Garden City Center: The gift that keeps on giving

Nov 3 / Press

Longtime Cranston resident Lola Vitalo vividly remembers Christmas time at Garden City Center as a little girl. The wonder of the giant popup Santa. The brilliance of the twinkling lights. The buttery aroma of freshly popped popcorn in the air and the welcomed warmth of a hot chocolate in her hands.

“It’s not about the big things in life — it’s the small memories that are so lasting,” she says. “That, to me, is a gift.”

Nestled in the heart of the Greater Providence area, Garden City Center has been the gift that keeps on giving to not only Vitalo, but to countless other Rhode Islanders over its seventy-year lifespan, whether bestowing them with a beautiful setting in which to spend time with friends and family or assisting them in securing that perfect something for themselves or a special someone.

“I’ve seen it evolve,” Vitalo says. “When Garden City was first created, and all these big stores came in, it was a big deal for people in the surrounding area that they didn’t have to head to downtown Providence to get what they needed. It was all right here. Garden City has grown tremendously since then.”

It’s true: What was once a site for coal mining (get a more in depth look at Garden City’s illustrious history here), is now a premier outdoor shopping destination that features more than seventy top-notch businesses strewn throughout its flawlessly manicured grounds. There’s Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel for the home decor enthusiasts; J.CrewFatFace and Chico’s for the trendsetters; Sephora and MiniLuxe for the beauty gurus; L.L.Bean and Lululemon for the adventurous; and Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods for the foodies by trade and/or AvvioBistro 22 and Chaska for the foodies by taste. Plus, a number of its stores are exclusive to the area, with Garden City Center being the only Rhode Island location for the likes of The Container StoreLegal Sea FoodsAnthropologieEthan Allen and more.

“Garden City is my favorite place to go. It’s lovely to be able to get a little fresh air while you’re shopping or dining out,” says Vitalo. “You might see someone you know or stop to chat with one of the store employees. There’s always a warm hello in every shop; they take a personal interest in you and ask how you are doing. It’s almost like family.”

The newer generation of shoppers are in agreements.

“I love going into the stores that I know and love and talking to the people who own them or work there,” says Rhea Ray, a stylish young mother of three. She and her sister, Giana Perdikakis — a new mom of a nine-month old — are, like Vitalo, Cranston natives who have been frequenting Garden City since they were children. “Garden City feels like its own little community — it has that charming, small-town feel. And it has whatever you need, whether you’re single, married or have a family.”

“On weekends, we would go to Garden City with my grandmother to shop and then eat together at Newport Creamery,” recalls Perdikakis. “And now my mother, my sister, our children and I, we all continue to go regularly. It’s our own little tradition.”

A typical day spent at Garden City typically kicks off with a stop at the sisters’ favorite store, mod mama, a local business which sells fashionable baby lifestyle products (think: clothing, accessories and furniture).

“They just have such unique items. I love that it’s mostly organic, and while the prices are a little up there, they’re worth it for the quality alone,” Perdikakis says. “But what brings me back over and over again is the customer service. The owner is phenomenal. If I tell her I’m looking for something specific, she’ll go ahead and look online, find some options and then e-mail me pictures and say, ‘I’ll put this aside for you.’ I really appreciate that one-on-one care.”

And as the owners of small businesses themselves, both Ray and Perdikakis are always happy to shop local.

“You could go online for some of the products, but we would rather get it from here,” Perdikakis explains. “We see the value in supporting fellow small businesses.” (And for those wondering, there are plenty of other locally owned shops to support throughout Garden City, including Sweenor’s Chocolatesmod mamaMel and MeProvidence Diamond and more.)

Following their trip to mod mama, the excursion often involves grabbing coffee (a peppermint mocha from Starbucks, perhaps? Or a PSL from Dunkin?), followed by some quality browsing time at stores like Banana Republic and Anthropologie. Then there’s the essential lip gloss run (“My eldest, who’s six, always asks to go into Sephora so she can pick one out,” Ray laughs) before topping it all off with, of course, a late lunch and ice cream at Newport Creamery.

Other trips, they say, may sometimes include stops at Barrington Books for new reads, Legal Sea Foods for dinner, Tavern in the Square for Sunday brunch or the central gazebo for playtime.

“During the summer we’ll even go at night when the gazebo has live music,” says Perdikakis. “We’ll meet up with our brother and his three boys, bring food and lay blankets down.”

She also says going to Garden City has been one of the few activities they still were able to do as a family throughout COVID. Being an outdoor plaza, the Center is prime for social distanced hangs, shopping and dining. Many shops have even gladly set up curbside pickup (which Perdikakis says allowed her a welcome break from the newborn/quarantine bubble) and sidewalk sales to make customers feel more comfortable.

Next month, the sisters and Vitalo alike are looking forward to the lights and the treats and the splendor of Garden City during the holidays. The Center will host festive strolls from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 28th, Saturday, December 5th and Saturday, December 12th, complete with merry entertainment and family photo opportunities around the gazebo. And while Santa unfortunately won’t be available for meet and greets (he is a very busy man, after all!), he has promised to send a few elves on his behalf to deliver special gifts to a number of lucky strollers throughout the month.

And as Vitalo says: “Nothing beats Garden City during the holidays.”

Read their stories on RI Monthly