Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The merchants in Uptown Westerville want to be known as a shopping and dining destination. But they don't want the historic district to be compared to nearby Polaris Fashion Place.

"We're not a mall and we don't want to be one," said Stacy Roberts, owner of the children's boutique Hey Diddle Diddle.

Business owners in the charming downtown, which includes State Street and several side streets including College Avenue and Main Street, want to offer visitors a unique experience.

"Everybody's goal is to have something different," Roberts added.

It only takes a few stops along State Street to see that shopkeepers are delivering on their promise. The stores are full of interesting merchandise and one-of-a-kind items.

Even one of the coffee shops, Java Central, has an eye-catching array of goodies to peruse while sipping fresh-roasted, fair-trade brew. The shop sells hand-loomed Egyptian scarves, jewelry and other gift items.

A few doors down, Westerville Antiques offers a stroll down memory lane for adults of all ages. Owner Leslie Etheridge carries a wide array of antiques including some newer pieces from the 1980s. "Everything screams an era," she said.

Etheridge welcomes kids in the store. She keeps her aisles wide and even stores some dolls and trucks on the floor for kids to play with.

"I kind of trust the parent to know if their kids can be trusted," she said. "I truly enjoy them as long as they're being good."

Anyone with a daughter needs to check out Etheridge's shabby chic display. It's sure to get any mother's designer juices flowing.

Children are also welcome at Blue Turtle Tea & Spice. Owner Amanda McGuffin-Noll said she knows some parents hesitate to bring little ones into the restaurant/tea shop because its walls are lined with shelving full of tea and spices, but she's comfortable with children. "I'm a mother myself," she said.

Parents should take advantage of the offer and sample the cafe's delicious soups and salads. She carries some teas recommended for kids and sells a few that make tasty popsicles.

Kids in the mood for a cool treat will want to visit Graeter's Ice Cream or Dairy Queen.

Another must stop for little ones is That's So Sweet. The candy store stocks plenty of tasty treats, hosts birthday parties and creates candy buffets for special occasions.

For a little more active family entertainment, check out the fishing pond, big slide and train play set at Alum Creek Park (don't let the West Main St. bridge project detours deter you from visiting). Bigger kids might enjoy a play or event at Otterbein University.

Julie and Ivan Smith and their two children, Ellie, 14, and Campbell, 10, live in walking distance to the school and routinely take advantage of its renowned theater department.

They also walk uptown every day for ice cream or to visit the stores.

"It's very accessible," said Julie Smith, who moved there 13 years ago. "They want a family atmosphere uptown."

She loves shopping at encircle, a shop that features clothing and home decor items made by American artists. It's the perfect place to find a present for anyone that's hard to buy for, Smith said.

Outside Envy, which specializes in outdoor art, also offers great gift ideas. "There's lots of unique shops," Smith said. "It's genuine. It's people with unique ideas."

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