Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Support your neighborhood comic book shop, including the ones with the best selection (Dreamhaven) and the most experience (Nostalgia Zone). But go out of your way for the smaller, brighter, more compact Big Brain, that rare comics store in which obsession mingles with a flair for retail. Shelves are lovingly stocked with new product and organized like a good wine shop (with "new this week" and "recommended" cards dividing stacks of Japanese manga, Marvel superhero, and alternative comics). The shiny covers can be seen in all their glory thanks to the track lighting. The tasteful atmosphere includes uniformly cool music on the stereo (Les Breastfeeders) and clerks who are willing to help you find your grail, no matter how obscure. Toss in a huge selection of 'zines and culture mags, plus novelty toys, and you get geek nirvana.
Intoto is so fancy you have to ring a doorbell just to get in. But if you can afford to splurge, or are comfortable with debt accumulation, Intoto is the best spot in town for elegant casual men's clothes. You'll find clothes for first dates and trips to New York, clothes for dancing in clubs or shopping for beachfront property on Bali. The jeans here are so flattering, so transforming, that in defiance of generations of Midwestern wisdom, they justify their immoral price, which you will never speak of. The selection isn't huge, but it's the right stuff. If the New York Times says that horizontal-patterned crewnecks are in, you'll find a couple of perfect specimens here. The store's T-shirts, which start around $30, are softer than cotton has a right to be. You'll probably have to get a Visa loan of at least $300 for a pant-shirt combo (and if you want cashmere, you could easily drop a grand for the same), but if you stop in at the end of each season, when the discounts are deep and fortune smiles on the patient and oddly sized, you might score two outfits for the same price, plus a loud pair of Paul Smith socks.
Grand Avenue couture traditionally consists of Birkenstocks and rough-weave hemp burka-skirts, but last spring, the dowdy street got a shot of youthful style when Picky Girl opened. The boutique isn't big, but then it doesn't fill every inch of its space with designer denims. Instead, you get a carefully chosen selection of dresses, skirts, tees, and sweaters from brands like 213 Industries and Kenzie Girl. Picky Girl also has clothes that you can comfortably wear to work, without resembling one of those unfortunate young misses who thinks her office is the set of an MTV reality series. Picky Girl proprietor Elizabeth Varghese has a strong sense of what works on real, Midwestern bodies—and an instinctive understanding that flatlanders like to be able to pick up a wrap dress or a cardigan for less than $100.
Sometimes the only difference between "vintage" and "used" is a fistful of Hamiltons. Anyone who wants to look retro-stylish on the cheap should check out Ragstock's wares. Aside from being the go-to store for kitschy Halloween costumes (mix and match for extra postmodernism!), they've got plenty of stuff for every stripe of hipster (and hipster-hater): T-shirts emblazoned with everything from beer logos ("I play in a skuzzy garage-rock band") to airbrushed wolves ("I play in a skuzzy noise-rock band"), work shirts left behind by mysterious Dicks and Garys and Lindas, all kinds of Army (and Navy) surplus jackets, a veritable timeline of trousers ranging from purple flared cords to shredded stonewash, as well as all varieties of blazers, kimonos, golf shirts, baby doll dresses, bucket hats, baseball jerseys, and probably some vinyl hot pants if you look long enough. Since the most expensive stuff tends to run somewhere around $25, you can get a week's worth of outfits for a minimal amount of scratch.
The haul from a recent trip to Once Upon a Child: one pair indestructible Gap denim overalls, one April Cornell pleated dress with matching rosettes, one pair Timberland hiking boots (toddler size 7), and one flowery, warm Hanna Andersson snowsuit, apparently never worn, at one-third of retail. The tally at the cash register: $48.50—about the price of any one of those items new. Total shopping time: 20 minutes. You can't beat that.
This boutique's mission is to support up-and-coming local designers, and it sells the lines of Katherine Gerdes (of Project Runway fame) and Marie Gardeski (who's behind Foliage). From silk-screened T-shirts to exquisite dresses, the boutique offers many ways to stand out in the crowd. Oddly enough, prices remain affordable. Most pieces are less than $100. Designers are given room to write about themselves and their mission, which could come off as elitist, but instead seems charming in this cozy space.