Best Of :: Shopping & Services
When MARS (Music And Recording Store), the chain of music "superstores" founded by the former CEO of Home Depot, spun out of orbit and into the dark sun of bankruptcy last year, it took with it some of the fears of the folks staffing this family-owned company. After all, their employment depends on offering customers "a little more fine-tuned attention than you'd get at a Home Depot," says Alan Hager, one of the helpful employees at Groth, with a wry smile. As you wander from one sprawling specialized section of this 21,000-square-foot store to another, you're politely asked by staffers in each if you have questions or need help. If you don't need assistance, they let you be. If you do, they've got the expertise to answer just about any query, no matter how technical, and the interest and patience to explain the basics to newbies (most of the employees are musicians; many have worked the floor for years). In addition to the usual rock-related gear, Groth has a small-planet-sized selection of ethnic musical instruments, including dozens of djembes as well as drumlogs, congas, cuicas, tablas, goatskin doumbeks, bagpipes, Nigerian waste rattles, and much more. They even have the proverbial jawbone of the ass at Groth. These bleached jawbones from Peru (complete with big ol' teeth) would add a nicely spooky, clacking layer of percussion to a wake for another chain of superstores. Wal-Mart, anyone?
Nestled along the row of specialty shops on St. Paul's Grand Avenue, Wet Paint is an independently owned one-stop artists' shop stocked to the ceiling with just about every type of acrylic, brush, canvas, and paper a craftsperson could require (the place claims an inventory of 30,000-plus products). Wet Paint is especially well known for its sheet paper department, which is exceptionally well equipped with an estimated 3,000 variations (there's a reason to hug a tree, eh?). The store's most endearing quality, however, is that the owners take their role beyond supply retailer to encourage a sense of community through a newsletter (available online) and free public events, which include holiday-inspired demonstrations on specialties such as St. Paddy's Day velvet embossing, and how to decorate an Easter egg, Ukrainian style.
This is the place to go when that sweet infant or well-behaved child earns herself a generous gift. Finery for your favorite little tyke or sweet pea is hand-picked from the likes of Cash Cash, Cake Walk, Mulberry Bush, and a host of other houses of kiddy couture. Playthings by Manhattan Toy Company, Crocodile Creek, Gund, TY, et al. line up beside specialty items ranging from children's books to stickers for the bathtub. It might run you a pretty penny, but it'll be one of the prettiest pennies you've plunked down. (And hey, they deserve it, don't they?)
If, like us, you use LaSalle as the staggerway from the Minneapolis nightlife to your cat-pee-scented Uptown hovel, then you've passed by the VanDusen Center a million times and thought, "Damn, I wonder what the inside of that place looks like?" Well, here's your golden chance to find out. The 1892 mansion has been fully renovated and offers king or queen beds, desks, VCRs, cable TV, in-room phones (no charge for local calls), and private baths. No cats. No roommate's boyfriend. And although prices vary according to date and season, on a good night rooms cost the same as 86 cups of coffee at Bob's Java Hut ($129). The architecture, which is a blend of Richardsonian Romanesque and French Renaissance revival (that's "castle lookin'" to you), is dreamy, and the woodwork is so shiny you can see yourself in it. Next time the parents are in town, or maybe just the next time you get engaged, do something special for yourself; live like royalty for the night. The stagger home will never be the same.
Sure, this West Bank institution offers a cerebellum-blowing selection of bicycles; ditto for lights, bells, mirrors, racks, saddles, lube, heart rate monitors, riding gear, and just about every other piece of bike-related paraphernalia you can imagine. Hell, they even stock a trike and a couple of different unicycles for those who find two-wheeled conveyances too conventional. But it's the shop's friendly, helpful workers, informative bulletin board, reasonably priced maintenance classes, and $10 an hour do-it-yourself repair shop that make it a cycling community resource second to none.
There's a bit of a fetishist in all of us, and Saint Sabrina's proves it every time a customer walks through its gates, er, doors--despite whether they come to peer or get punctured. Standout clothing, shoes that could pass as artwork, and artwork in the form of tattoos and body piercing are their business, and damned if they don't do it well. "They" are staff members from all over the country who are well educated in their art (passion, for most), not to mention good humored: They actually encourage you to gawk at them (perhaps a bit narcissistic, but beauty is pain, after all). They keep an excellent selection of body jewelry (organic, too), but if they don't have the nose stud, barbell, or plug you're looking for, it can easily be ordered on the spot. Prices are a little steep, but they make up for it with a militant sense of cleanliness. And really, are you willing to compromise when it comes to your flesh--or argue with the person holding the needle?