Destination Tiverton

The once-sleepy coastal town is awakening with fresh faces, a farmers market, and more that give it a sense of place all its own

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As she flees a bustling Providence after a long day and drives south along Route 24, Rosanna Ortiz, CEO of RMO Public Relations, can already feel the demands of her work and stressors of everyday life in the rearview mirror. She exits in Tiverton and weaves past dry-docked vessels perched skyward at Standish Boatyard, a cluster of coffee connoisseurs outside Coastal Roasters, and the sail shade pavilion marking Grinnell’s Beach, where families gather to dip their toes in the Sakonnet River. A lone dory bobs quietly on Nanaquaket Pond and as she cruises past Evelyn’s Drive-In, the smell of fried clams wafts through the salty air as it has for 52 years. Rosanna and her husband Mark aren’t the only city folk who have fallen for Tiverton’s coastal tranquility and Rockwellian vibe and become homeowners here. 

“In all my years in Tiverton, I have never seen it shine more brightly than it does right now,” says Diana Bothelo, lifelong resident who in 2018, along with husband Bill, bought The Cheese Wheel Village Market in Tiverton Four Corners. This historic district is peppered with 18th- and early 19th-century cedar shake buildings and serves as the town’s commercial center with local-owned shops, galleries, and studios. The centuries-old village was a perfect fit for the original cheese shop that opened there more than a dozen years ago, joining retailers like The Cottage, a home furnishings and accessories store; Courtyards, a barn-turned-gift shop known for impressive garden sculptures; and Salt, where apparel and goods are inspired by the coast. There are also longtime businesses like The Metal Works Corporation, marking their 40th anniversary this year, and Gray’s Ice Cream, a year-round Tiverton favorite since 1923. Tiffany Peay Jewelry & Healing Arts is one of the few places in Rhode Island offering Crystal Bed Light Therapy, a deep meditative experience designed to align and clear your energy pathways. Dating back to 1870, the Mill Pond Shops was originally erected as a public hall and later became the town grange. Today, it houses offices, galleries, and shops, like Created Purpose, which not only purveys artisan-made goods but has a crafting classroom for all ages.

For the Bothelos, investing in The Cheese Wheel’s future simply made sense, and they’ve just completed a months-long expansion project (and Gray’s is currently doing the same). Diana attributes the enduring success of Four Corners with the commitment and kinship shared among the consortium of small business owners there. “From the beginning, we’ve been very embraced, encouraged, and supported,” she says. “It’s really great energy. I can’t say enough about the people around us.”

One of the newer neighbors is Christine Francis, owner of Carmen & Ginger, a vintage shop housed for six years in Providence’s iconic Arcade building. In 2020, the building’s developer sold the units as condominiums, forcing Francis to rethink the next chapter of her business. When she saw the Benjamin Seabury House in Four Corners was available, a Greek Revival built around 1840 that offered retail space on the ground floor and living space upstairs, she decided to make a life-altering decision.

“It just seemed like a good fit. I said, ‘Let’s do it’,” Francis recalls. “The day I came down to sign the lease, I literally cried on my way down here…I was overwhelmed with both how beautiful it was and how much of a change it was going to be.” But she didn’t miss the big city for long: “The fellow merchants here are just great; they are very welcoming. I feel like immediately that I had a community down here.”

Occupying nearly two-thirds of the Sakonnet peninsula it shares with Little Compton, Tiverton fits a spectrum of diverse topography within its 36 square miles. Generations-old family farms offer a dose of nostalgia: Many residents grew up on the milk (and legendary coffee milk) from Arruda Dairy, established in 1917, and roadside farm stands offer a slice of Americana, brimming with tomatoes, corn, and berries in summer. Celebrating the spoils of coastal living, the decidedly unfussy Bridgeport Seafood has been stocking the local catch since 1937. It’s these authentic touches that lured the Moore family from Newport (and originally Australia) more than eight years ago and inspired them to create a series of guest cottages, collectively known as Moore House, for travelers who seek a boutique-style homestay experience in a quintessential New England coastal enclave.

“People want nice places to stay. People don’t want to stay in the Best Western or in a hotel that doesn’t love them,” explains Blair Moore. “A lot of people have been to Newport or Little Compton but they’re looking for somewhere beautiful where a family looks after them and they’re not an afterthought.”

Moore oversees the design of the cottages while her mother, Sharon, is the doting hostess and her father, Mark, is the architectural eye (and the muscle). Their five short-term rental properties collectively welcome 5,000 guests annually on average, and this past year, despite the pandemic, the cottages were in constant demand. “People want to experience smaller, quainter places; that’s something that we get a lot from people. It’s completely what we’re built around: Creating moments and memories for people without bastardizing the structures around [the town] and that history that tells its story,” explains Moore. She points to Groundswell Café + Bakery as a textbook example of honoring the integrity of a 171-year-old Tiverton building while offering a contemporary visitor experience: “They put in modern elements on the inside, but they didn’t change that architectural draw that Tiverton Four Corners is known for,” she explains.

Tiverton’s ability to lure more first-time visitors and transform curious vacationers into second homeowners doesn’t surprise Moore or her parents one iota. “It was only a matter of time, to be honest. I knew it was going to happen.”

Taylor Johnston was a horticulturist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston when iconic fashion photographer, the late Bill Cunningham, serendipitously snapped her photo. Upon seeing the image in The New York Times, she was inspired to create Gamine, a women’s workwear line that is equally fashionable and functional, that launched in 2014 and found its home on the outskirts of Four Corners.

“I love Tiverton, especially our little shop zone because it represents a unique slice of garden history,” says Johnston. The landscape around Gamine was once gardened and designed by the late Tiverton-based renowned garden designer Lloyd Lawton, and Johnston is working to bring it all back to life. “The special connection to the landscape here really drew me to relocate my shop to the Davenport House…I’m excited to have a space that really reflects the symbiotic relationship between work clothing and textiles and working with plants/nature outdoors.”

Aaron DeRego, whose wife’s family owns Ferolbink Farm, a 275-acre potato farm founded in 1870, spent nearly two decades in the local restaurant industry when his friend and longtime owner of The Red Dory announced his retirement in 2019. DeRego purchased the restaurant that was just five miles from his home.

Across from the newly restored and postcard-perfect Stone Bridge Pier, The Red Dory enjoyed steady business until the pandemic hit and they were forced to pivot from everything they had known.

“We didn’t do takeout; we turned our noses up to it,” says DeRego. But he and his chef soon found themselves making menu decisions based on how well the food was going to travel. “Now we have a group of core customers for takeout; we’ve been fortunate. We have customers who order takeout from us once a week that have never been in here,” he says.

Families who often spent the summers or warm weather weekends in Tiverton, DeRego noticed, relocated to their summer homes as the pandemic was unfolding and have stayed throughout, experiencing their first winter on the Farm Coast – and it’s created a new dynamic.

“People are making Tiverton more of a lifestyle than just a place to go when you’re getting out of the city. To me, that’s real sustainability: to have that level, that economy, all the time, and it keeps us busy on the weekdays, not just the weekends... it’s great, not just having to rely on the summer,” explains DeRego, adding that “up at the farm” they’ve been watching property values skyrocket amidst a robust real estate market. He says the Tiverton he’s always known and loved is still there; it’s just getting a little upgrade. “It definitely looks nicer, and it feels fresher,” he says. “It’s nice to have fresh blood.”

Tiverton Farmers Market founder Meredith Brower has watched Tiverton evolve as the decades have gone by, and says unequivocally that there are more conveniences compared to yesteryear. “When I was a kid, if we wanted pizza, we had to go to North Tiverton or Fall River,” she laughs. “We would have to pack up the family and make it a day!”

Living close to Four Corners amid the lush farm landscape, Brower realized she was driving to Bristol, Middletown, or Westport to buy goods from producers in her own backyard, and the idea for the town farmers market was born. As a board member at Sandywoods Center for the Arts – a performance center, art gallery, and kitchen incubator completed in 2010 – Brower knew the venue and its surrounding green space would be ideal for a farmers market. She started with the farmers, polling them on their preferred day of the week as many are committed to other markets and/or have their own farm stands to operate. A professional photographer, she knew her artist community would be interested as well, including her contemporaries at the Hotpoint Emporium artist cooperative in Bristol and her fellow South Coast Artists, known for their annual open studio tour.

The idea took off like wildfire. Vendors gave her checks to pay for the whole season. The Tuesday market, which operates weekly from 2-5:30pm (until May 4, when it will stay open until 6pm for the summer), with some special Saturday pop-up events from time to time, was an instant success despite debuting in the middle of a pandemic. Brower says there’s a true sense of community at the market, with vendors lifting one another up and bringing more than just goods to the hundreds of shoppers each week. “There are socially conscious mission driven companies… and I love meeting these young entrepreneurs. Most are women that are just driven. They have their business plan, their vision, their logo and branding. It’s a great group.” 

When Rosanna and Mark were first looking to make a home in the area, “We were blown away how the ocean and farm life coexisted – it was breathtaking,” Rosanna says. “When we leave the city and arrive 30 minutes later in Tiverton, it feels we are three hours away. The moment you take that right hand turn on to Seapowet, your whole world changes. Providence is my home and always will be, but Tiverton has my heart.”

 

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