Best Of :: Shopping & Services
When the Golden Leaf opened 17 years ago, there were just a half-dozen or so cigar shops scattered about the Twin Cities. How things have changed. By the peak of the Nineties cigar craze, some 60 specialty stores had popped up in the metro, with many offering smokes at steeply discounted prices. Despite that boom--and the competition from online tobacco sellers catering to smokers looking to dodge taxes--longtime Golden Leaf manager Kent Charron says the store has hung on to its core clientele. "Everybody has taken a piece of the pie," Kent concedes, "but we're still doing very, very well. We have a lot of loyal customers." It's not hard to see why. The shop is small, but it boasts an enormous selection: 450 varieties of cigars, 60 blends of pipe tobacco, and some 112 brands of imported cigarettes--along with just about every tobacco accessory imaginable, from the top-of-the-line cigar lighters (we're partial to the gunmetal-and-chrome Mercury Quantum, "only" $55) to rolling papers and ashtrays. Care is taken in the presentation and handling of the product line: The walk-in, cedar-lined humidor is kept at a constant 70 percent humidity. A water-purification system has been installed to remove contaminants from the mist. And the cigars are regularly inspected and rotated (a process known as "fluffing"). While the average cigar at the Golden Leaf sells for about five bucks, connoisseurs can satisfy their Cadillac tastes as well. The Fuente Fuente Opus X, a nine-and-a-quarter-inch Dominican cigar, sells for $33.25 a pop--when they have them in stock.
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.
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.
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.