Best Of :: Shopping & Services
With the rollout of the iPad and each new version of the Kindle, the idea of opening a bookstore is akin to opening a typewriter shop at the beginning of the dot-com era. But to open a small, independent bookstore seems even more suicidal. Yet Greenlight Bookstore, in the heart of Fort Greene, has done just that: Converting an old insurance office, the owners of this indie bookshop opened it partially with a grant won from the Brooklyn Public Library. They don't even try to compete with Amazon, instead supplying a selection of tasteful, literary reads that appeal to the relatively young and bookish neighborhood. Aside from a massive Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, downtown Brooklyn is woefully devoid of bookstores, and Greenlight fills the gap. Its Brooklyn section offers a great selection from the borough's flourishing literary scene, with many of the authors they highlight (Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Dave Isay) regularly reading in-store. This kind of bookshop might not last forever, but, as long as it does, we'll take advantage of the wonderful free gifts it offers for every $250 you spend there. (For the record, we've already earned two such gifts since it opened last fall.)
It's a Friday night after a hard week of work and you feel you deserve a drinkand some new clothes. The folks behind The Dressing Room seem to understand the working girl's needs perfectly. They've created a bar and boutique that offers tasty cocktails you can sip (try the pomegranate martini, $10), while browsing two levels of clothing, shoes, and accessories. Founded by East Village stylist and designer Nikki Fontanella and co-owned by Alexandra Adame and Paul Frazier, the shop is primarily a showcase for emerging indie designers. Order up a "Waiting Boyfriend" (a Miller High Life and a shot of whiskey, $5) and start your hunt on the ground floor, which features up-and-coming designers such as pH by Phillia, Sandra Baquero, and Paperdolls, and accessories by Anomaly, Samantha Sleeper, and Lisa Medoff, among others; prices range from $35 for a stylish T-shirt to $500 for a custom-made cocktail dress. Downstairs is the vintage section, where you'll find great bargains for under $20 (on a recent trip, we spotted an adorable striped Jean Paul Gaultier shrug for just $12). You can also bring in your own secondhand pieces to sell or trade. Stay as late as 2 a.m. from Thursday to Saturdaywe're sure that waiting boyfriend won't mind much.
It was another busy week and now you need to buy a gift for your friend's birthday party. Never fear—just head over to Fred Flare, the best place to find inexpensive, off-the-wall gifts your pal will love. Is she a tea drinker? Get the infuser shaped like a yellow submarine and the "Fisticup," a mug with a brass-knuckles handle. Does she work in an office? How about the mini bowling set for her desk and a container of sea monkeys to keep her company? Or maybe she's one of those friends who's always late. Give her a hint with the adorable Holly Golightly watch locket to wear around her neck. Started in 1998 by Keith Carollo and Chris Bick, who sold their quirky products on the street in Soho, Fred Flare has both an excellent online shop and a brick-and-mortar store in Greenpoint. Of course, the hardest thing about shopping here is that it's impossible to walk away without something for yourself. For instance, you'll probably need a new dress for the party, right? Browse their selection of perfect frocks, many priced from $50 to $70. And then maybe some jewelry would be good, too, such as the glittery owl ring and the lovebird heart necklace. Oh, and while you're at it, you'll want to paint your nails with some Laffy Taffy–scented nail polish. Grab a Lomography camera to capture the evening, and you're set to be the life of the party!
As the weather turns from fall to winter and visions of tropical-island vacations begin to dance in your head, the quickest and cheapest way to escape the chill is Spa Castle, a five-story, 100,000-square-foot Korean-spa sanctuary in College Point, Queens. For $45 on weekends ($35 from Monday to Friday), you can spend the entire day (it's open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight) bathing, steaming, and feasting on treats from a snack bar—or, even better, sipping fruity cocktails in the whirlpool lounge. Upon arrival, everyone receives the Spa Castle uniform to change into (a pair of cotton shorts and a T-shirt) and an electronic bracelet that doubles as a locker key and charge card for food and drinks. Based on the traditional Korean bathhouse called a jimjilbang, Spa Castle features separate men's and women's all-nude steam rooms and baths (that's right, no bathing suits allowed). However, do bring your bathing suit for the co-ed rooftop hot tubs and heated pools, which can be incredibly romantic on a winter's night with a light snow falling around you. Several dome-shaped saunas with labels such as "Salt," "Jade," and "Gold" have signs boasting their various healing powers and temperatures (a large mud room stands at a scorching 190 degrees). Though it's not the easiest place to get to for those without a car, a free shuttle bus will pick up and drop off clients at the last stop on the 7 train (Flushing–Main Street).
Warning: Knowledge of this store may be hazardous to your teeth. Opened in January by candy aficionado Alison "Dewey" Oblonsky, Dewey's stocks tons of great retro candies (remember Mallo Cups, Ferrara Pan's Atomic Fireballs, and Sky Bars?) as well as plenty of cool contemporary treats for the kids, such as candy tins that look like Wii controllers and the popular Grillz, a sucker attached to the back of gold teeth. Beneath a chandelier of whirly pops tied with colorful ribbons, you can dig through wooden barrels and gleaming glass jars of goodies of Mary Janes, multicolored jawbreakers, and every color of M&M. Chocoholics must go straight to the back for the Oreos and cake-batter balls coated in milk chocolate. Gift options include decorative flowerpots, pretty boxes, and silver buckets that can be stuffed with the candy of your choice (an excellent party favor is the "Dewey-tini," a martini glass of sweets for $10). Gummy fiends will love the huge variety that includes everything from gummy teeth to gummy sharks to something called a "Gummi Mexican Dinner," with a teeny chewy chili con carne (yum). Did we mention that Dewey's may also be hazardous to your waistline?
A birdhouse made out of a cigar box, a vase shaped like a grenade, and a glowing bunny statue are just a few of the quirky treasures we fell in love with on a recent visit to Sprout Home, the best shop for the fun-loving urban gardener. Whether you have room for only a few houseplants or have an entire backyard garden to fill, Sprout offers a huge range of options and a friendly staff to help you choose. Well aware that New Yorkers are busy people, the shop is big on low-maintenance plants (read: hard-to-kill) that are also eye-catching—for instance, imagine the compliments you'll receive with a twisted brain cactus (yes, it really looks like a green brain) as your centerpiece. Stock up on organic seeds and soil as well as glittery rocks to add sparkle to your garden. Great gifts for new green thumbs include the Eggling from Japan, an egg-shaped pot stuffed with seeds and soil (simply crack it and add water), and the Blooms in a Bag Organic Mini Sunflower Garden Kit. The staff also offers free classes about once a month on subjects such as composting and making your own hip terrarium.