Eclectic/quirky shopping in Boston
July 6, 2016 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Boston/Cambridge later this month and have pretty much everything planned except where to shop. Any favorite quirky/eclectic places I should be sure to stop by while I'm there?

I love novelty shops like Archie McPhee in Seattle, eclectic gifts like at Urban Dwell here in DC, and also places that are clearly someone's personal labor of love and are an experience just to visit, like Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France. I'm interested in food/cooking, board games, toys/novelties, clothing, local art/craft, and home decor (will be moving soon so lots of things to decorate!).

I'll be staying in Cambridge and won't have a car; mostly looking for places that are in, or a quick walk from, Cambridge or Boston's downtown and Back Bay areas. The idea here is less "what's something worth going out of the way for?" and more "what's going to be on my way anyway while I'm sightseeing so I might as well stop by?"
posted by capricorn to Shopping (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge!
posted by xingcat at 8:33 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: Not sure if you'll make it to Somerville (it's very close to Cambridge) but if you do:
Magpie in Davis Square Somerville (and, to a lesser extent, Davis Squared)
Do you like cocktails? Boston Shaker, also in Davis Square
Loyal Supply if you end up in Union Square

Black Ink (in Harvard Square and I think also Beacon Hill)

Also Porter Square is not generally regarded as a "destination" but there are some cool places (that I can't really think of right now) on Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard.

The Boomerangs thrift store in Central Square Cambridge is also very good.
posted by mskyle at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: Brattle Street Book Shop
posted by travellingincognito at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: I don't see any reason you shouldn't take a walk down Newbury Street and stop into Newbury Comics at least.
posted by General Malaise at 8:52 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Porter Square is also home to Christopher's, which is my favorite place to eat in Boston. Try the Yuppie Nachos!
posted by kevinbelt at 8:53 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: MsKyle mentioned Nomad, which is indeed a store you'll love. I think there's a good Scottish store next door to it? And Simon's coffee right across the street, is the best coffee in Cambridge.

If you're into quirky clothing for women, Artwear (up Mass Ave, in East Arlington) is really worth a visit - lots of unique things.
posted by Dashy at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: Trident cafe and booksellers on Newbury st
posted by rmless at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In Cambridge, you might enjoy The Garment District ("It's not a district, it's a store!").
posted by clone boulevard at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Mass Ave near Harvard Square is pretty good for meandering window shopping - probably the highest density of interesting shops in Cambridge. Among other stores around there, there's a place called Follow the Honey which is entirely fancy honey and you can sample a bunch of different kinds.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:24 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: I loved the Museum of Useful Things a few years ago, though it seems it has changed a bit to be part of a bigger store (Black Ink - mentioned above too) so almost certainly still worth going to
posted by brainmouse at 9:33 AM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: There's Grolier's Poetry Book Shop and Schoenhof's Foreign Books, both in Harvard Square. Good examples of specialty bookstores that must be visited to be experienced fully.

Near Back Bay you can find a Flour Bakery. It's usually very busy, which can detract from the ambiance, but just about everything there is stellar and the line moves efficiently.

Finally, I recommend Boston Public Market, near the Haymarket stop downtown. Local to MA farmstands, food, and gifts. It's pricey, but well worth it. If you make it that far, head across the Greenway to Maria's Pastry-- it beats both Modern and Mike's for cannoli and other Italian pastry. Get a sfogliatelle.
posted by cubby at 9:35 AM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, Nomad is what I was thinking of! And Ward Maps, the map and transit memorabilia store.
posted by mskyle at 9:39 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think there's a good Scottish store next door to it?

It's Irish, actually - Irish Imports, Ltd. Nice store! They focus on Irish woolens; we've bought several blankets, scarves, and other things from them as gifts.

Near to that Porter Square location are a bunch of interesting stores. Abodeon is your place for upscale, design-y house wares and vintage pieces. Ward Maps is nearby and focuses on reprints and originals of local historical maps, as well as MBTA memorabilia (on a variety of media including prints, mugs, coasters, etc.).

A little bit closer to Porter Square proper is the old Sears building which now contains part of Lesley University upstairs and a bunch of Japanese stores and restaurants in the basement. Some of the best ramen in the area is down in the food court.

If you want to spend a long afternoon in Camberville, I would take the red line out to Davis, take in some of the shopping mentioned above, and then walk from there through Porter Square and down Mass Ave. to Harvard. It's a two-ish mile walk with plenty of stores and restaurants along the way to stop in.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:09 AM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A third recommendation here for Black Ink - it's a well selected collection of quirky, playful, and well-designed items, from $3 random fun bits to more spendy treasures (I'd call it 3 parts Urban Dwell, 1 part Archie McPhee).
posted by marlys at 11:15 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: thirding Ward Maps, Black Ink, Grolier's, but also would want to add SoWa Open Market if you're going to be there on a Sunday. It's rather easy to access via the Red Line from Cambridge. Boutique Fabulous is also a nice, quirky gift/housewares store in the vein of Magpie and Black Ink that would be worth visiting if you're in the area of Inman Square.

Though speaking of Camberville and the Inman area, if you go further north into the Union Square area to visit Loyal Supply, the hipster-est of hipster experiences is to go out to Tyler St., where you can check off the trifecta of dropping into Aeronaut Brewery which has fun events and popup food ventures, plus take a tour of the Artisan's Asylum makerspace and maybe climb at Brooklyn Boulders or take a drop-in circus class at Esh if they have them. Then top off with looking for the non-descript entrance to Backbar and have a cocktail.
posted by bl1nk at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you do happen to be on that stretch of Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard, I recommend stopping in at Bagelsaurus, which has very good bagels and a nice variety of offerings to top them.

Additionally, Cardullo's (right in Harvard Square) is a solid deli and gourmet shop that sells, e.g., many kinds of imported treats. It's been run by several generations of the same family now. It's next to the previously-mentioned Black Ink, which definitely sounds like your kind of place.

There are a couple different jewelry and accessory stores just past Cardullo's (I can never remember their names, but they're pretty easy to find) that are fairly eclectic and might have something to catch your eye.
posted by praemunire at 12:18 PM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: Check out Bodega on Mass Ave & Clearway St (address is 6 Clearway). It's a hip urban shoe / clothing store found behind a small convenience store facade in which you walk through the vending machine. Even if you're not into what they sell the store is very cool itself and a short walk from Newbury.
posted by masters2010 at 12:20 PM on July 6, 2016

Best answer: In and around Harvard:
  • Black Ink (gifts and esoterica. If you're traveling, I suggest picking up a package of Herban Essentials wipes, which are super useful for keeping in your bag.)
  • Cardullos (jam, candy, expensive olive oil, etc.) Follow the Honey (honey and bee-related-products. I did not believe this thing existed but it does.)
  • L.A. Burdick (chocolates, pastries, and cafe. Highly recommend the dark hot chocolate even though it's July.)
In and around Davis Square:
  • D-Squared (hipster gifts)
  • Magpie (hipster gifts)
  • Comicazi (Comic books and nerdery)
  • Prince Gallery (posters and prints)
  • If you're around on Sunday, the Davis Flea happens for most of the day and has some vendors that are right up your alley.
Near Porter Square: I'll second the suggestion to walk Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter - lots of charming shops to stop in at. Newbury is ok but has mostly been taken over by enormous name brands. There is still a yarn shop on Newbury as well as The Fairy Shop, and my favorite indie fabric store, Mercer's Fabric, is also not far away. (And next door to Tatte, which is A+ pastry.)
posted by athenasbanquet at 2:32 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not sure how no one's mentioned Joie de Vivre yet. It's just outside of Porter Square on Mass Ave, heading towards Harvard Square. You'll also pass by Paper Source and Cambridge Clogs which has an amazing sock selection.
posted by noxetlux at 2:42 PM on July 6, 2016

Oh, if you're going to go to the SoWa Sundays market, you should stop in at Bobby From Boston. It's probably the only store in Boston that focuses exclusively on vintage menswear. It's an impressive curation and a really awesome store to browse around (also a decent selection of bags, watches, and hats for men and women if you're not into men's clothing). Sadly, the eponymous Bobby died recently but every time I visited he was seated prominently in the middle of the store, chatting away with folks.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:45 PM on July 6, 2016

Whaaaat?! So you walk into a shady looking convenience store in the South End to grab a cold Snapple, but when you open the fridge to grab a bottle, instead of seeing drinks chilling, you walk through the fridge and see suddenly in a high end sneaker and clothing shop?!

Even if you don't shop there, it's worth just checking out because it's cool as shit...Bodega
posted by floweredfish at 7:19 PM on July 6, 2016

Response by poster: These suggestions all sound amazing! Thanks so much and keep 'em coming!
posted by capricorn at 5:20 AM on July 7, 2016

Best answer: Thought of a couple more!

A little farther up Mass Ave from Porter Square is a shop called "Fun Antiques". The owner has a particular interest in vintage lighting and from what I remember was getting in to custom steampunk-ish lighting designs, but I don't remember what happened with that. Still has a big selection of antique lamps and chandeliers.

I just heard this morning that Revolution Book Store in Harvard is closing soon (July 23 according to their website), so if you still need anything for your Communist book collection, I'd check it out.

If you're here next Sunday, the 17th, you could also go to the MIT Flea. It's a swap meet organized by the school's ham radio club, so expect lots of surplus electronics and computer equipment. The last time I went I swear someone had a (mockup...?) Mercury capsule on a trailer they were trying to offload.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:07 AM on July 7, 2016

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