Shop Til You Drop at Mom and Pop
amsterdam avenue, which is often dissed as that poor sister of broadway, is the backbone of the upper west side. it may not top your list as a destination for holiday shopping, but don't overlook the mom and pops, some of which have held their own on this rapidly changing street for decades (and one for more than a century!).
west 70th to 80th
decorate your little city tree with tiny colored balls ($5) in gold, silver, red and green, and mini kurt s. adler tree lights ($7) at paper house (at 72nd street). this is the place for silky ribbon in super slim ($6), medium ($11) and wide ($16) widths. you'll also find foldable white cardboard boxes for homemade cookie gifts (4-inch boxes for 79 cents; 6-inch boxes for $1.49).
amaryllis florist (betw. 72nd and 73rd streets) has gargantuan pinecones ($8) in silver buckets out front, along with dense golden mums ($8). nearby daisy (betw. 73rd and 74th streets) is a sweet spot with unusual finds like salmon or yellow-orange brassica ($10), a plant with humble cabbage roots that has the beauty of a tousled rose.
pour (at 75th street) is a pristine, relatively new wine shop run by local couple h. tres meyer and christine beattie. plop down with your shopping bags on their retro orange vinyl seat, peruse the wine mags and chat with cheery sommeliers. while you'll pay more at pour, they'll call up that "great red you bought a few months ago" on their database, invite you to free wine and food tastings and teach you a thing or two about vino. although manta sauvignon blanc ($10) "flew off the shelves," the bubbly mexican gruet ($21) enticed me.
gotham gardens (betw. 75th and 76th streets) is a hodge-podge of furniture, books, candles and gnarly dark-green plants that evoke miss havisham's lair. laid-back owner kevin esteban said the paper whites in wooden boxes ($60) make fine holiday gifts.
while gail freda, owner of willow (at 77th street), makes customers wait to be buzzed in, she scoffs amusingly at the pretentiousness of the in-coming harrison luxury condo across the street, saying "the doormen wear white gloves," and "they want you to live like hannah and her sisters!" she calls her shop "a west side thing"-like broadway's liberty house-"eclectic, arty." bon bon's silk slippers ($45) are indeed a "west side thing" with their mix of elegance, comfort and get-real humor. guys come in at holiday time and buy four necklaces at once because, "it worked last year." i'd opt for the stylish red taxi wallet ($49) myself.
posies (betw. 77th and 78th streets) has an adorable french storefront and features fat flower bouquets ($25 to $40). but i was taken with the unusual curly willow ($13), with its twisty, soft caramel-colored sticks that spin upward like hope. and you can't go wrong with african violets ($7).
more and more antiques (at 78th street) is more about tchotchkes. tasteful retro gifts include a jaw harp ($4), ex-libris gummed sticker packets from saturn press ($10) and mechanical paper dragon kits ($11). this is the place to send your tween or teen to buy affordable gifts for friends.
michael rosenberg's granny made (betw. 78th and 79th streets) is thriving, thanks to a shift in emphasis from women's to children's clothing. the zipper-front, cable-knit sweater ($68) was inspired by rosenberg's own granny (sweaters are now knit in peru). plush abc wall hangings ($45) are the store's best-selling baby gifts.
robert moses virtually wiped out mom-and-pop-land south of 70th street, but it's worth walking to ship-shape furry paws (at 66th street) to pick up a hair buster sticky roller ($5) and bring order to your cat lover's shirt.
west 80th to 90th
bless cardeology's (betw. 81st and 82nd streets) neon red heart for keeping us in cards for more than 20 years. "cards don't pay the rent," though, according to manager steve. a loyal clientele pays the rent by indulging in frasier fir thyme candles ($27), lake champlain peanut butter chocolates ($12) and assorted body products.
warning: don't take kids to avventura (betw. 82nd and 83rd streets). the boutique's exquisite high-end art glass and ceramic collection is pricey and breakable, but so very alluring. my neighbors collected their wedding set over many years, cup by cup, plate by plate.
i will be back for the cotton kurti tops ($32) at tibet bazaar (betw. 82nd and 83rd streets), as well as a small batik shoulder bag ($15) in rich blues and greens, or maybe the twisty beaded arm bracelets ($6) and wooden hair sticks ($5).
five-year-old roam (betw. 83rd and 84th streets) is, hands-down, my favorite gift store on amsterdam. former college pals, now co-owners, jenny and sarah have organic, asian, minimalist taste. they have lovingly put together a selection of ready-to-go gifts, like vases in linen boxes ($20), soap by lafco wrapped in beautiful, design-y paper ($14), snow and graham birthday calendars ($16) and wooden snowflake ornaments ($4).
playmobil, lego, lifelike cooking equipment and fairy princess costumes: it must be west side kids (at 84th street). this jam-packed store, i have learned with my own child, is organized from left to right, from birth to about age 12. balls are in back: footballs ($10 to $17), bouncy baseballs ($3), soccer balls ($15), juggling balls ($7) and the magic 8 ball ($10)-for predicting which elementary school your kid will get into.
it's the long, wavy sushi plates ($18) i like at do-it-yourself ceramic shop make (betw. 84th and 85th streets), and the odd-shaped bowl with a chopstick hole ($16) and the tiny square plates ($10). but i could almost go for the tacky ceramic cell phone ($16).
saby's baby socks shoes ($30 for seven pairs) are socks that look like shoes. they come in a triangle gift box at a time for children (betw. 84th and 85th streets), where high schoolers do six-month internships to learn about retail and 100 percent of profits go to the children's aid society.
"our big thing is sturgeon and nova," they tell me at barney greengrass (betw. 85th and 86th streets). too bad one can't purchase the ambience in this 101-year-old store: high ceilings, a mess of receipts on the counter, guys in aprons who look frozen in time. by all means, order your sturgeon ($30 per half pound), nova ($18 per half pound) and lox ($18 per half pound) here.
west 90th to 100th
shop at 20-year-old gold leaf (betw. 90th and 91st streets) to pick up doodads by the door and notepads, like the flip-up galison brand ($3), with "little blue birds" and "leaf garden" designs. next to the counter, find mag dots ($9), tiny powerful magnets in a variety of shapes, and travel games ($5), such as backgammon and chess. along the back wall are pushpins with round, natural, wooden heads ($4), snail tape dispensers ($21) and jumbo paper clips ($4).
upper 90 + sport (at 94th street) cleverly refers to its location as well as a top corner goal kick. it serves west side soccer kids and others who used to have to schlep all the way over to first avenue for customized jerseys ($15 to $25), cones, balls, gloves and socks. the cleatskin ($25) is a nifty item to prevent cleat studs from wearing down on the pavement. a big seller ("we sold 200 in a couple months") is the soccer pal ($15), a device that lets you practice juggling with the ball on a leash.
two-year-old little shop of crafts (betw. 94th and 95th streets) has a selection of beads and ceramic gifts ($14 to $61). but the long-term gift to your child would be a slot in the sophisticated arts in action art classes that take place in the back room. ($45+ per class, not including materials and registration fee.)
at albee baby (at 95th street), a family-owned store since 1933, parents pour over strollers like they're shopping for jaguars. a sign of the h1n1 flu times, perhaps, is the popularity of dapple brand items: the grime fighter ($7), hand sanitizer ($6) and toy and surface cleaner ($7).
shelby the hemp mouse ($6) at little creatures (betw. 97th and 98th streets) is classier to have underfoot than the tacky colored mice that end up dust-covered under the bed. feline greenies snacks are good for kitty's breath and teeth ($3)-and why not a rawhide bone ($8) for your canine companion?
c and s hardware (betw. 98th and 99th streets) has metlock 16-inch toolboxes ($17), personal mini-heaters ($30) and micro-fiber dust cloths ($4.49) in pale yellow, green and blue. the super-soft yellow polishing cloths ($3) with subtle red embroidery trim are a design classic and, therefore, an okay gift in my book.
west 100th to 110th
you'll remember that amsterdam is a truck route when you venture to the retail desert north of west 100th street. yet there are three reasons to push on.
at champion bicycles (betw. 103rd and 104th streets), owner marcos gratereaux, a dominican republic native, is an experienced bike racer and excellent mechanic. bike tune-ups ($40) are cheaper in winter, he said, because, "we have time to do it."
yarntopia (at 108th street) has an excellent selection of yarns and offers classes. try misti chunky alpaca ($15.50), malabrigo ($13) or claudia's hand-painted sock yarn ($14) to make socks come holiday sit-around time.
last but not least, mugi pottery (at 109th street) is a two-decades-old shop/pottery classroom space currently co-owned by margot harwood and outi putkonen (who is fantastically patient with kids in her pottery classes). outi's cylindrical vases ($40) in pale striped blues/greens/yellows make nice gifts to hold flowers or wooden spoons.
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