A visit to Patchogue's vibrant, bustling downtown — dominated by retail shops, restaurants, lounges and taverns — gives no indication that not long ago the scene was bleak.
“I remember there were so many closed businesses back in the '90s, and it was not really all that great for shopping,” recalled Jessie Valentine, the owner of Muñeca Arthouse (12 S. Ocean Ave., 631-730-2788, munecaarthouse.com). Now living in Bohemia, Valentine grew up in nearby Medford. She serves on the board of the Patchogue Arts Council and was so moved by the evolution of Patchogue’s downtown she decided her hometown was the right place to open her gallery, which sells art inspired by comic books, graffiti and pop culture.
“I’m an artist, and I love art — but sometimes you visit a gallery on Long Island and it’s filled with paintings of beaches and landscapes. That’s all good, but this place is an extension of what I’m about,” she said.
While she’s open to displaying work by people from any location, most of the paintings and sculptures are from such local artists as Theresa Christensen, Michael Vivona “and me, too,” Valentine said with a laugh, adding, “although I honestly am more interested in promoting other artists besides myself.”
Everything on the walls is for sale, but the store also carries mugs, collectibles from companies like Kidrobot and Horrible Adorables, a toy that appears to be the head of a strange monster attached to the wall like a hunting trophy.
Kieran Johnson of Huntington Station enjoys the store quite a bit. “I have been working with Jess to purchase a Horrible Adorable for my new kid’s nursery,” said Johnson, who also knows Valentine from their work together on the Huntington Arts Council. “The gallery is an amazing place,” continued Johnson, “she has a wide range of items for everyone. There is always something new that catches my eye.”
Around the corner, at Paper Doll Curiosity Shoppe (33 E. Main St., 631-730-8383), John Lucansky said as he pointed at a retro toy on the shelves: “That rocket game caught my eye as soon as I walked in,” . He and his family were in town from Palm Court, Florida — his son plays football at Stony Brook University — and whenever they come to visit him, the Lucanskys explore Long Island. “Our son said we absolutely had to come here,” added Lisa Lucansky, John’s wife, “and he’s right about this place.”
“There’s nothing like this where we live,” John continued, “and the retro games bring memories back.”
“Customers love our retro toys!” exclaimed owner Dominique Maciejka, “Funny socks, funky sunglasses, retro T-shirts, mood rings and Kit-Cat clocks are also our best sellers.”
The store also carries clothing and lingerie — and just in case you’re not sure once inside that you’re in the right place, look for the life-size Bigfoot statue.
Maciejka said their social calendar is a big part of what they do, as “we even host special events: 90s parties, mermaid hair and makeup classes, and workshops to keep our customers engaged.”
She says it was shopping in Manhattan’s East Village that inspired the store and “many people say our shop reminds them of the East Village. That’s such a great compliment.”
“We’re definitely punky, funky,” said staffer Amanda Reilly of Ronkonkoma, who added that there are those who walk in “and they’re shocked! They didn’t know a store like this existed around here, and by the time they leave they’re like ‘I’m really glad I found this store.’ ”
Down Main Street a ways is The Cheese Patch (20 E. Main St., 631-438-0393, thecheesepatch.com).
“People who come here, a lot of them are looking to get away from the noise of the village,” explained Elsie Guccione, who works at the cheese shop, "some come on dates, others with friends, but we definitely have a lot of repeat customers.”
“Everything we sell, you can buy to take home,” Guccione said of the many cheeses for sale, “we’ll wrap them in parchment and label it so you know what’s in there.”
She acknowledges that while there are cheeses that are always popular, “some people come in, they want something new or spicy, or not spicy. Some like to try new things and we always have new cheeses to try.” A new option being served? “The pumpkin Gouda is very popular right now.”
“Just come in and let us know what you like,” Guccione said, “and we can make a great basket or just sell you a cheese of your choice.”
Here are some other shops worth popping into in Patchogue:
Blum’s, 27 E. Main St., 631-475-0136, shopblums.com. In business for 90 years, this classic store sells swimwear, accessories and lingerie.
Ellie J + Co., 11 N. Ocean Ave., 631-627-6655. The logo subhead is “Retail Therapy,” and this boutique tries to provide a relaxed atmosphere in which to buy comforting items like candles and pillows, as well as accessories and clothing.
Record Stop, 30-32 Railroad Ave., 631-585-3294, recordstopny.com. Despite moves from Ronkonkoma to Shirley to Patchogue, this store has been in business since 1974 with a dedicated customer base who come by to buy their vinyl and other related items. Expect good conversation and a knowledgeable staff.
BrickHouse Brewery & Restaurant, 67 W. Main St., 631-447-2337: Casual, pub-plus choices and fresh brews. Buttermilk Kitchen, 76 W. Main St., 631-654-6455, buttermilkkitchen.com: Breakfast all day plus lunch fare. Locale, 15 W. Main St., 631-714-5220, localeonmain.com: Gastrobar with panini, pastas, pizzettes, salads. That Meetball Place, 52 W. Main St., 631-569-5888, thatmeetballplaceli.com: 10 meatballs, 9 sauces, sliders, pretzels.