Best Of :: Shopping & Services
The spring-green facade of this shop is easy to miss. Hidden in the shadows just off of Uptown's main drag, Design Collective is an incubator for new designers. The suspended wire racks hold nothing but local creations, from completely original pieces to thick-knitted accessories to old apparel that's been chopped up and revamped. In addition to the tres chic, asymmetrically hemmed garments, the shop carries more playful (and some might say safer) selections, like wallets woven out of paint swatches and faux-gem and bent-wire jewelry. Beyond the nifty threads, the folks at Design Collective are making the world of haute couture accessible to young local designers, not to mention the rest of us who only recognize the term "haute couture" from episodes of Project Runway.
A little-known but accurate axiom is that organization is the spice of architectural salvage. In this case, "organization" means that little kick that turns a casual browse into a purposeful, focused buying expedition. Art & Architecture knows organization. Dozens of vintage windows, stained glass and otherwise, are filed neatly and accessibly. Glass shades and globes occupy rows of shelves, with the fixtures they might accompany in their own section. Racks of antique doorknobs, back plates, and rosettes stand at the ready, while other hardware waits nearby, sorted into boxes, all ready for your easy perusal. Larger and smaller items are found amongst all these, readily viewable and accessible. And if customer-friendly shopping isn't enough to win your heart, then maybe this will do the trick: In a business where prices can lean toward the ridiculous, Art & Architecture bucks the trend and offers quality pieces at a truly reasonable cost.
Browsing a good art-supply store is like foreplay, or maybe more like cruising, but at any rate the experience can hold the anticipatory pleasure of presaging a greater pleasure. This jam-packed independent has an inspiring atmosphere that just might make your next masterwork all the more masterful, and the place has the goods to meet the needs of serious artists and hobbyists alike—with good deals on paint, canvas, drawing materials, a particularly extensive supply of sheet paper, and other staples. Also, there are journals, scrapbooks, kids' stuff, and a rack of art magazines. The staffers know their stuff and will help you find the right tools for the job.
Entering One on One from Washington Avenue will lead you to a coffee shop like so many others, with hardwood floors and local art on the walls. But customers taking their bikes in for repair will have to take the back way, the sort of creepy way—the way that involves venturing down the alley behind Sex World. It's really not so bad during daylight hours, though, and it's totally worth the trip. Two-wheelers brought into One on One are cared for by Gene, a mechanic who proudly sells $3,000 Bianchis but won't scoff at a lowly $50 Target bike. (Still better than a car, right?) But perhaps his most personable quality is his generosity. The biker looking for a replacement part could buy something shiny and new, but is usually offered a cheaper piece from the underground stock. The studio's basement is something of a bicycle cemetery, a junkyard for parts that still have some use in them. And they're always reasonably priced.
We want to reject Borders and its jack-of-all-trades, master-of-nothing MO. For one thing, Borders, like all of the big-biz bookstores, has become less and less bookish, steadily deemphasizing its stock-in-trade to make room for more cute diaries, MOR CDs, and Curb Your Enthusiasm DVDs. The store's less commercial sections—philosophy, for instance—have generally suffered as a result of diversification, but Borders stores still have a much smarter selection than Barnes & Noble, especially in fiction. Naturally, their shelves are full of holes, but if you're curious about a book you saw reviewed in the Times, Borders probably has one in stock, and the chain tends to be fairly complete with major writers. The Uptown location is the best in the Twin Cities, excelling in gay and lesbian lit and rating above average in poetry (but all good things, apparently come to an end; in early April, there was news that the Uptown store will close soon). And of course there's plenty of the practical stuff: car guides, SAT prep volumes, cookbooks, and the like. The downtown location has a particularly roomy and well-stocked kids' area, equipped with a table and chairs and useful for killing an hour or two with the budding, snot-nosed bookworm in your life.
"Independently owned" is retail's rockiest road, particularly in the book racket. Squeezed by online giants, hounded by avaricious landlords, perused and abused by a fickle clientele often more interested in looking than buying—is it any wonder that so many booksellers have abandoned storefronts in favor of web-based operations—or, worse still, given up the ghost? Like fellow survivors Powell's (Portland) and Strand (NYC), Magers and Quinn has chosen to mutate with the times, building a formidable internet presence while gussying up its more earthen profile with an endless succession of readings and events. In just the past month or so, the store has sponsored readings by more than a dozen poets, as well as environmental historian Ted Steinberg, novelist Lindsay G. Arthur Jr., and Episcopal priest Rosalie "Rody" Heffelfinger, whose recently published A River Echoes in My Ministry chronicles her solo voyage down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to New Orleans. The sprawling operation's selection of 500,000-plus used and current titles is nothing to sneeze at, either. Most alluring of all are the collectibles behind the counter, and prices generally are fair. Besides, Magers and Quinn not only buys used titles, it offers around double cash value in trade, potentially taking a significant bite out of, say, the $150 required to cop a slipcased, near fine second printing of Han Wingler's magisterial The Bauhaus. Not only is the staff friendly, knowledgeable, and accommodating, most of the people who work at the store spend way more on books than you do.