Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Independent toy stores are getting fewer and farther between: Essence of Nonsense in St. Paul and Wonderment in Minneapolis and St. Paul closed last year. But luckily things are going well for Peapods, which relocated in January from Snelling and St. Clair to bigger digs in the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, a storybook-perfect area that fits this delightful shop to a tee. The spacious new digs feature gorgeous blond wood and plenty of breathing room. While browsing contentedly, you won't find battery-operated hunks of plastic with blaring speakers and flashing lights; the focus here is on toys that require using some imagination. You will see whimsical wonders like gargoyle and peacock puppets; board books for babies featuring the art of Monet and Picasso; plenty of wooden toys, including swords, fishing poles with magnets to catch wooden magnetic fish, and made-in-Minnesota cars and trucks; tons of games and puzzles; play tea sets made from recycled materials; and sleek rattles from Germany. You'll also find super-cute clothes for babies and toddlers, plus a selection of cloth diapers. Peapods' toys are very appealing to kids, yet they also engage rather than annoy grown-ups.
Sure, we're well aware of that tourist-drawing behemoth out in Bloomington. But after nearly two decades, it's hard not to appreciate the MOA's predecessors, the shopping centers that have not only survived but thrived and expanded since the colossal megalith opened its doors back in '92. Rosedale is the old-school shopping mall retrofitted for modern times, opening back in 1969 and weathering the fall of Donaldson's, Montgomery Ward, and Carson Pirie Scott while remaining a major shopping destination. Sure, there's the requisite Spencer's Gifts and Forever 21, but Rosedale also features some longstanding local family businesses and a restaurant selection, including Green Mill and Flame, that transcend the average food court. And while its 2006 renovation updated its profile—out with a featureless, windowless big-box anchor; in with the deluxe movie theater and Main Street-style retail facades—there's enough of Rosedale's vintage character left to fire up the nostalgia circuits of a couple of generations' worth of former teenagers. Best of all, it's close enough to St. Paul's urban core that it doesn't have the detached, middle-of-nowhere isolation that leaves most other suburban shopping centers feeling like satellite outposts. Does it have an aquarium and a roller coaster? No. It's just the ideal mall for people who want to shop, eat, and catch a movie without getting overwhelmed by the scale of it all.
We bought an $800 Derek Lam cashmere sweater at Opitz recently for $5. Because it had a few flaws, a fancy department store tossed it from its pristine racks like a misfit toy and it made its way to the Opitz Annex across from Opitz headquarters (where most merch is 70 percent off and unflawed). This isn't an unusual occurrence at either building. Though parking is always packed—especially when new clothing arrives on Wednesdays—and the staff is often noticeably overwhelmed, the daily deals in this place are brag-worthy gems you can't find in most cities, from designer dresses to home furnishings to insanely priced purses and shoes. We once heard someone say if she moved away from Minneapolis she'd most miss First Avenue and Opitz. We have to agree.
Should you ever hear a lady inquire, "Whatever happened to all the gentlemen?" simply respond by tilting the brim of your cap toward the Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul. Therein lies Heimie's Haberdashery, the stately and otherworldly homage to a time when the sheen of a man's shoes actually meant something. It's no coincidence that proprietor Anthony Andler was a film and cinematography major, as his shop feels like a film set. To see a party of groomsmen prepping for the day ahead is to witness a scene both ancient and timeless. Andler is also a fourth-generation tailor; the store's name refers to his grandfather, who operated as a longtime St. Paul tailor and clothier not far from this space. The modern-day Heimie's refreshes its stylings seasonally and specializes in custom "made-to-order" and "made-to-measure" tailorings. A wide range of shirts, shoes, ties, hats, and accessories (i.e., wallets, luggage, fountain pens, cuff links) is available to complement your new suit. After a purchase or perusal, treat yourself to a shine, shave, and cigar in the adjoining barbershop. Outside the barber's tall windows and beyond the stereo's low crooning, the world of 2011 walks by, producing a pause in time during which you'll wonder if you should have been born sooner.
Never boring, Cliché specializes in hip, fashion-forward clothing that nonetheless has enough sticking power to hang around the closet for a few years. That's because the clothes, while innovative, are well-made—and also because the shop owners deliberately look for classic elements that prevent their offerings from going out of style the week after purchase. Husband-and-wife team Joshua and Delayna Sundberg split shop duties. While Delayna tends to the back end of the business, Josh is in the store most days with an amazing eye for clothes that will flatter your body and ways to accessorize them. The boutique's inventory includes a mix of local and national designers, and a good selection of locally made jewelry. The racks are constantly changing, and the owners order very few of each piece, so whatever you buy here will truly be the opposite of cliché.
Women just aren't spending as much time knocked up as they used to. In fact, recent census data show that one-child families have become more common than two-child ones. So for many mothers-to-be, it just doesn't make sense to buy a brand-new wardrobe that will be worn for only a few months before being gleefully thrown aside. Crystal Pollard found this out a few years ago while pregnant with her son and unhappy with her clothes-shopping options. In 2008 she and husband Brad McManus opened Bellies to Babies, and they completed an expansion of the store just last month. They sell a terrific selection of gently used, stylish maternity clothes, as well as baby clothes up to size 2T, pregnancy books, and a few other products, all at very affordable prices. They also make the shopping experience pleasant: There's none of the mustiness of some thrift stores, aisles are wide enough to accommodate strollers, and cool pieces of metalwork art adorn the walls. Of course there is a nice clean restroom for customer use (Pollard knows her customer base), and there's even a "Kids and Daddy" area with chairs, toys, and reading material to keep the rest of the family occupied while Mom looks around. The store has fancy dresses for rent, so there's no need to invest in a special-occasion frock you'll wear just once. And when your pregnancy is done and you're enjoying your little one, Bellies to Babies makes it easy to sell your maternity clothes, too (as well as those your bundle of joy is outgrowing way too quickly). No appointment is needed, and they'll buy out-of-season items, as long as they're in great condition and not too old.