Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Buffalo Exchange provides the yearning shopper, who perhaps also has a yearning, mostly empty wallet, with an unthinkable experience. The bright colors and patterned fabrics begin to spin together, putting the body into overdrive. So many shirts! And skirts! And necklaces! And jeans! The body kicks into action, rustling the racks greedily and anxiously, certain that if one minute is lost the game is over. The mind tells the body to tone it down a notch, to resist the urge. But, as one salesperson aptly pointed out, you don't have to. Buffalo Exchange is part of a national chain, but it debuted in Minneapolis just a few months ago. It operates mainly as a consignment shop but doesn't feel at all like digging through Granny's closet. The clothing is hip, in great condition, and often bears big names for less than big bucks. Fifteen dollars is the average price of all merchandise, which ranges from Free People, Ralph Lauren, and J. Crew sweaters to Joe's Jeans and BCBG dresses. The fellas also stand a chance here, since the ratio of male to female merchandise is approximately 40/60. Buffalo Exchange also offers some unique, vintage items, like jazzy '80s frocks and lavender cowboy boots. The most expensive item spotted was a $55 pair of Paper Denim Cloth jeans; recently, according to one salesperson, Burberry shoes went for a mere $48. Some of the merchandise is new, but you'll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the new and the old. The staff is hip and friendly, and the store's airy vibe suggests the same. Looks like Lyndale shoppers just found a new destination that won't make them feel guilty at the end of the day.
To the uninitiated, the claustrophobic confines of Wet Paint might be daunting. This store squeezes every usable inch out of its Grand Avenue space. But what you lose in breathing room you gain in merchandise and experience. The staff knows where to find things and how to use them—they are helpful to a fault. Nestled near the Macalester College campus in St. Paul, Wet Paint is the go-to spot for local students, but hobbyists and professionals will also find what they need. Wondering what kind of modeling clay is best for your son's elementary school project? Searching for a fancy refill cartridge for your pen? Just looking for inspiration? It's all here. Each visit to Wet Paint makes you feel like a kid again. So get out those crayons and go to town!
If you're expecting, then we're expecting you'll end up at one of the big-box baby stores at some point. It's only logical. The baby goods industry is one in which the big stores and the little ones kind of need each other. As any new parent can tell you, baby infrastructure—the crib, changing table, diaper pail, activity saucer, and on and on—can quickly squeeze out the smaller treasures of your previous life. So, too, can such gear crowd out the smaller but no less important stuff of newborndom. Leave the space-swallowing stuff to the Big-Box-R-Us stores. For the more intimate supplies—the soft cloth diapers, the warm and womb-like baby slings, the toys made of wood not plastic or, gulp, lead paint—do yourself a favor and find a place that cares more about your baby than its bottom line. Peapods is one of those places.
Last year the Census Bureau ranked Minneapolis second among the nation's biggest cities—behind only Portland, Oregon—in the percentage of people who commute to work by bicycle. The Cities are serious about their biking, and we are graced with several first-rate bike shops to meet the demand. This year our choice for the best goes to Freewheel Bike, the venerable shop on the U of M's West Bank with a superb reputation among serious cyclists for its broad inventory, friendly and well-trained staff, and excellent mechanics. Freewheel feels like a small bike shop, but it's large enough to carry an impressive range of bicycles: from road bikes to mountain bikes to cruisers, and from quality mainstream brands like Trek and Scott to elite carbon-frame rockets like LeMond and Gary Fisher, which can sell for $5,000 or more. Though Freewheel's staff can talk shop with the greasiest gearhead, they're also adept at making novices feel right at home. The store's stock of bike clothes and accessories is exceptional, and there are also warm-and-fuzzy extras like repair and maintenance classes ($100 for two sessions) and a bicycling club. But where Freewheel really scores points this year is through its involvement in one of the most promising new developments in local cycling: the opening in May of the Midtown Bike Center. It'll be a unique bicycle transit hub near the Midtown Greenway, built in partnership with the city of Minneapolis and other sponsors, and will include everything from bike storage, sales, and rentals, to on-the-spot repair, classes, and even restrooms and showers—everything the urban cyclist needs in a one-stop shop. Check your little handlebar rearview, Portland.
In a perfect world, good books and great coffee would always be found together. Just when the Barnes & Noble/Starbucks pairing seemed like the closest thing to reader's utopia, along comes Common Good Books. Unique, homey, and accessible, this Garrison Keillor-owned spot, located right beneath the stylish Nina's Coffee Café in the hip St. Paul Cathedral Hill neighborhood, seems too good to be true. Little bits of Keillor speckle the store, from his official director's chair to the lines of poetry he composes on a chalkboard when he stops by every so often. His quirky humor can also be found in some of the section titles, such as "Quality Trash," "Lives," and the simple yet overarching "God." The store hosts several readings each month at Nina's and also has started up a new book club. Unlike Barnes & Noble, Common Goods has already weeded out the bad and the ugly. The prices are reasonable, and the collection, especially given the shop's small size, is more than admirable. Sunk-in couches and random armchairs utilize all potential corners and invite shoppers to stop browsing, pause, and act out the maxim that graces one wall: "Make haste slowly. There is luck in leisure."
With its cluttered shelves and seemingly endless rows of books, it's easy to get lost inside Magers and Quinn. From Charlie Brown to Aristotle, hidden treasures can be found in every nook and cranny of the store. It's the perfect place to browse, with more than 120,000 used and current titles, with subjects ranging from how to cook to how to find a date. Snuggled between the white shelves of popular titles are old, dusty cases filled with a first-edition Dickens and other collector's items, a reminder that a book's magic is timeless. Located in the heart of Uptown, Magers and Quinn offers a nice break from the endless cafés, restaurants, and bars that line the street. Late-night weekend hours make this store the perfect stop on the way home from an evening on the town. The shop also has one of the most active author reading programs in town, often with a dozen or more events a month. Magers and Quinn keeps the literary spirit alive, bringing authors and book lovers together in the name of a good read.