Though we may complain about the chainification and suburbanization of New York, there are still a significant number of specialty stores around town whose unique and funky offerings stay true to this city's quirks, even with all the 7-Elevens and TD Banks that threaten to encroach. Here are our favorite niche stores; as always, leave yours in the comments.
TENDER BUTTONS: Located in a red-brick townhouse on the Upper East Side, Tender Buttons claims to be the only shop dedicated entirely to buttons—not just in New York City, but in the entire country. Specializing in antique buttons, the shop was founded in 1964 by the late Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia editor Diana Epstein (it's named after an early 20th century collection of Gertrude Stein poems about everyday objects).
In addition to antique buttons from all over the world, from 18th-century painted ivory to Art Nuevo silver to geometric Art Deco, the shop also has plenty of regular-old buttons to match your blazer or dress shirt, and Beatrix Potter animal-shaped buttons for kids. While the left wall of the store is lined with cardboard boxes of buttons from floor-to-ceiling, there's also room in the shop for antique lamps, cuff links, and belt buckles. (Emma Whitford)
Tender Buttons is located at 143 East 62nd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues on the Upper East Side (212-758-7004, tenderbuttons-nyc.com).
BONNIE SLOTNICK COOKBOOKS: Beloved cookbook shop Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks was nearly taken from us this year when it was evicted from its long time West Village home, thanks to a landlord and a rent-hike. Luckily, this depressingly cliche NYC story had a happy ending—not only did Bonnie find new digs, but the space is three times larger and comes with a beautiful backyard. Stop in to peruse and pick up out-of-print cookbook titles, with subjects ranging from the standard (a vintage Joy of Cooking) to the steamy (see The Lover's Cookbook, or any offerings from the Gay Sunshine Press). We can't vouch for all of the recipes you might find, but when it comes to the shop's laid-back vibe and homey decor (tricycles! ovens!) you really can't do better. (Abigail Rowe)
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks is located at 28 East 2nd Street between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery in the East Village (212-989-8962, bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com).
CW PENCIL ENTERPRISE: The pen may be mightier than the sword, as the saying goes, but there's no telling what you could achieve with an army of perfectly curated designer pencils. The Lower East Side's CW Pencilswill give you all the tools you need to explore that question, and then some. Far beyond your basic Staples-bought yellow number 2, this newly minted specialty shop offers vintage, jumbo and carpenter pencils, along with an array of pencil sets. Of course, what is a pencil without a case? CW likewise offers boutique sharpeners and erasers, along with various accessories, notebooks and books. David Rees's How to Sharpen Pencils is any graphite-aficionado's must read. (Abigail Rowe)
CW Pencils is located at 100a Forsyth Street between Broome and Grand Streets on the Lower East Side (917-734-8117, cwpencils.com).
Courtesy vinnie716's flickr
THE EVOLUTION STORE: If you've ever yearned to take home some of the specimens at the American Museum of Natural History, the Evolution Store is the spot for you, boasting everything from the perfect fossilized fern, to a taxidermied bat or a brain-shaped bar of soap. This SoHo science collection's got whatever treasure you need to feng shui your freaky home decor—the classroom-style skeleton stationed outside the storefront, though effective in attracting wandering shoppers, is decidedly tame compared to the exotic selection of once-living curios to be discovered inside. Need a creative way to show that special someone how you truly feel? Try gifting them a Racoon Penis Bone ($10) from Evolution’s wide selection of osseous specimens. Or maybe the
Madagascan Sunset Moth Pendant ($69)—an entomologist-designed necklace featuring a genuine moth wing—would be a better fit. (Ben Miller)
The Evolution Store is located at 120 Spring Street between Mercer and Greene Streets in SoHo (212-343-1114, theevolutionstore.com).
ENCHANTMENTS: We can't promise that your DIY love potion will do any good, but don't let that stop you from making a visit to the city's oldest occult store. Treat yourself to a custom carved candle, which are made in front of you using your name and astrological sign and then rubbed down with oil and metal glitter—the whole process takes between 15 and 45 minutes. For the time-pressed, Enchantments offers pre-made candles, along with incense, books, spices, oils, herbs and resins, with locally -made jewelry and wands sold in the front of the shop.
You can check out their wares on their website, but if you swing by in person, you can enjoy the lovely sights and smells firsthand, along with the company of Enchantments' two adorable cats. (Abigail Rowe)
Enchantments is located at 424 East 9th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village (212-228-4394, enchantmentsinnyc.com).
FIVE STRIDE SKATE SHOP: Five Stride Skate Shop is to roller skates, as JackRabbit is to running shoes—this is the type of shop where your feet are cradled by an obsessive. Gotham Girl derby skaters Bonnie Thunders and OMG WTF founded the shop in Astoria back in 2010, then moved to glitzy Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, and just relocated to a shop near the Grand Ave L stop.
Five Stride's got stuff for the skilled and the newbies—while they stock pricey Bont Hyrbid boots for $680, their beginner-friendly RW Wave lace-ups cost less than $100. For those Roller Derby wheels that take a regular beating, Five Stride also sells axel nuts for $5, and fresh laces for $4, not to mention individual toe stops. And considering the dearth of new-ish roller rinks in Brooklyn—from Prospect Park, to the Brooklyn Bridge waterfront—it's nice to know that there's a one-stop for gear and beginner lessons: Thunders and WTF can hook you up with the rest of the Gotham Girls if you're looking to try the sport out. (Emma Whitford)
Five Stride Skate Shop is located at 178 Bushwick Avenue between Scholes and Stagg Streets in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn (347-529-6787, fivestrideskateshop.com).
THE BARONESS: Anyone making their first foray into fetish clothing (or just looking to emulate Kim Kardashian) should check out this East Village lingerie shop, which specializes in latex. The Baroness herself tends to the store's shoppers, offering advice on fit and style to everyone from rubber-stocking die-hards to intrigued passersby. Clothing for both men and women is available, with traditional dress and skirt options included alongside more risque get-ups (nurses, nuns and French maids might think twice before wearing one of these to work). You can also dare to check out the store's "bizarre" section, where bright purple executioner hoods and vacuum sealed "sucky" beds are up for grabs. (Abigail Rowe)
The Baroness is located at 530 East 13th Street between Avenues A and B in the East Village (2120529-5964, baroness.com).
HEATONIST: For brave tongues, Brooklyn's own hot sauce specialty shop serves up bold flavors ranging from mild to hot to hottest, along with self-curated 3-packs if you're not sure how hot you want things to get. Flavors like blueberry, carrot, pear and pineapple are also all on tap here if you've got a thing for sugar. Fittingly, there's also a hot sauce sommelier (proprietor Noah Chaimberg) on hand to give you a taste of many of the shop's varietals. But anyone truly looking to mix up sweet and spicy would be remiss not to nab a jar of Mike's Hot Honey, fittingly dubbed "the new Sriracha." (Abigail Rowe)
Heatonist is located at 121 Wythe Avenue between North 8th and 9th Streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (646-884-3566, heatonist.com).
CASEY RUBBER STAMPS: While "rubber stamping" something means blindly giving it approval without thought or consideration, we can assure you that nothing but the highest degree of love and care goes into making the homemade stamps sold at this quirky East Village stamp shop. The walls are lined with items from their catalog, with real rubber stamps set to print snakes, stop signs, stars, skeletons, strawberries and more. You can also design your own stamp, using original drawings and high resolution images. Check out their frequently asked questions here for details on ordering and picking up special orders, though note they never explain why they specifically focus on rubber stamps. Then again, why not? (Abigail Rowe)
Casey Rubber Stamps is located at 322 East 11th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in the East Village (917-669-4151, caseyrubberstamps.com).