Because Wooden Shoes Make So Much Sense
A Taste of Holland store, South Norwalk
June 13, 2009
Update: This store closed in 2018. This page is certainly a candidate for deletion, but there’s a bunch of Dutch-in-Connecticut history, so I’ll keep it.
The reason you’re reading about this place on CTMQ is simply because it’s weird. An entire store – and fairly big at that – dedicated to all things Dutch. Okay, it’s not so weird, as there’s a different Dutch store in Litchfield.
Sure, other ethnic stores dot the state all over the place: Polish in New Britain, Slavic in Hartford, Russian in West Hartford – on and on. But those almost exclusively sell food and there are also matching ethnic communities in those areas. A Taste of Holland sells much more than food and I cannot for the life of me find any evidence of a Dutch population in Norwalk.
Oh sure, up in Hartford there are some historical references to the Dutch who came here 400 years ago. And a handful may know that Hartford’s “Adriaen’s Landing” has Dutch roots. Adriaen Block was a Dutch explorer who sailed up the Connecticut River in 1614 aboard the Onrust, the first American-built ship. He got as far as Enfield, about 15 miles upriver from Hartford.
The following year, Block visited the island just off the coast of Rhode Island that would eventually be named Block Island. Bet you didn’t know that, now did you?
The Dutch followed up on Block’s journey by establishing a trading post at the confluence of the Connecticut and Park rivers – the Park is now largely buried underneath Hartford. The year is reported as 1623 in some places, 1633 in others. Regardless, the Dutch set up business well before the Rev. Thomas Hooker and other English settlers arrived to establish the colony that became Hartford.
Naming their post Huys de Hoop, or House of Hope, the Dutch traded with local Indian tribes for beaver pelts. But an invasion of the region by the Pequot tribe led the more peaceful Podunk Indians to visit English settlers in Boston and Plymouth to seek their protection, promising farmland in return. Soon, the English arrived in Windsor, Wethersfield, and then Hartford.
“As for the Dutch,” local historian Ellsworth S. Grant writes, “they were traders not farmers. Rarely on the frontier have agricultural and trading culture been able to live in harmony; the Dutch were too few and English multiplied too fast for the struggle to be equal, and the Hollanders finally sailed downriver for good in 1654.”
Yet reminders of Block and his countrymen remain. The south-end neighborhood that runs along the river and takes in the landmark Colt firearms factory is known as Dutch Point and a bunch of Dutch street names dot Hartford’s south end: Huyshope Avenue, Van Dyke Avenue, Van Block Avenue, Hendrixsen Avenue and Vredendale Avenue.
And one of the only other reminders of any Dutch presence now or in the past seems to be this very odd store in the heart of SoNo. Keep in mind that this is a very ritzy area and I imagine storefront rental prices are ridiculous. (It also happens to be within a couple minutes’ walk of the Maritime Aquarium, the Norwalk Museum and the SoNo Switchtower Museum as well… Which makes is doubly cool.)
So what’s inside? Lots of stuff from Holland – and yes, a whole giant rack of those ridiculous wooden shoes that no one in their right mind would ever wear. Even in a country full of dorks wearing Crocs and fashionistas wearing thousand dollar torture shoes, both are still preferable to WOODEN SHOES. (Though the there were some soft wooden shoe slippers looked kind of cute for Damian.)
And the Dutch really like their various mayonnaises. Lots of lots of mayonnaise. Of course there is a large selection of the famous Delft Blue cookware and apparently Mentos are Dutch too. Remember when Damian turned Dutch for a day? That was awesome.
In the end, we thought it was all rather dear and pretty cool to have such a random store in yuppie-ville SoNo. Y’know, the town with the Maclaren Stroller “showroom” (below) that presents the thousand dollar strollers like a Porsche dealership. Ahhhh, I love when Connecticut lives up to its stereotype.