Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Some might be drawn to bargain-basement deals at chain stores, but let's face it, these are the same people who buy all their shoes at Foot Locker. For the rest of us, there's Wet Paint. Why spend the slight amount of extra money and brave the no-elbow-room narrow aisles of this filled-to-bursting corner art shop? Because nowhere else in the Twin Cities can you get engaged in a spontaneous six-person debate on the relative merits of various brands of acrylic paint. Or find a piece of unmounted linoleum in a size no big store would bother to carry. Or that extremely rare and wondrously vibrant burnt-orange paper from Thailand that you've been looking for forever. For the best and most knowledgeable salespeople, the widest and most surprisingly comprehensive collection of all sorts of art supplies, books, magazines, and the like, and for the best dose of artistic je ne sais quoi this side of Paris, Wet Paint's the place.
You can have your stinking Ridgedale, Rosedale, Brookdale, and all those other shopping palaces that so arbitrarily affix "dale" to their names. The Unidale Mall comes by its moniker honestly: It sits at the corner of St. Paul's University and Dale Avenues. At some 70,000 square feet, Unidale can hardly compete with its glitzy suburban counterparts in volume or variety. But it kicks collective butt on the most important score: lots of good deals and no need for the gold card. At the Disabled American Veterans thrift store, for instance, patrons can find everything from outboard motors (we lusted after a vintage seven-horsepower Scott Atwater, with tank, for just $299) to slightly used underwear (we couldn't resist the Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn panties, with an excellent depiction of copulating polar bears, $1.95). Beyond the DAV, bargain hunters can satisfy their yen for cheap deals at the Unidale's other budget-minded shops: the Super Dollar, Foodsmart, and 7-Mile Beauty Supply. While Unidale itself probably will never win any beauty prizes--what building erected in 1978 would?--the deals are downright lovely.
Their business card reads "Architectural Elements and Other Cool Stuff," and that's just what you get--everything from claw-foot tubs and old lamps to antique music stands and candlesticks. They've got doors, and they've got doorknobs. Stained-glass windows. Furniture. Pianos, even. All in a low-key, unintimidating setting. The place has been open a little more than a year, reports co-owner Scott Rogers when we interrupt him singing along to piped-in bluegrass as he works the register. "Tell a friend," Rogers says as we leave. So we are. Now go there.
Tucked away in an odd loft way in back, the baby goods department of this discount store has a lot of the same stuff as those upscale boutiques, but at a fraction of the cost. Nursery furniture, strollers, highchairs, gliders, bath seats--egads, the list is endless. Everything's first-quality, not discontinued or out of date, and it's all selected by a staff that attends trade shows and the like in order to keep abreast of safety features and industry trends. Baby Depot also offers "multiples" discounts for families buying more than one of many large items--a godsend for folks with twins or triplets, and enticing for those of us who are too lazy to move the car seat from vehicle to vehicle all the time.
Is it less than manly to spend more than $15 on a haircut? The answer to that question is a qualified yes. For while it is indeed inappropriate for folks with a Y chromosome to drop a double sawbuck for a haircut and not get change, men who go to only one barber get their hair cut all the time. Say once a month. Maybe even every other week. Curiously, it is the men with the least hair who get it cut the most often--and this is certainly the case for the white-haired gentlemen at Boike. A cut here costs $12, though there's also a senior-citizen discount (naturally). Bringing a fashion photo of one's desired haircut would be ridiculous in this two-seat shop. The idea is to come often enough that the proprietor will merely nod at you while you drop into the chair and say something like, "Take a little off?" Another advantage of coming often: Art says reassuring things like "Your hair hasn't changed in the last five years, really," even if it has. (This verbal exchange operates on the same dynamic as mothers who don't realize their cute children have grown into homely teens.) The fact that Art does good work with the scissors and isn't afraid to break out the straight razor should go without saying. It is in the extrafollicular department, however, that this tonsorial establishment excels: Set within a mile of more than a half-dozen churches and three times that many bars, Boike is more tuned in to the old neighborhood than the community newspaper. Women drop by to ask about available widowers; hospital status reports are issued about ailing neighbors; church social events are dissected. The only drawback to this Nordeast landmark (besides the way hair sometimes builds up in frighteningly tall piles beneath the chairs): If there are any girlie mags here, they're too well hidden.
Regardless of whether B&Bs represent the middle-class rendition of hourly motels, they're an institution in this state, and especially in sleepy Lanesboro, where no fewer than ten quaint inns compete for the attentions of romance-seeking travelers. Of those ten, none is more genuinely comfy and historically sound than Mrs. B's, an old favorite whose business methods have been updated hardly at all in the past 18 years. (The inn hasn't yet adopted its own Web site, and it doesn't take credit cards, either--and we love them for it.) Located on the banks of the Root River, about 125 miles southeast of the Cities (close enough to reach without burden, but distant enough to allow the feeling of escape), this 1872 limestone inn is a clean, quiet, classic B&B with ten Victorian-style rooms (none of which costs more than $95 per night), boasting amenities like sleigh and canopy beds, fireplaces, balconies, and views of the river. Its unexpectedly high ceilings and moody parlor (complete with well-stocked library and baby grand piano), make you feel welcomed immediately, though not necessarily encouraged to talk; the hospitality is not at all pushy. Along with the hearty complimentary breakfasts, the inn's trump card is its optional evening dining: a five-course prix-fixe ($24.50) extravaganza available Wednesday through Sunday that stretches to two hours in the consumption. From the bread to the soup to the dressings, every single ingredient is made from scratch, and the inn's new chef, Steve Rumpel, is happy to prepare special meals for vegans and others with particular needs. A midweek visit in the dead of winter is liable to give you the entire inn to yourself. For those who desire a little exercise outside of bed, 60 miles of paved biking, hiking, and skiing trails are located right outside the front door (not to mention canoeing and trout fishing in seasonable weather).