Best Of :: Shopping & Services
If we could, we'd give this award to downtown White Bear Lake as a whole. This charming little district has a variety of gift-shopping opportunities, within steps of one another, to rival Uptown and Grand Avenue. There's the Enchanted Tree House for adorable kids' stuff, Truly for handmade items by local artists, the Floral Trunk and Gifts for whimsical garden accessories, and the Nest for eclectic clothing and home decor, nontoxic cleaning supplies and toys, and more. And those are just a few examples. But if we have to pick a favorite, and we do, we'll go with the one-stop gift shop Goodthings. This cute but spacious boutique has something for everyone in its seasonally changing stock (and its location right next door to the delicious treats at Grandma's Bakery is another plus). Pick up sleek bar accoutrements for the cocktail aficionado on your list, lightly scented Thymes hand lotion (made locally) that just about any woman will appreciate, unusual toys for the kids (or get nostalgic and choose from reissued classic Little Golden Books titles, just $3 each), unique handmade bags and jewelry, or old-fashioned candy like Turkish Taffy and Fruit Stripe gum. The store sells beautifully hand-painted glassware and uncommon items such as chandeliers made from wine bottles. There is some carefully chosen clothing and wall art as well, and of course a wonderful selection of greeting cards. Get some splashy new kitchen towels for Mom and a trendy, photo-heavy cookbook for the newlyweds: It's hard to go wrong with a present picked out here.
Building a decent women's wardrobe in Minneapolis/St.Paul has its challenges. We're rich with thrift, vintage, and boutique stores, but finding a one-stop shop for women that's moderately priced is a bit harder. We do have one option that falls between a major department store and an on-sale retail outlet: Nordstrom Rack at Mall of America. It's conveniently located at an entrance, so you don't have to look like one of the mall's infamous speed-walkers to get there. Nordstrom Rack, also known to fashionistas as "Nordstrom Crack" because of its addictive nature, has designer duds at lower prices than the flagship store and features a wide array of sizes. There are even special events for those with shoe sizes in the double digits. Accessories are a great buy here, as purses and jewelry are always top-notch, and if you need underthings or even hair and body care, there's plenty of that, too. Ladies as busy as they are stylish will appreciate the Rack when there's no time to stop off at different shops all over town.
Though economists, politicians, and pundits alike swear our nation is on the upswing, with each month's again-overdrawn checking account and increasingly fraying pair of jeans, it's abundantly clear: Many of us are still in recession mode. So while some might consider the "best clothing store" to mean fine men's attire, this year we advise you to set your sights on the outer-ring suburbs and Mills Fleet Farm. With locations in Brooklyn Park, Blaine, and Oakdale, the Brainerd-based upper Midwest chain sells not only hardware, tools, farm supplies, and hunting and fishing equipment, but also Dickies, Wrangler, Levi's, Carhartt, and CAT. At Fleet Farm, a pair of jeans will set you back only $15 to $40, and they'll hold up better than the distressed, pre-torn styles you'll find at the mall and in many boutiques. Consider its selection of bib overalls and trapper hats, duck jackets and flannels, and you'll see it's the real deal for working-class fashion that's been all the rage from '90s grunge to '10s hipsters — a style many Minnesotans will assert hasn't gone out of fashion since their grandpappy's day.
What other boutique in town acts as an epicenter (or catalyst, really) for an entire fashion scene? Cliché's "Avoid the Grey" annual event was especially creative this year, featuring models in peep-show-style booths, and the boutique is always the highlight at the Envision Artopia art and fashion showcase. Owners DeLayna and Josh Sundberg also support local clothing and jewelry designers by featuring their lines in the store. Cliché houses more than 100 local and international labels and puts forward a tone that's both classic and stylish. If you're looking for a unique outfit or accessory to show off at a special event or even on a date, Cliché will have you covered.
It's always gratifying to know that a business cares about its customers and has its ear to the street. According to owners Allison Bross-White and Rahsaan White, b.'s mission is to fill the void of hip-hop-centered businesses. They have outfitted both men and women for nearly two years, but the shop has also helped the local scene thrive by supporting events and collecting donations for a group of artists to visit South by Southwest. As you enter the doors, jams from Desdamona to Doomtree can be heard and works by local artists can be seen on the wall. Browsing the small yet thoughtful selection of clothing, shoes, and accessories will impress you with a blend of vintage, basics, and high-fashion pieces from local designers. You may even find that special Gucci purse or P.O.S.'s sneakers, at a fraction of the retail value. New inventory is posted on the store's Facebook page, and if you ask nicely they'll put it on hold for you.
Len Druskin's value-oriented subsidiary brand, Len (which is different from its City Center Outlet and Southdale Clearance stores), opened a fourth location in the Mall of America last August, on the third floor next to Nordstrom. The company's newest concept store, which also has locations at City Center, Southdale, and Rosedale, offers designer merchandise and brands from Len Druskin, from the Len Druskin Outlet, and a wide selection of career wear, coats, accessories, and shoes, all for 50 percent off (or more). Walk into the shop and you'll be amazed by the selection and organization of the clothes. It's not a picker's paradise, because it doesn't need to be; there's plenty of selection, and not just in oddball sizes, so you don't need to dig and dig to find your prize.