For two days last summer, photographer Charles Sternaimolo and I explored the creative, colorful, and quirky community that is Commercial Street in Provincetown. We walked the length of the street, from the attractive homes, B&Bs, and art galleries in the East End, to the Provincetown Inn Seaside Resort & Conference Center in the west. We stopped in many shops, enjoyed great meals at local restaurants, and met, photographed, and interviewed a plethora of interesting people.
During our time in Provincetown, we observed endless flowers in bloom and rainbow flags and umbrellas in abundance. It was Labor Day weekend—the days were hot and sunny, and the evenings warm and breezy. We saw a bevy of bicycles, lots of little dogs, and many a manicured mohawk. We met locals as well as tourists and workers from around the world, including Andreas Casar of Mexico, who was giving Ivelina Ivanova of Bulgaria a pedicab ride home after work. We photographed some visitors posing with the whale sculpture on MacMillan Pier, and found Jamaican workers employed just about everywhere. We hope you enjoy this photo essay, and be on the lookout for the next installment—Chatham’s Main Street—in our August issue.
There’s much to see in the East
In the morning, the East End of Commercial is peaceful and sleepy, but there are sights to behold! Signs on a few homes note that one was built in 1796, and that writers Susan Glaspell and John Dos Passos lived in two others. Another residence has both red and yellow apple trees in the yard, and another, at 472 Commercial, was once the home of David C. Stull, who was known in 19th century whaling circles as “The Ambergris King.”
The East End also boasts the attractive Provincetown Art Association & Museum (PAAM), which recently celebrated its centennial. There are also many art galleries in the neighborhood, including Blue, First Light, and Tao Water Gallery. We paused outside yet another, the Rice/Polak Gallery, to ponder the funky face sculptures out front.
Nuts, sweets, and a little caffeine
If you’re hungry, Commercial Street has many sweet options for snacks. At the Portuguese Bakery we tried the patinhas de veado (a sponge cake with Bavarian cream) and bolas de berlim (doughnuts with custard filling). Later, we thought it would be crazy not to visit The Nut House, so we did, browsing the large selection of glazed, roasted, and chocolate-covered nuts and other treats. At Cabot’s Candy, we chatted with employees Sherica Williams-Ricketts and Kerene Dyer, both of Jamaica. Dyer says she really enjoys Commercial Street. “It’s amazing,” she says. “People are friendly . . . it feels like home.”
Outside The Wired Puppy, we met Andrea Chan and Marissa Bonyun who were cooling off with iced coffees. The Toronto residents were visiting P-town following a friend’s wedding in Boston and were happy to pose for a few photos.
Head west for phenomenal flora
The west end of Commercial boasts endless beautiful sights—and during the nice weather a steady stream of cyclists fills the road to enjoy them. At the very end, one can enjoy views of the harbor from the Provincetown Inn Seaside Resort & Conference Center. We shot the first photo of this project there, and a kiteboarder breezing by added some local color to the scene.
The west end has many attractive residences with gardens, picket fences, and finely manicured hedgerows. We met Mark E. Walsh whose home at 117 Commercial was once a fire engine house, and we observed a reader relaxing with a book on The Red Inn’s back deck. Down the road, we met resident Robert Randall Bourne, whose garden flourished with zinnias, marigolds—and most notably—sunflowers!
A stroll through local history
The Pilgrim Monument can be seen from many areas in town and created a stately backdrop in several photos. Another attractive structure is the Center Methodist Church, which dates back to 1860. No longer a church, the building has had several uses over the years and has been home to the Provincetown Public Library since 2005.
In the East End, we passed the 1844 Eastern Schoolhouse, which served P-town as a school for nearly a century. Today, the building houses the ArtSTRAND gallery, featuring the work of several local artists. A few blocks away, a sign alerted us to the former home of the Provincetown Players. On July 28, 1916—a century ago—the actors performed writer Eugene O’Neill’s “Bound East for Cardiff” in a wharf fish-shack they had made into a theater. Today, the wharf is gone, but Provincetown theater lives on!
A pier without peer
MacMillan Pier is a flurry of activity with walkers, bikers, and whale-watchers coming and going. One afternoon, we came across a group of boys having a blast—jumping off the pier into the water. All students at the Nauset Middle School, the boys jumped about 30 times and were happy to mug for a few mid-air photos.
We also met artist Ginny Ross on the pier. Originally from Dennis, Ross has lived in P-town for 22 years. “It’s an awesome place to live,” she says. “Warm, kind, considerate—it’s very accepting.” Working out of one of the artist shacks, Ross makes jewelry and sea glass artwork. To say she’s inspired by her jobsite would be an understatement. “The ocean light meets the bay light,” says Ross. “There’s nothing like it anywhere else.”
Daily Provincetown specials: great food everywhere!
We visited several restaurants on Commercial Street, enjoying terrific food and some fun conversations with staff. Our first meal was at Local 186, which specializes in burgers and beer, and offers outdoor seating with great views of the street. Browsing the cocktail menu, I considered The Tennessee Williams and The Mrs. Howell, but alas, I just ordered “The Old Fashioned” burger. It was only lunch—and we had work to do. Later, at Burger Queen, we reviewed the day’s photos while tuning in to a discussion between owner, Tony Edwards, and a customer on whether a “traditional” lobster roll should be served hot or cold. If anyone knows the correct answer to this question, please email me!
In the heart of downtown, The Lobster Pot is a beloved spot for many, and co-owner Shawn McNulty was the perfect pitchman for both the restaurant and the town. “There’s only one thing that exceeds this view,” McNulty says from the back deck, “and that’s the food.” Open from April to December, the restaurant has about 100 employees and serves about 1,400 diners per day. McNulty showed us some mesmerizing menu items, including a pan-roasted lobster, a lobster avocado appetizer, and just for kicks, he held a 9-1/4 pound lobster aloft—in the middle of Commercial Street—so we could get the best possible picture. When that happened, a posse of passersby pulled out their camera phones to capture the spectacular see-food scene, tying up traffic for a few minutes. True story.
Searching for something light and tasty, we stumbled across a little place called Street Eats, which is . . . what exactly? “It’s Provincetown’s only food truck,” jokes Patti McGraw, referencing the Aquarium Mall eatery she owns with her husband, Jim. Food trucks are not kosher in P-town at present, but for this business the vehicle in question is just painted around the ordering window. The menu consists of “good food on the go,” Patti says, and that includes hot dogs, BLTs, and savory little bites of mac and cheese.
At Aqua Bar, a fun spot with views of the harbor, we met oyster-shucker extraordinaire Eddie Ritter who was filling orders at a feverish pace. A longtime fisherman, Ritter says it takes him about five minutes to shuck a dozen, but that’s no boast; he says he knows Wellfleet folks who can do it five times as fast.
Michele Ragussis, executive chef of the Central House at the Crown & Anchor, is rather taken with Provincetown. “It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen,” she says. “It’s stunningly beautiful.” With 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Ragussis has gained exposure recently from appearances on TV shows including Chopped, 24-Hour Restaurant Battle, and Food Fighters. As a chef, she describes P-town’s seasons as follows: “slow in February, pretty in spring, and super busy in summer.” She can take a breath, she adds, after Labor Day.
Shop till you drop, then visit the hammock store
We enjoyed chatting with Monty Schulenburg, the owner of Monty’s Emporium, a gift shop that sells custom-made Christmas ornaments all year long. In 2016, Monty’s celebrates its silver—or one might say tinsel—anniversary. Another shop we were happy to visit was Northern Lights Hammocks. In business for more than 30 years, the company sells pillows, chimes, and a variety of colorful and comfortable hammocks imported from several countries.
Another spot to tweet about is Birdie Silkscreen in the light blue building. Owner Birdie Cornette draws and paints Provincetown-themed images such as boats and lighthouses, then prints shirts and bags featuring the designs. “I love the activity on Commercial Street,” she says, adding that she doesn’t even mind the traffic.
Say again? “Because,” she says, “it brings good people into town.”
Closing thoughts—as the sun set on our p-town project
Visiting Provincetown one day last September, we met Shannon Corea (not pictured), an EMT from Truro who was enjoying a meal at Local 186. Corea has deep roots in the community; her great-grandfather immigrated to this area from the Algarve region of Portugal, and her grandfather and father were both local fishermen. “Provincetown is the only place that I know that constantly changes,” she says, “yet always stays the same.”
Commercial Street Provincetown Photo Gallery
Photography by Charles Sternaimolo