The Fantastic Umbrella Factory was established in 1968 by Robert Bankel on an old farm homestead in Charlestown, RI.
He started in one small building, built in early 1800's as a Temperance Hall, selling penny candy and unusual gifts. He soon expanded his operation into the old barn, increasing his volume and adding a Cafe in the rear. He also brought in local craftsman to work and sell the wares on site. All the while he was beautifying the landscape of the complex. He has since retired from this project and runs The House of 1812 Bed and Breakfast in Mystic, Ct.
Today the complex looks like this:
First of all we have Small Axe Productions which has become the anchor store of the complex. David M. Turano, Jack Wright, and Peter Esak started the shop back in 1974. Jack does stained glass work, Peter blows glass and David make pottery.
Little by little we added other merchandise to the shop and now it's almost like a department store with out departments. We sell our hand crafted wares and also jewelry, clothing, hand crafted stuff from all over the world, musical instruments (lots of drums), Tapestries , and much more.
The Umbrella Factory Gardens have been there almost as long as Small Axe. Patrick and Erin Shellman have a fantastic array of fancy plants, specializing in perennials. Their green houses and the grounds around them are truely a site to see.
Frills is another shop that has been around for a few years. Suzanne Terry has a great collection of clothing, jewelry and very different gifts.
The General Store and Axiom are the new comers to the Umbrella Factory. The General store sells candy. toys and gifts for the young and young at heart. Regina has fashioned the shop after the original Umbrella Factory store. Barry specializes in vintage eyeware in Axiom. He also has organic soy candles made in Charlestown.
Small Axe Cafe opened in December 2010. Chef Mark Pendola and his partner Gino Turano serve up some of the best meals in Rhode Island! Organic and local are the route they take serving dishes for every palate, vegetarian, fish, poultry and even some local beef. Prices are very modest and the policy is BYOB. Gino grows lots of the veggies on site and at the Mystic 5 farm in Stonington.
Also there several craftsmen who set up and sell there wares outside by the fountain.
We have 2 goats, Melanie and Charlotte, 3 Emu's, George, Penelope, and Lily (who happens to be a male) some chickens and lots of ducks. Pet at your own risk but don't chase the birds around. Visitors can purchase and fill ice cream cone with feed for a small fee.
There are several beautiful perennial flower gardens on the property. They were established by the previous owner, Robert Bankel. He also planted lots of interesting trees. We have a beautiful Umbrella Pine ,a handsome Dawn Redwood, and many other interesting species.
My wife , Linda and I just purchased the property from Mr. Bankel in May 2011 and are really being schooled in horticulture. Patrick Shellman worked on the property extensively so he has the knowledge and the history of the grounds. The house on the property was built in 1810. The barn that housed the original Umbrella Factory was also built in the early 1800's. Unfortunately that building burned down about 1990. That site is now the home of Small Axe and Small Axe Cafe. We are working hard to make the Umbrella Factory an enjoyable and affordable destination for locals and visitors alike.
David and Linda Turano