Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Apparently a mischievous little genius is in charge of shelving at Booksmart. In the basement, when you turn right at the bottom of the stairs, you'll find the section with books about aging. Directly below are shelves labeled "Menopause." After that is "Death and Dying." Existentially speaking, you might wonder what comes next. At Booksmart, it's the sex section. Discovering this playful progression—aging, menopause, death...sex —is just one of the joys of shopping here. (Something similar happens in the religion section, where books on Christianity quickly give way to shelves reserved for Wicca/Occult/Magick.) Those looking for a specific title are likely to find it—at a cut rate—among the store's stock of more than 100,000 books. Meanwhile, shoppers with a hunter's instinct, or those just looking to kill some time, can flip through the chaotic "New Arrivals" bins to search for the gems certain to be hidden within. Thriftsters will get their goodies digging through the $1 bin (a cheap literary thrill is still a thrill, right?). Booksmart's been in the area for almost 15 years now, and what's most impressive is the way they keep reinvigorating their collection, ceaselessly acquiring new titles and dispersing them among their meticulously categorized shelves.
Guest Best: Allison Kaplan
Yes, Goodwill has cleaned up its thrift stores—they're bright, organized, and don't smell (much). Still, those bargain barns are a far cry from this spiffy resale boutique just off Excelsior Boulevard. With its gleaming hardwood floors, neat racks of discounted Theory dresses, Coach bags, and brand-new bridal gowns with tags still intact, Second Debut is thrift shopping evolved. You'd never guess this was a Goodwill store, and that's just the point. The charity realized it had been practically giving away Seven jeans by tossing them in with the pile of Lees, and Goodwill wised up to the opportunity. Now, the chicest, most current donations are plucked for display at this store. The deals are still great, the atmosphere is inviting, and no digging is required to find quality apparel, accessories, and shoes for men and women. Plus, there's a considerable art department where framed paintings sell for less than $100. Employees are sales associates, not cashiers, and events are frequent, from seasonal previews to special-occasion dress shows. A bargain shopper could get very spoiled here. Despite the boutique trappings, revenue from Second Debut, as with the Goodwill stores, supports education, workforce development, and employment services for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.
Allison Kaplan is a St. Paul Pioneer Press shopping columnist, host of Shop Girls on FM107.1, and the founder of AliShops.com, the Insider's Guide to Twin Cities Shopping.
Yes, it's loud—very, very loud, and often uncomfortably crowded. But seriously, where else in the state, or even the country, are you going to find a single building in which you can buy a Tiffany lamp, a set of goalie pads, and a new bed; go on a roller coaster; and learn about hundreds of kinds of aquatic life? The only answer is the Mall of America. It can be an intimidating place—hell, parking alone can take 45 minutes—but in sheer availability of goods, dining, and entertainment, it beats every other mall in the Twin Cities soundly. And with a commute time from each of the Twin Cities of 40 minutes at most, there is no better local complex for commerce. Sometimes bigger really is better.
To broke-but-not-broken fashionistas, Opitz Outlet is a reason for living. Why hit up Nordstrom for the latest Marc Jacobs bag when you can just stalk Opitz (which gets its stock from high-end department stores) for a few weeks and nab a sweet, barely off-season gem for 90 percent off? Recent finds include La Rok and Miss Sixty crocheted shawls for $5, a Triple 5 Soul batwing top for $10, two DKNY trenches for a combined $20, and a Giovanni Navarre zip-up for $5. There are three Opitz-related stores on Excelsior. The main shop features flawless overstock and out-of-season merchandise, and a small clearance room in back carries huge brand names (everything from French Connection to 3 Dots to Laundry) for under $10. Next door is the annex for misfit clothes (those that need a little love and minor repair), and just a block down you'll find yet another annex with overflow merch from the main store. Just a warning to bargain-hunting fashion lovers: You will get addicted, and you will start neglecting Bloomies like a bad fad. Oh, well!
It's tough being a guy who loves clothes. Your girlfriend gives you shit about it. But what does she know about breaking in raw denim? Luckily, there is a place in Minneapolis for men with such a problem: VS Social Standard. The walls and tables are painted black to contrast with the glowing neon and pastel brightness of the clothes. Here, men can swim in custom brands like WeSC, Alife, Kid Robot, and Proof 7. If you've never heard of those brands, don't fret—think sexy bright colors and original cuts. For sneaker-heads, VS carries limited-edition New Balance, Supras, and Creative Recreation, among others. And for those who love fixed-gear-bicycles, the store can hook you up with Velocity Deep V rims, a track frame, or just rap with you about the latest Keo spin on YouTube. There's no reason to road trip to Wicker Park with this place inside our own city limits. The prices are decent, too.
Children frequently display a couple of traits that absolutely confound those responsible for clothing them. First, they grow, unpredictably and erratically, making September's prized T-shirt an undersized hand-me-down by the holidays. Second, they are resolutely irrational: That pricey department-store dress your daughter absolutely must have stands a decent chance of never being worn, for mysterious and never-divulged reasons. Shopping for kids' clothes at Savers takes the pressure off everyone; with revolving discounts on already low prices, a diverse stock of items that changes from week to week, and a funky, fun atmosphere, this is thrift-store shopping done right. And there's always the chance you'll find something for yourself—and it won't be instantly recognizable to everyone you know as having come from Target.