Best Of :: Shopping & Services
There are used CD stores that have larger selections than the Fetus, but in an age when most heavily involved music fans get their music online (legally or not), selection isn't really the point. A CD store isn't a conduit for acquiring music anymore, so much as a mecca of local music culture. Shopping at Electric Fetus, you can bump shoulders with members of some of the Twin Cities' best bands—and if you're there on the right days, a few will be manning the checkout counter. The 42-year-old Minneapolis institution hosts frequent in-store performances from big names like Brother Ali and Bon Iver. If you need further evidence that the Fetus holds a crucial place in the hearts of Minneapolis music fans, witness the reaction in late August when a tornado hit the store, smashing in windows and damaging the roof. Supporters rushed to the scene to photograph it, Twitter was flooded with messages of concern, and a benefit concert was quickly organized to help the store return to business.
Though both Minneapolis and St. Paul's "Most Literate Cities" standings slipped in '09, from first and third to third and seventh, respectively, it sure as hell wasn't for lack of commerce. The Twin Cities are filthy with bookstores, and we mostly give 'em the love they need. We even still patronize independently owned, neighborhood generalist shops. Granted, none has anywhere near the square footage of Barnes & Noble's regional flagship in Rosedale or new-and-used indie behemoth Magers & Quinn, but with books, space often plays second fiddle to taste. Micawber's bristles with the latter. Nestled in St. Paul's charming Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, this cozy institution packs substantial selling power into a deceptively small frame. To wit: "In the next few days we will sell our 500th copy of Kao Kalia Yang's The Latehomecomer," the store's website noted back in March. Staff enthusiasm extends well beyond local authors and publishers, too—especially in the well-stocked fiction and poetry sections, where books often come with handwritten endorsements. While Micawber's isn't the best place for list-based raids (unless you take advantage of its killer special-order options), it's the sort of browser's paradise that offers something for all but the most depraved shopper—from the Robert Crumb-illustrated Book of Genesis to the latest issue of McSweeney's. Apart from a carefully selected clutch of remainders, prices are list, but if the person who rings you up does a little gentle data mining, cooperate. You might just find yourself getting a discount.
At some stores, thrift shopping can feel like sorting through the debris of abandoned storage spaces and foreclosed homes. Sure, treasures can be found, but they're few and far between, hidden among so much junk it hardly seems worth the time needed to find them. At Animal Ark, the browsing experience is more like searching the attics of frugal but choosy grandparents. You might find some items that are dusty, out of style, or considered by some to be obsolete, but nothing that's stained, torn, or broken. Most things, in fact, are in great shape, and carefully organized. Full sets of dishes are always available, along with handy kitchen gadgets and interesting serving platters. There are dishtowels and handkerchiefs with hand-stitched decorations. A cozy book nook at the front of the store holds numerous titles, but for even cheaper paperbacks, check out the shelves in a back room, where you'll also find toys and garden supplies. Collectable dolls overlook the smallish but well-chosen women's clothing selection, and a charming shelf that faces the front window always features a festive display of items for the next upcoming holiday. As a bonus for pet owners, you can also pick up food and new toys and accessories for your cat or dog—Animal Ark runs a no-kill animal shelter as well as the store, so money spent here is helping pets.
Ever since Seward Co-op moved into its gleaming, fluorescent-green new digs last year, it has threatened to ruin the reputation of natural-food groceries. Until then, co-ops were known as cramped, dingy stores with nightmarish parking. But Seward's 13,000-square-foot facility feels almost like a supermarket, with wide aisles inside and a no-hassle parking lot that by itself is a reason to eat organic. But this big, 5,000-member co-op sets itself apart in many other ways, notably with the largest co-op deli around (remodeled just this month), featuring new coffee drinks and sandwiches, hot foods, a well-stocked salad bar, and a decent bakery, including gluten-free cookies. The impressive cheese section boasts more than 100 varieties from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa alone, and the small but top-notch meat and seafood counter carries locally raised meats and an amazing array of fresh sausages. There's still one way to know you're in a natural-foods store—the prices are as hefty as elsewhere, but think of your grocery bills as support for local farmers and an investment in your health.
Welcome to gaming nirvana—at least if your game is the paper-and-pencil, tabletop, card-flipping, or dice-chucking type. On any given day you can find folks pawing through thousands of Magic: The Gathering singles searching for the right piece to the winning combination, exploring the latest gaming imports from Germany and beyond, or gathered in the back to meet on the tabletop battlefields of Warhammer 40,000, rolling handfuls of dice to see if their hand-painted armies will be victorious on this day. The Source is a testament to the social side of a hobby often thought to be the domain of asocial, pale folks who never get out of the basement. Staff members are as much gamers and fans as the customers, and their enthusiasm is infectious. It's pretty easy to walk in for a paintbrush or pack of cards (or a comic—the store carries current releases, graphic novels, and an extensive back-issue collection) and walk out with a completely new, unfamiliar, and exciting game to take home.
Oh sure, Gamestop is pretty corporate—the chain dominates the landscape from coast to coast—but for a video gamer looking for a deal, it's the best bet in town. With a location in seemingly every burg in the area, one is never far away. For folks who have upgraded to the 360/PS3/Wii stage, even new games—sometimes just a week or two past their release date—can be found on the shelves for, at the very least, a small discount on a new price. The real fun comes when you want to dig a little deeper. Now that the current generation has matured a bit, hot games from the past couple of years can be found for a song, sometimes for less than $10. And last-generation fans of, say, the Playstation 2 (or those who haven't bothered with the newfangled software) can spend a few bucks and finally get around to playing Grand Theft Auto III.