by C. Oscar Olson
Many buildings on Nantucket house their fair share of history, but not all can hold a candle to the icon that is 2 Union Street. Just a stone’s throw from Main Street behind the Ralph Lauren shop, standing sturdy and proud for nearly 200 years, its history is still being written to this day.
Among the oldest buildings on the island, if walls could talk it would surely have a story to tell. Erected in the early 1830s, it was built in two sections, the north store and the south store, by James Athearn and Thomas Coffin, respectively. Coffin sold his section to the town in 1836 and Athearn followed suit narely 50 years later in 1884, when the buildings were joined, and 2 Union Street served as the Town building until 1966. Its brick walls were one of the reasons it survived the great fire of 1846, an inferno that engulfed and destroyed most of the structures in downtown Nantucket, along with the wharves.
Around 11 o’clock on the evening of July 13, 1846, a clogged stovepipe on Main Street sparked a flame that would soon be seen island-wide. Though there were ten firefighting companies on the island, efforts to extinguish and battle the flames were futile.
By 6am the next morning, Saturday, July 14, more than one third of the downtown business hub was reduced to rubble and ash. More than 200 families lost their homes, and some 400 buildings had been burned to nothing. The fire destroyed the heart of Nantucket, but 2 Union made it out still standing.
Since then, the building has been used to house a long list of offices and businesses, even our island’s first Internet Cafe. A highlight in the building’s history, 2 Union Street now houses a curated collection of small, independent shops and studios that sell a variety of hand-made and hard-to-find treasures.
On the ground floor of the building you’ll find long-time island resident Jessica Hicks. Since 2007, Jessica has been crafting beautifully unique jewelry that stands out from the crowd. She creates rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings using top-quality materials like gold, raw diamonds, Swarovski crystals, and semiprecious gemstones.
Jessica’s customers realize they are taking home a part of Nantucket when they purchase one of her pieces: her jewelry is inspired by the island and created by someone who is local. “When they are buying from a local business, someone who lives here year round, they are buying into the community, for us to make a living and survive here, keep the island running,” said Hicks. “Everything is made with my hands, with love, with my materials, my creative experience for over 30 years.”
Four more shops await your climb up the wide staircase, and it would sure be a shame to miss a single one. Look left to find Gray Lady Smoke Shop, the island’s premier source for the largest selection of fine cigars, locally made glass pipes, and a wide variety of handmade gifts and smoking accessories.
Always catering to customers, don’t be shy if you don’t see something you had in mind. Special orders on everything are never a problem. Find the perfect gift for your groomsmen or treat dad to something special, and there’s no need to go off-island to find that pipe you’ve had your eye on. Gray Lady Smoke Shop has it all.
Down the hall and to the left is Jennifer Greenwood Jewelry. Her style is like nothing we’ve seen, blending in with subtle beauty using gems, geodes, agate, opals, and more. Jennifer’s style is an alluring mix of classic looks, gorgeous natural materials, and traditional technique. Step inside to find Jennifer hard at work making magic before your eyes, practicing her craft and creating earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets that walk the line between classic and contemporary. Find the perfect piece for you or someone you love at Jennifer Greenwood Jewelry.
Across the hall from Jennifer you’ll find a passion for health both inside and out. The Verdant Maiden is focused on providing a more holistic and sustainable choice for personal care products we all use every day. Step inside to find a carefully selected collection of goods ranging from whole-body skin and hair care, nourishing teas, and healing tinctures. Everything you find at The Verdant Maiden is hand-selected, small batch, and made with natural, organic and wild-crafted ingredients.
Passionate about clean living, reducing toxic load and minimizing waste, owner and Nantucket resident Julie Connor is dedicated to sourcing products whose makers insist on natural, organic ,and wildcrafted ingredients with a high priority on sustainability. All of the products available at The Verdant Maiden are thoughtfully handcrafted to nourish your skin and body while also being kind to Mother Earth.
The newest addition to the building is Ana Romero. She stocks her store—Land of Lulo—with a wide variety of handmade goods from her home country of Columbia, all of which are vibrant with color and bursting with life. Ana makes much of the jewelry she sells right upstairs, all providing an experience unique to Nantucket.
Her collection, both fierce and playful, represent both coherent and thoughtful composition, all organically inspired and intentional. Find Ana’s table at the Sustainable Nantucket’s Artisans and Farmers Market every Saturday morning.
For a unique shopping experience just off the beaten path, stop by and see the shops at 2 Union. You’ll find everything you need to make your summer days shine brighter and make your gift giving as easy as can be.