10 Coolest Small Towns, Conn.
Nearest City: Hartford, 15 miles
Named for the family that owned the local ax factory, Collinsville is beginning to show a different sort of edge. "It's been attracting more and more young people," says Scott Juhl, a college student who works summers at the Collinsville Baking Co. (41 Bridge St., 860/693-4050). "They've staged an outdoor drumming circle on Main Street." The town is on the Farmington River, and Collinsville Canoe & Kayak is the largest specialty canoe and kayak store in New England (41 Bridge St., 860/693-6977, cckstore.com). A rail trail also runs through town, and the depot is now a pub, the Crown & Hammer, where acoustic musicians come by to play (3 Depot St., 860/693-9199, crownandhammer.com, burger $8.50). At LaSalle Market & Deli, after orders get written up, they're flown by zip line across the restaurant (104 Main St., 860/693-8010, lasallemarket.com). Meanwhile, even more development is under way in Collinsville: The old ax factory is now being converted into riverside apartments and commercial lofts.
10 Coolest Small Towns, Ala.
Tuscumbia, Ala. Population: 7,856 Nearest City: Birmingham, 113 miles "At first I wasn't sure I could make a living here," says photographer and designer Robert Rausch; the area native moved back in 2001. "But every week I was meeting another incredible person." Rausch opened Stellar Idea, a design firm, and GAS Studios, one of several galleries that host an artists' monthly open house on a rotating basis (109-A W. Sixth St., 256/383-7183). Tuscumbia boomed as a rail center starting in the mid-1800s but declined after World War II; as with many towns, sprawl diverted life away from the old downtown. Around 2000, Harvey Robbins, who made millions in flooring and plastics and hated to see his hometown suffer, began buying buildings, including the one now housing The Palace Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop (100 S. Main St., 256/386-8210, Harvey's milkshake $3.50), and others that he rents to artists and small-business owners. Robbins also built the ColdWater Inn (712 Hwy. 72W, 256/383-6844, coldwater-inn.com, from $89), and funded a renovation of the 10-acre Spring Park, where there's an occasional 51-jet fountain show. "Just like any town, we've had our history, both good and bad," says Robbins. "What matters is how you end up in the end."
10 Coolest Small Towns, N.H.
Peterborough, N.H. Population: 5,883 Nearest City: Boston, 73 miles Not too many small towns are home to two theater groups, or, for that matter, The MacDowell Colony, the country's oldest artists retreat. "There's a cool blend of artists and regular folks here, but there's no attitude," says Dave Chicane, a chef late of Cambridge, Mass., and now at Peterborough's Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar (1 Jaffrey Rd., 603/924-5225, scallops $18). In 2003, Dave Szehi saw the community spirit firsthand when neighbors helped him renovate and expand Harlow's Pub (3 School St., 603/924-6365, harlowspub.com). Nearby, gourmet market Twelve Pine, inside a refurbished railroad warehouse, makes its own gelato (11 School St., 603/924-6140, twelvepine.com). In the summer, there are music jams in the park, pickup dodgeball games, and movies that kids can watch while floating in the community pool. Outdoors lovers know Peterborough because Eastern Mountain Sports is headquartered here, and accordingly, every other car has a kayak on top. EMS's flagship store is at 1 Vose Farm Road. (603/924-7231, ems.com).
Silver City: Coolest Small Towns, N.M.
Silver City, N.M. Population: 10,545 Nearest City: El Paso, Tex., 154 miles In New Mexico's southwest corner, Silver City isn't the kind of place people just stumble onto. Silver miners sought it out in the late 1800s, and more recently the town's Old-West charm and high-desert location made it a magnet for outdoorsy and creative types. The historic district is home to casual restaurants, like Nancy's Silver Café, that put the area's green chiles to good use (514 N. Bullard St., 505/388-3480, huevos rancheros $7). Outside town, The Nature Conservancy runs Bear Mountain Lodge, a hacienda adjacent to birding, biking, and hiking opportunities in the Gila National Forest (505/538-2538, bearmountainlodge.com, from $125). "You can choose the pace at which you want to live," says Jess Gorell, an artist and filmmaker who relocated from L.A. four years ago and teaches at The Bakshi School of Animation and Cartooning (109 N. Bullard St., 505/534-9291, thebakshischool.com), around the corner from the adobe galleries on Yankie and Texas Streets.
10 Coolest Small Towns, Mo.
Parkville, Mo. Population: 4,059 Nearest City: Kansas City, Mo., 10 miles As Jennifer Stanton is telling how she ditched her corporate job in 2003 to open Wines by Jennifer in a circa-1903 house, the Park University clock tower chimes: "That's my mantra to remind me to slow down and enjoy life," she says (405 Main St., 816/505-9463, winesbyjennifer.com). On Wednesday's Diva Night at Jeff and Lynn Anderson's River Rock Reserve, ladies enjoy fun stuff like free neck massages with their River Bottom cocktails; by day, the space reverts to a café (6325 Lewis St., 816/505-3663, riverrockcoffee.com). "We're just 10 minutes from downtown Kansas City," says Jeff, "but I feel like any minute someone's going to ask me to help with a barn raising." Didier Combe, the proprietor of Café des Amis, thinks Parkville is like a village in his native France: "After the last dinner is served, we often sit on the deck with friends and guests" (112½ Main St., 816/587-6767, cafedesamiskc.com, rack of lamb $26). Over at The Power Plant Restaurant and Brewery, Angelo Gangai gives his beers historical monikers like Southbound Nut Brown, named after the trains that roll past (2 Main St., 816/746-5051, powerplantbrews.com). One caramely ale, Steamboat Stout, makes a dandy float when poured over vanilla gelato from The Sweet Guy (10 Main St., 816/505-2788, thesweetguy.com). At Bentley Guitar Studios, Mark Bentley has been teaching folks--and now their kids--guitar for nearly a decade (122 S. Main St., 816/746-9772, bentleyguitars.com). The Saturday jam sessions here have become so popular, they've taken over the sidewalk.
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