing locally-made ice cream at Salem Valley Farms, but don’t tell my East Coast friends and family that. It’s probably the highest-grade ice cream you can eat without going into a sugar coma.

Every flavor is so rich and creamy. My favorite flavors are the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, or one of their special flavors like Apple Caramel Swirl, Purple Sable, or Heavenly Hash. I crave only one kind of sundae–their Hot Fudge Sundae with strawberries atop Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. However, if you have three or four people to share with, you might as well have the banana split. Whatever you do, don’t try to tackle that one on your own.

Another local hot spot you will want companions for is America’s oldest amusement park, Lake Compounce. Even without any kids in our group, we enjoyed it. My mom’s company picnic was in the park, so food was free all day. Unfortunately, the safest thing to eat there were the tacos from the taco bar. I wasn’t expecting anything from the food — after all, it’s a theme park.

I did have high hopes for the rides, however. Compounce is home to the fastest and longest wooden roller coaster among other notable factoids.

“It is the oldest continuously-operating amusement park in North America, having its genesis more than 165 years ago in 1846! The park has had more than $40 million invested in rides and attractions during the recent past, and today is more beautiful than ever. Among other famous attractions, Lake Compounce is home to Boulder Dash, which has been voted the world’s #1 wooden roller coaster, as well as Connecticut’s largest water park. At “The Lake,” there are more rides, attractions, and FUN than anyone can experience in just one day…”

History of the Park

“On October 6, 1846, Samuel Botsford, an influential Bristol scientist, persuaded property owner Gad Norton, an original settler descendant, to let him conduct “a series of beautiful experiments in electricity.” Well publicized, the event drew thousands of spectators who witnessed the demonstration amidst the beauty of the woods and water. Although the final experiment of “blowing up from shore, two huge jugs of gunpowder tied under a raft in the middle of the lake” failed, it did inspire Mr. Norton to action. He put a path around the lake, set up picnic tables, allowed public swimming and rowing on the lake and built a gazebo for lakeside band concerts. Lake Compounce had officially opened to the public as a picturesque “picnic” park.”

The little state of CT offers and attracts small business lovers from around the country. So many successful businesses, and all with the mindset that everyone should do what they love or love what they do.

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