Best Of :: Shopping & Services
As the temperature in Minnesota gets warmer, the funk emanating from your floor mats get riper. Winter has a funny way of keeping us from maintaining a proper sense of vehicle hygiene, and now the leftover meal in the back seat has festered into something unidentifiable as animal, mineral, or vegetable. No matter what the extent of the filth, the people at St. Paul's Downtowner Car Wash are who to see about dealing with it. Six months of cigarette ash, thirteen coffee stains, and whatever the green stuff on the door handle was? Gone in one quick visit. The Downtowner offers a full-service wash, hand waxing, and a multitude of detailing packages ranging from around $12 to $30. Standing in the waiting area one can see the washers, waxers, sprayers, and dryers take on a rhythmic cohesion rivaled only by Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas themselves. And when the "Vehicle Ready" sign finally starts flashing, you will be struck by suddenly recalling that the grime-gray Corolla you've been driving since December was actually black when you bought it.
There's a reason Wet Paint wins this category hands down every year: This Grand Avenue arts emporium, an independently owned store with deep roots in St. Paul, should be the first stop for the professional and the dilettante artist alike. Wet Paint's crowded aisles boast a reported 30,000 products, everything from oils, acrylics, pens, and charcoals to fancy decorating paper and craft kits to sketch pads and journals. There's also a vast selection of different types and qualities of paper (perfect for that counterfeiting operation you've been cooking up in your basement). What sets Wet Paint apart, though, is that the smart, mostly college-kid staff is always around to help you navigate the store's embarrassment of riches.
Trust us: The last thing a new (or for that matter, any) parent needs is to blow hours staring at an overly lighted wash of strollers, cribs, car seats, diaper bags, breast pumps, nail clippers, bathtubs, and backpacks. Thankfully, Treasure's Island has been weeding out the more gratuitous items for over 50 years. The salespeople can show you how to wrestle--er, collapse--a stroller into a car trunk, and they're all too happy to hold forth about any product the store carries. We appreciate that despite their decidedly upscale clientele (many new parents from the Mayo Clinic drive to the Eagan location to stock up), they won't sell the $700-plus Bugaboo Frog stroller. "It's too expensive," one clerk sniffed, as she steered us toward a perfectly serviceable $99 option. And while several of their cribs could dent your child's college fund, the basement carries a solid selection of discounted models that will last--safety codes willing--for several generations.
You want a bike--but not just any bike--and bikes are pricey. If you intend it to be your "other car," it may cost just as much. The folks at Kenwood Cyclery don't just sell any old bike off the floor, they help you find the bike you'll love and use for a long time. It may take a little extra time, but you'll get a cycle that suits you, whether you're out to win a road race or get to work on time. Once that mission's accomplished, you can accessorize from the selection of helmets, bike gloves, shirts, shorts, shoes, power bars and lots of advice. Casual riders will feel right at home when they start talking to owner John Coleman or any of the staff--they seem to love talking shop. Racers will know they are home, given the line of high-end bikes available. But if you're just in the market for a round-town beater, you'll also find used, refurbished bikes at very reasonable prices.
St. Sabrina's is easy to spot from the streets in Uptown thanks to the faux-church and stained-glass painted exterior as well as the eclectic group of patrons coming and going through the doors: Gothers, punkers, college stoners and wild soccer moms all come here, and people-watching is as fun as checking out the rubber nun hand-puppets and body glitter. Upstairs is the piercing parlor, which is part jewelry store, part doctor's office. You can peruse piercers' portfolio books to get an idea of what you are interested in, or chat up a knowledgeable employee behind the counter. The jewelry collection is unique and classy, with a stock ranging from titanium to white gold, as well as such gems as onyx, opals, and diamonds, all with reasonable pricing. Perhaps more importantly, the parlor follows guidelines set by the Minneapolis Health Department, is super clean (we've seen workers follow customers around with hand-sanitizer) and those guys and gals sticking you are all members of the Association of Professional Piercers. (They're more than happy to show you the autoclave where they sterilize tools if you're still squeamish.) Thanks to their skills and safety-first ethic, the pain from your piercing experience should be mercifully short and sweet--which, depending on your fetish, can be a good or bad thing.
Let's just say you know someone who's laboring under the impression that feminists are cold and humorless, and let's further say that you'd like to do something to change that person's mind. First, you might gently suggest to your pal that he or she is a brainwashed schmuck. Next, you could send him or her to the worker-owned Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, whose staff is quite probably the friendliest and most knowledgeable in town. This 34-year-old shop, the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the country, is unmatched when it comes to feminist theory, lesbian lit, and ecofeminism, but their inventory goes way beyond that. You can also find business and finance books, cookbooks, poetry, underground and mainstream fiction, a good used section, CDs ranging from folk singer Ann Reed to R&B experimentalist Erykah Badu, DVDs, and lots more. And if you need a copy of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code or Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, you don't have to turn to that other Amazon--in other words, they're feminists, not separatists or snobs. Since it's a small store with limited funds, the stock isn't huge, but they can order just about anything, and we've found the turnaround to be quick and the customer service to be exceptional. The store is also home to several book clubs, including one for mystery buffs, and an activist discussion group called "Get Off Your Ass and Do Something!" Speaking of doing something, Amazon will be moving in a few months, and is seeking donations to help pay for the move.