I recently came across a unique store in Amsterdam that stopped me in my tracks. It's called Terra, and they sell just two types of goods: Spanish leather shoes and Spanish pottery. Click here to view their selection. This juxtaposition of footwear and ceramics might seem weird to the traditional mall shopper, but there was an underlying simplicity, authenticity, and classic formalism to the products that made the selection seem rational. These quirky kinds of stores are common in Amsterdam, which may be the boutique shop capital of the world. There are stores with international reputations, such as The Frozen Fountain, as well as obscure places that have no websites. You can find just about anything in a few hours on foot and only scratch the surface of what is available on the streets. Click here for a selection of things like Paper, Hanging Stuff, Slippers, Bags, Boots, Silk, Bicycles, Hats, and Comics.
What is special about these places is their modest size and unpretentious exteriors, which contrast the highly individual stuff sold inside. Inside, signage is minimal often virtually non-existent. The products tell their own stories and are guided by some unique personal vision rather than a marketing formula. It's a refreshing approach in a world of commercial clutter.
There are myriad unique boutiques scattered across the US, just not with the density you have in Amsterdam. Being that it's the holiday season, I've taken the opportunity to selfishly highlight a handful of places that I've found compelling and recommended to people I know and respect. What these stores have in common is a range of things you're not likely to find elsewhere, and they're all run by people who are passionate about their stuff and who would be only slightly embarrassed to know that I've included photos of them in this newsletter. These are places with a local community focus, where dogs and humans alike are welcome.
Biondivino, Ceri Smith, San Francisco
A year ago, owner Ceri Smith opened this store specializing in Italian wines—much to the delight of those of us in the neighborhood. She has put together three special holiday cases designed to fit modest and extravagant budgets ($150, $400, $700) and that are in limited supply and offered at a 10% discount. Her website is only partially functional, but click here for a description of these cases and then give her a call. Having a case of wine on hand makes this time of year pleasantly fluid; not having to run around before a party and find a bottle reduces stress. Anything you have left over is a good investment in your future, as foreign wines will be going up in price shortly.
George, Bobby Wise, Bay Area and Los Angeles
George has been bringing pleasure and intelligence to pet lovers for 10 years. From dog tags and cheapo treats to chic beds, there is a spunky range of quirky and sophisticated goods available. Bobby has put together a selection of stocking stuffers that are available on his smart and visually pleasing website, along with a comprehensive selection of products. For maximum-impact on the hard-to-please person in need of a long-lasting present, go get a rescue dog or cat and hand deliver him or her with a box of George accoutrement.
Kiosk, Alisa Grifo, New York
Alisa’s store sells genuine generic products from countries around the world. Kiosk operates out of a tiny studio in Manhattan, though you can also find her goods at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. It is an anti-luxury selection earmarked by humble sophistication. For the holidays, she has put together a selection of gift packs that will please people who have grown jaded by predictable brands. Prices often stay around the single and double digits, with Kiosk's treasure trove of clever, small items ranging from mustard to bicycle basket nets to bird whistles to the classic Sami Reindeer hide. Romping around this website will cure any holiday blues.
Base, Steven Giles, Miami
Steven runs the oldest independent retail store on Miami’s historic Lincoln Road. He has a broad range of cool stuff and an international clientele that includes fashion and design crowds. If you live in Miami, you can go there for a haircut while you shop for jewelry or books or scents or jackets. If you do not live in Miami, you can shop online for an amazing selection of gifts, accessories, clothes, and other surprises. His music selection may be without peer.
Food Runners, Mary Risley, San Francisco
If you find nothing of interest in the shops listed above and aren't into the commercial consumerism of the holidays, here is a unique Bay Area nonprofit. Mary does not have a store, but she runs a twenty year-old outfit that delivers more than ten tons to the homeless every week in San Francico from food leftovers. Over 500 restaurants participate and you can as well. Donate $10 to $500 in support and reap numerous tangible and intangible benefits.
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