Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Spring cleaning starts (and, if you're like us, ends) with the yearly trip to the car wash. Time to chip months of coffee splashes off the dash and vacuum pounds of sand and salt off the floor mats. Luckily the folks at Mermaid have been taking on the filthiest of Fords for ages. Free coffee and donuts are nice perks, but that's not what makes Mermaid the best. The $12.99 Total Service Wash is one of the best deals in town. But, if your auto is subjected to the atrocities of street parking, pack-a-day smoking, and fast-food wrapper disposal, you might want to get the Treasure Chest: For a mere $199.95 you get the Total Service plus full shampoo, Armor-All all over, clean doorjambs, Tech Shield Clear Coat, and even a good tire cleaning. Aside from cleanliness, the folks at the Mermaid understand that thriftiness is damn near as close to godliness, so they also offer quantity discounts for those OCD-types who truly believe in the Church of the Clean Car.
Really, there are only two things required of an art supply store: cheap goods and a reasonably helpful staff. While the mostly-student staff at MCAD's art supply store can be a touch on the surly side, the prices are hard to beat. The Art Cellar is of another era, a retail store with no corporate logos or cold, corporate uniformity. There are, instead, hand-lettered and -decorated signs that steer you toward the cheapest paints and impart wisdom about the goods. ("Most of these acetate sheets will not go through the Xerox," warns one sign. "They will melt! We sell transparency sheets behind the counter.") Since it's a nonprofit shop dedicated to serving cash-strapped art students, the Art Cellar's markups are minimal. What's more, the inventory of Conte Crayons, sketchpads, and the like is impressive, even though it's crammed into five small aisles: two for paints; one for pencils, brushes, and other tools; one for sketchpads and paper; and the last for books (where you'll find slim pickings of art textbooks, a few e.e. cummings collections, and Kurt Vonnegut novels). Just be sure to heed one sign that best sums up the place's aesthetic: "Stealing is for dumb-ass rich kids with nothing better to do. Be a proletariat and pay for your books."
There's a whole crop of new baby goods stores for parents who refuse to accept that they have actually birthed a baby, rather than a mini-adult with its own hipster tastes. But the 20-year-old St. Paul standby, Baby Grand, will help you deal with the nitty-gritty (and the goopy and the poopy) parts of baby care--from stained onesies to leaky breasts to potty training. If you're looking for it, they've got high-end diaper bags and that shibboleth of modern urban parenting, the $700 Bugaboo stroller. But they've also got a more proletarian line of strollers (the $30 to $150 kind), along with high chairs, cribs, and car seats in more realistic middle-class price ranges (although they'll never trump the big discount stores). In fact, there's so much stuff packed behind the tiny storefront on Grand Avenue that it looks like Mary Poppins herself had a hand in cramming it all in.
B&Bs can be a turnoff to those phobic members of society who prefer the shrink-wrapped anonymity of hotels to sharing comforts with strangers. But step over the historic threshold of Evelo's, and you might feel a luscious wave of nostalgia for the days before intelligent key cards, automated wake-up calls, and those damned minibars. A lovingly restored 1897 Victorian convenient to both Uptown and downtown, Evelo's features three period-perfect guest rooms (and shared English-style baths, forcing guests to actually interact with their fellow man in the grand B&B tradition). Restored woodwork, a formal dining room/conservatory, and a stone fireplace hark back to the days when detail and propriety were valued over prepackaged convenience. This luxe old-world atmosphere comes at a surprisingly reasonable price, and given the prime location near shopping, restaurants, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, you'll appreciate the extra pocket money. As for that crucial "second B," Evelo's offers a renowned complimentary breakfast. Sure, such burnished Victorian grandeur is a far cry from the endless blocks of antiseptic rooms you'd find at a Sheraton, but that's a quaint reward in itself.
New York in the '20s. Prague in the early '90s. Are we fated not to recognize the good old days until they've been bought and sold, co-opted and corrupted out of existence? That wistful preamble is a way of introducing the fact that we here in the Twin Cities are living through a golden age of the neighborhood bike shop. It flies in the face of economic reality, not to mention the proliferation of throwaway bikes at Wal-Mart. So how do we explain the blossoming of the One on One Bike Studio on Washington Avenue (a coffee shop/bike retailer/art gallery/repair shop with a blog and an elephants' graveyard of old frames in the basement)? Who's buying retro-styled Rivendells at Kenwood Cycle? How does the big boy of the bunch, Freewheel Bike Shop on the East Bank, make money by cleaning your gummed-up freewheel for free? We've borrowed a wrench at all these places, without the staff eying the cash register. Yet this year, we're picking the latest addition to the local bike scene, Behind Bars. It's a labor of love, this spacious garage showroom next to a funeral home in northeast Minneapolis. Former messenger Chuck Cowan is the proprietor and lead mechanic; his wife Stephanie keeps the books and works on weekends. The new stock is idiosyncratic and seems to follow the owner's tastes: They've got Nirve cruisers but no Surly bikes--local single-speeders may love them, but Chuck remains skeptical. That said, he'll special-order just about any part you can imagine. And he'll do an economical tune-up that will make your lugged, steel Specialized feel more special than whatever carbon Trek is pimping this season. Neighborhood kids wander in, and knock things over, and come back shamelessly the next day. It's that kind of place--and here in Minneapolis, chances are there's a bike shop in your own neighborhood a lot like it.
Don't let the name deter you; the Ink Lab may be best known as a tattoo shop, but inside this immaculate storefront lurks a cadre of highly skilled (and elaborately adorned) piercing experts. Masters of speed and accuracy, the Ink Lab kids are capable of transforming even the gnarliest modification (zero-gauge septum claw, anyone?) into a surprisingly Zen-like experience. Think of them not as needle-wielding brutes, but as breathing coaches, spirit guides, and pain-management professionals. And if you're feeling a mite anxious about getting that Princess Albertina, they excel at navel and nostril skewering as well. A good piercing studio ought to feel like an operating room with attitude, and the Ink Lab's pristine setup and thoughtful aftercare supplies strike the perfect balance between "born to rock" and "born to avoid unsightly infection." An attractive and moderately priced selection of body jewelry is also available, ranging from titanium barbells for the orally fixated to amber ear spirals for organic types. And after you've braved the pain and earned your proverbial lolly, you can head next door to Venus and find the perfect peekaboo bra for showing off that new nipple jewelry.