With all the old-school stores that have shuttered over the years (R.I.P., Bleecker Bob's) it sometimes feels like New York is going to be swallowed whole by soulless 7-Elevens. Luckily, a few classic standbys still remain, hocking their wares alongside the out-of-town chains. Here are a few of our favorites; as always, leave yours in the comments.
Courtesy wallyg's flickr
Department Store: BLOOMINGDALE'S
Bloomingdale's' iconic "Brown Bag" might be more synonymous with overpriced designer threads than classic NY style these days, but as one of the oldest department stores in the city, it has earned its fair share of paradigmatic praise, besting even Saks Fifth Avenue with its age. The company, which first got its start on the Lower East Side in 1861, has been at its glamorous, ever-expanding Upper East Side location since 1886; now, it's one of the city's premiere high-end shopping spots, boasting everything from Valentino to Ferragamo, coats to housewares. Though do be warned that their holiday window displays tend to be pretty lacking; stick with Saks and Lord and Taylor's come Christmastime.
Bloomingdale's' flagship store is located at 1000 3rd Ave between 59th and 60th Streets on the Upper East Side/Midtown East (212-705-2000, bloomingdales.com). They also have a location in SoHo.
Courtesy Mattron's flickr
Apothecary: C.O. BIGELOW
This Greenwich Village pharmacy earns the distinction of being the oldest apothecary in the country, having opened its 6th Ave location all the way back in 1838. And though most of its other brick-and-mortar spots have closed up shop over the years—stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois are now gone—its Manhattan store remains, selling upscale scrubs, sprays and lotions in an historic space. And as a bonus for cat lovers, the apothecary is known for having a resident feline, with famed past pets including Rex and Mr. Bigelow; Allegra, a 6-year-old rescue cat, is currently the store's reigning kitty.
C.O. Bigelow is located at 414 6th Ave near 9th Street in the West Village (212-473-7324, bigelowchemists.com).
Courtesy ekonon's flickr
Bookstore: THE STRAND
There's something soothing about the slightly-musty smell of old leather-bound books, and at the Strand, which opened first on Fourth Ave in 1927 before moving to its Broadway corner in the 1950s, that yellow-papered aroma reigns supreme. The store boasts 18 miles of new, old and used books, and whether that's true or not, there's certainly no stifling of the written word here. They've got everything from new bestsellers to out-of-print rare finds, and many of their offerings are used and come at discounted prices, a welcome perk for hungry readers on a budget.
The Strand also holds a number of readings and special events—James Franco seems to be a frequent guest here, in addition to writers like Dave Eggers and David Sedaris. Do note that though staff members are very knowledgeable, they're not always so eager to help a wandering patron; on the bright side, though, they're usually pretty easy on the eye, so don't feel too weird about moving in for a few hours.
The Strand is located at 828 Broadway between 12th and 13th Street in the East Village (212-473-1452, strandbooks.com).
Niche Hobby Shop: DUBE JUGGLING EQUIPMENT
It may seem strange that one of the city's standout old school stores caters specifically to jugglers, but at least there's some proof New York still has a unique soul, even while it seems poised to be eaten alive by banks. Brian Dubé has been running this juggling shop since the mid-70s, selling everything from body-building balls to clubs to spinning disks to torches. His SoHo loft is more of a showroom than a real store—though customers do come in, it's really more of a space for employees to show off how some of the tools are used. But interested customers can order gear online, too, and even if you're not down to buy a set of stilts, it's an impressive collection to behold, and an unusual one, too.
Dubé Juggling is located at 520 Broadway between Broome and Spring Street in SoHo (212-941-0060, dube.com).
Courtesy SpecialKRB's flickr
Odd Mobile Business: DEL RE'S GRINDING TRUCK
Knife-sharpening trucks were once a dime-a-dozen in this city, and though they've since dwindled down to a select few over the years, Dominic Del Re's Brooklyn-based truck is still going strong. The Italian native has been driving his red mobile office around since the 1980s, sharpening everything from knives to scissors to, according to a 1997 Times profile, the occasional samurai sword.
The truck is notoriously hard to find, since Del Re doesn't make appointments, but we've spotted it in Dumbo recently; it's also been documented in Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and even all the way on the Upper East Side.
Del Re's Grinding Truck can be found sporadically roaming around the city, though it appears to have no set schedule; grab your knives when you hear the telltale ringing bell.
Courtesy kate / for me, for you's flickr
Oddity Shop: OBSCURA ANTIQUES AND ODDITIES
This 20+-year-old Alphabet City storefront and "Oddities" Science Channel show subject is so stocked with tons of antiquities and vintage tchotchkes that it's become a favorite among show fans and East Village window-shoppers over the years. The shop boasts everything from taxidermy animals to mummy heads to marionettes, and though prices are a little steep, quirky collectors will still manage to find some sweet deals here. Besides, you can't really put a price on a tribal penis sheath gourd, now can you.
Obscura is located at 207 Avenue A near 12th Street in the East Village (212-505-9251, obscuraantiques.com).
Courtesy Gary Burke's flickr
Toy Store: FAO SCHWARZ
My parents tricked me and my sister into believing FAO Schwarz was a toy MUSEUM when we were kids, ensuring we never pined for a life-sized plush giraffe on one of our frequent rainy day visits. And it was a ruse that worked, perhaps because the 5th Ave flagship—with its singing clock, Barbie shoe lava lamp and talking elevator— was so magnificent it seemed impossible it was just a store.
FAO Schwarz underwent a major makeover in 2001, and it's since been sold to Toys 'R Us, so some of the magic got tamped down by a corporate takeover. But it's still the oldest toy store in the country, having been established in Baltimore in 1862 before opening up its first of several Manhattan locations in the 1870s (the current location has existed since the '80s). And though the clock has since disappeared, much to the chagrin of many a '90s New York child, there are Lego Chewbaccas, Barbie dolls and Muppet-making stations a-plenty, maintaining its Manhattan must-see status. Though if you haven't stopped by yet, you might want to hurry; FAO Schwarz's current parent company claims the store might leave its famed space when the lease runs out in 2017.
FAO Schwarz is located at 767 Fifth Ave at 58th Street in Midtown East (212-644-9400, fao.com).
Shoe Store: HARRY'S SHOES
This institution has been kicking it on the Upper West Side since the 1930s, selling everything from sturdy senior citizen walking shoes to teensy baby slippers to the neighborhood's varying generations. For decades, the store's highlight was its kid's section. I got my first pair of shoes here, followed by many others during my pre-and elementary school years, and recall an army of patient, knowledgeable staff members skilled in measuring little feet and keeping certain children from throwing tantrums when their parents wouldn't let them get light-up sneakers.
A few years ago, Harry's opened a separate children's store a few doors down from its flagship, where they continue to sell sneakers, dress shoes and (more recently) baby Uggs to UWS tots; the original location has also expanded, and though it seems the quality of service isn't quite as high as it is for the youngsters, sometimes it's nice to shop somewhere a little more personal than a DSW.
Harry's Shoes is located at 2299 Broadway between 82nd and 83rd Street on the Upper West Side (212-874-2035, harrys-shoes.com).
Courtesy luluinnyc/Amy Dreher's flickr
Art Supply Store: PEARL PAINT
This massive art supply store has been holding its ground on Canal Street for over 70 years now, selling every single tool a New Yorker needs needs to create Renaissance masterpieces/sixth-grade U.S. Revolution dioramas/faux-Banksy stencils. Pearl Paint's flagship location boasts four floors of paintbrushes, watercolors, charcoal canvasses, glues, easels, foams, lights, boards and more, and though it can sometimes be a struggle to find the exact instrument you need—and you'll probably walk out with three cartooning kits and a bucket of modeling clay instead of one set of stickers—it's still the best spot in the city for any established artist or young blood looking to tap into their inner Picasso.
Pearl Paint is located at 308 Canal Street between Mercer Street and Broadway in Tribeca (212) 431-7932, pearlpaint.com).
Stationery Store: STATIONERY TOY WORLD
On bustling West 72nd Street, which has a fancy Duane Reade, Jack Rabbit Shoes, Urban Outfitters, Domino's Pizza and Le Pain Quotidien, there's a true mom-and-pop store: Stationery Toy World. You need tip envelopes for holiday time? Someone needs carbon paper? A box of Crayons? Plastic ID holders for our precious NYPD press cards? Check, check, check and check! The shelves are stocked with an extensive selection of pens and pencils, paper products (index cards, notebooks, folders, fancy drawing pads, print paper), craft supplies, gift wrapping and balloons (perfect for birthdays!) and much more that will make you feel stupid for buying those supplies at CVS.
Plus, there are also toys: From baby toys to big kid Legos, with sand pails and shovels in the summer and sleds in the winter, the store is a magnet to the neighborhood's children.
Yes, prices are a little more expensive than you can get on Amazon.com, but I feel it's worth it to support a store where the owner, Donna Schofield, or her dad Larry Gomez can easily chat up customers while they and their super-helpful staff track down items. FWIW, a lot of their inventory, stored on Staten Island, was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and Schofield still managed to organize a toy drive to help Sandy-struck families during the holidays. They are just really good people. —Jen Chung
Stationary & Toy World is located at 125 West 72nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Ave on the Upper West Side (212-580-3922).