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Retail's the game

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / October 16, 2011

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It was difficult to hide my shock and disdain. In the middle of Manhattan, I asked my friend Laura the innocuous question, “Where do you want to go shopping?’’ Here’s a savvy, fun friend certain to be ready for a retail adventure, I thought.

“Well, I really want to go to the M&M’s store in Times Square,’’ she said slowly as she carefully weighed her options. “I know they also have a huge Sephora there as well.’’

I didn’t intend to yell - we were standing on a sidewalk in Hell’s Kitchen - but I couldn’t help myself.

“I can get M&M’s from the vending machine at work! That’s really where you want to go?’’ I barked. Then I realized that at one time I was also intimidated by the thought of leaving the familiarity of Midtown to visit any of the thousands of independent boutiques in what I then considered the exotic boroughs. Multiple trips and tasteful (and not so tasteful) New York friends have since steered me in new directions.

I felt obligated to help Laura (last name withheld to protect her dwindling reputation). After stopping at a convenience store to buy her a bag of M&M’s (I have some compassion), I dragged her around Manhattan and Brooklyn on a very muggy Saturday afternoon, making our way into retail-heavy neighborhoods. Eventually our tired feet forced us to stop, so I compiled a list of shops for Laura for future trips, relying on advice from friends, particularly the suggestions of my shopaholic friend Peter Reyes.

What follows is a highly subjective selection of favorites heavily skewed to my tastes (so no “You left out . . .’’ e-mails). But I am always open to suggestions - as long as they don’t include M&M’s.


Chelsea Market This space that once held the National Biscuit Company is now a shopping mall for foodies. Despite the recent addition of Anthropologie, most of the businesses here are independent and feature everything from a lobster takeout shop to a lunch counter that specializes in milk. The danger zone is a string of bakeries on the first floor. The High Line is nearby and an ideal spot to enjoy your caloric treats. 75 9th Ave., 212-243-6005,

Bedford Cheese Shop This petite grocer is worth a visit for the smell alone, a lovely olfactory assault of perfectly curated cheeses. Regional and artisan cheeses include Blauschimmel, a German blue cheese, and Chabichou, a French goat cheese. For those who lack an appreciation for moldy milk, the store also sells a surprising number of non-cheese items, such as international sweets. There is no way to leave this store without buying something. 229 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, 888-484-3243,

Doughnut Plant Best known for its square yeast and cake doughnuts, this bakery sells nontraditional flavors such as lavender, rose, pistachio, and green tea. The bestseller, tres leches, is a milk-moistened cake doughnut injected with custard, and then covered with milk glaze. Expensive (averaging $3), but worth it. 379 Grand St., 212-505-3700,


Other Music There is a reason this store has survived as such massive music chains as Virgin Records and Tower Records have fallen into extinction. Other Music is the place you go when you want to find music that people with taste listen to. The store is small, but the CDs and records are so incredibly well chosen that quality makes up for quantity. 15 East 4th St., 212-447-8150,

Soundfix Records This is the best kind of record store, where you can walk in and say, “I love the Magnetic Fields. Can you recommend a new band that you think I might like?’’ without an employee rolling her eyes at you. Centered in the epicenter oh-so-hip Williamsburg, Soundfix is an ideal mix of new and used music, with a digital listening system that takes the guesswork out of buying. 44 Berry St., Brooklyn, 718-388-8090,

Word An excuse to explore the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, Word has 1,000 square feet packed with best-selling titles. If you’re in town for a few days, check the store’s website for readings by local authors. There are also children’s books. 126 Franklin St., Brooklyn, 718-383-0096,


INA I’m not even going to pretend that this list can make a dent in the clothing category. The city has every high-end boutique known to man - well, woman really. But there are some unique places that draw me in. This second-hand shop feels more like a trip to Barneys than thrift shopping. There are incredible brands and tasteful pieces in each of the five stores, which are sprinkled in SoHo, Nolita, and Uptown. And yes, there’s even a men’s store.

Opening Ceremony You could spend an entire day in SoHo hopping from Diane von Furstenberg to Alexander McQueen and back to Maison Martin Margiela (and I highly recommend that you do), but the joy of Opening Ceremony lies in the fact that two people with amazing taste - owners Carol Lim and Humberto Leon - do all the work for you with a single destination. The two have the enviable job of jetting around the globe and looking for designers to carry in their sprawling, multilevel store, which carries clothes for both sexes. Currently on the racks are looks from Proenza Schouler, Hussein Chalayan, Whereabouts, Commes des Garcons, and Rodarte. It caters to a range of income brackets - though primarily high - and is possibly the most fun fashion-forward shoppers can have in an hour. 35 Howard St., 212-219-2688,

Atrium When I go hunting for jeans, I usually wind up at Atrium because the industrial-looking store has a massive selection. Atrium skews younger with rock and hip-hop influenced selections from Scotch and Soda, Psycho Bunny, Canada Goose, and Adriano Goldschmied. Even if you’re not ready to give your American Express a workout (casual does not come cheap), it’s fun to flip through sarcastic T’s and fun furs. The store sells both men’s and women’s wear. 644 Broadway, 212-473-9200,

Uniqlo Perhaps one of the last of the low-price, fashion-forward international chains that has yet to invade Boston (the other is the still New York-only Topshop, a required exploration territory for fashion buffs), Uniqlo is the H&M or Zara of Japan. The store is a good source of jeans and T’s, in addition to evening clothes and club wear, and even such staples as socks and underwear for both men and women. Its SoHo location opened six years ago; a behemoth 89,000-square-foot Fifth Avenue flagship opened Friday.


Before I was brave enough to tackle the subway in New York - I have the same sense of direction as a cat with cataracts - I would walk everywhere. While that led to sore ankles and achy arches, it helped me discover amazing home stores I never would have encountered on faster subterranean transit.

Fish’s Eddy My favorite of these wandering discoveries is a vibrant shop that focuses on dishware and glassware. There are fantastically priced basics, such as mugs, plates, cake stands, and even glasses featuring illustrations of pole dancers. But the real treats here are the vintage plates that have been saved from restaurants and airlines. On various trips I’ve seen platters with the Hilltop Steakhouse logo, and multiple vintage china sets from old country clubs and defunct 1970s office cafeterias. 889 Broadway, 212-420-9020,

Kiosk An amazing and bizarre shop that looks as if it is located in an adandoned warehouse, Kiosk is a collection of random items gathered from around the globe. One time I wandered in and they were selling a selection of candy from Iceland. More recent things I’ve spotted include retro motel key tags, German hand cream, red lamp shades often found hanging at food stands in Hong Kong, and a gorgeous midcentury Finnish children’s book titled “Who Will Comfort Toffle.’’ 95 Spring St., second floor, 212-226-8601,

Abode New York I am an insatiable design junkie, so walking into Abode was a bit like reliving a dream I once had that involved a dark room, Charles Eames, Lotta Jansdotter, and a can of whipped cream. Even before I entered, I spotted a 1970s Canadian chair that recently went back into production perched invitingly in the window. There are kitchen accessories, modern furniture, removable wall coverings, and lots of other things I would love to procure for my own abode. 179 Grand St., Brooklyn, 718-388-5383,

Also, check out: Owl and Thistle General Store (, Future Perfect (, and Nest (

Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther. Globe correspondent Peter Reyes contributed to this article.

If You Go

Where to stay
The Carlton Hotel
88 Madison Ave.
After last year’s multimillion-dollar redesign by David Rockwell, the historic hotel feels fresh and modern. Rooms $350-$450.
570 Tenth Ave.
The futuristic hotel best known for its robotic baggage handler is sleek and gorgeously designed. Rooms $550-$750.
230 East 51st St.
Inexpensive, but perfect for budget travelers looking for a mix of hip and high tech. Rooms $160-$320.
Where to eat
359 Sixth Ave.
Chef Seamus Mullen’s newest foray into Spanish tapas, $5-$16.
Dean & Deluca
The market that began in SoHo and is now sprinkled throughout the city is an ideal spot to pick up sandwiches in between stores, $7-$15.
Café Gitane at the Jane Hotel
113 Jane St.
Completely charming French-Moroccan hybrid well known for its chile-flaked avocado toast and killer brunch, $4-$14.