Print feature, Riverfront Times, November 15, 2017
Local editors know that I love exploring everything that St. Louis has to offer, so they frequently tap me to give readers the scoop on the city's best *everything* through lists and guides.
In 2017, I contributed heavily to the Riverfront Times' guide to outstanding local stores and services -- just as the big holiday shopping season was about to hit. The guide was published in a special city-focused magazine that served as a companion to the alt-weekly newspaper and delivered to the RFT's usual subscribers and newsracks.
A few of my capsules are below.
Looking Glass Designs
You'd be wrong to lump Looking Glass Designs (1917 Park Avenue, 314-621-3371) in with standard "ladies who lunch" gift shops. Instead of stocking boring "Wine Wednesday" goblets or generic "#blessed" tea towels, Looking Glass aims to elevate your life with useful, customized items that are Missouri made. Owner Andrea Heugatter fills the boutique with everything from cutting boards crafted from local wood to statement jewelry by St. Louis artists Michelle Wells and Lisa Lohman. But it's through Heugatter's own creations that gift giving truly becomes an experience. The shop owner works with customers one on one to design and personalize many of the store's gift options, creating unique pieces that are art in their own right. Have a personal catchphrase or mantra? She'll engrave it onto a metal cuff bracelet. Want a mini display of St. Louis treasures? Heugatter can create intricate replicas of the city's skyline from wood. Her glassware and stone coasters etched with family members' names or the St. Louis fleur-de-lis make for memorable gifts, and nobody will be able to turn down luxurious spa robes or upcycled baby garments with fresh monograms. The best part? Heugatter and many of her curated artists donate their proceeds to a variety of local charities and causes, helping where our city needs it most.
Dictate Never Accept (DNA)
Every store claims that it offers outstanding customer service, but men's boutique Dictate Never Accept (1308 Washington Avenue, 314-825-5757) has set an incredibly high bar. Knowing that the premium streetwear shop's customers would clamor for the recognizable PLAY line by Comme des Garçons, co-owner Nathaniel Brown III did the unthinkable this year — he flew to Paris without an appointment, convinced the fashion powerhouse to talk to him and walked away with a deal to be the St. Louis region's first brand stockist. He sold out of the entire line in just a few days. Co-owner and store manager Jesse Woolfork says that's only one of the ways DNA gives customers pieces they won't find anywhere else. The boutique carries high-quality, high-value brands that look great on the street and have luxury details like French terry lining, a high number of stitches in seams, handcrafted embroidery and fabrics with real heft. Look for the olive green varsity jacket with leather sleeves and a thick embroidered logo by TACKMA, the navy astronaut T-shirt by Billionaire Boys Club and the royal blue and green striped satin track jacket by PUMA (head there now — Woolfork says most merchandise moves quickly because of limited availability). DNA also features a range of exclusive jewelry and hat brands, including the shop's own line of STL-proud strapbacks and crowns. And if you're looking for footwear? Well, you'd be in good company; rapper Rick Ross recently stopped by for a pair of Karhu shoes.
If you're cutting down on smoking, the setup in south city couldn't be easier: Fill up the tank at Phillips 66, walk across Bates to Vape-One, grab your e-cigarettes and smoke juices and bask in candy-flavored clouds. But who knew that a vape shop also holds one of St. Louis' hot new culinary secrets? Earlier this year, Saucy-One (4385 Bates Street, 314-329-8376) opened within its established sister shop, ensuring that your mouth will smoke in ways beyond what you may have originally intended. (Saucy-One has a second location at 1139 Colonnade Center in Des Peres, also inside a Vape-One.) With half the store dedicated to fiery sauces, jellies and rubs — including brands that you won't find in most stores — there's something on the Scoville scale for everyone. Employees swear by Secret Aardvark, a habanero sauce that works on everything from meat to sides with a moderate amount of kick. For the more daring heat seekers, there's PexPeppers "Painapple," which sets your mouth ablaze with pineapple and Carolina Reaper — the hottest chile pepper in the world. St. Louis makers aren't left out of the fun, either, with Mr. B's products taking up quite a bit of real estate. The south-city micro pepper farm supplies Saucy-One with its signature salsas, pepper glaze and spiced pickles. With most brands priced $3 to $15, Saucy-One already is wallet friendly, but the shop offers additional discounts for sauce packs; choose four or six bottles and get a 10 percent discount as you knock out this season's gift buying for holiday party hosts. By combining e-cig shopping with hot sauce variety, Sauce-One unconventionally proves that where there's smoke, there's indeed fire.
The charm of Urban Matter (4704 Virginia Avenue, 314-456-6941) is inescapable. Need statement jewelry for your BFF or funny gifts for your office buddy? What about upcycled children's shirts or a stylish handmade bag? With quirky home goods, kitchen trinkets and stylish accessories galore, Urban Matter is full of items that are ready to star on Instagram. Owners Mary Hennesy and Amy Schafer curate unique products that largely are sourced from St. Louis-area makers, boosting name recognition for emerging artists while feeding revenue back into the region. For the kitchen, check out graphic mugs by Carmelita Nuñez or magnetic bottle openers by Bearded Boards. Hungry? Pick up Banner Road Baking Company's handcrafted Kickstart granola, which is flavored with Sump coffee and Askinosie chocolate. One hundred percent soy wax candles from Webster Wax and Twinkle Brews — which come in upcycled craft beer bottles — keep the home smelling fresh, while a lotion bar from SeedGeeks and olive oil bar soap from Heartland Fragrance do the same for your body. Hennesy and Schafer also are investing in the community beyond the wares they sell; they've developed an adjacent small event space that's perfect for intimate weddings and pop-up dinners. With customers and clients becoming dear friends among the backyard's rustic seating and twinkling lights, Urban Matter is more than just destination shopping — it's one anchor of an up-and-coming destination district.
It may seem odd to find botanical skincare products and handcrafted leather goods sharing space within the same business, but at Rafael Adón (1901 Park Avenue, 314-621-3784), the pairing makes perfect sense. In his Lafayette Square design studio, Rafael Adón Córdova draws upon his family's legacy of celebrating nature and craftsmanship to bring a variety of high-quality lifestyle products to market. That history is shown in Verdura Botanica, a line of luxury soaps, body lotions and bath minerals based on plant essences that Córdova's family cultivated generations ago. Today, the collection uses locally grown, sustainable ingredients from both California and the Midwest that heal as well as nourish. Verdura Botanica is wonderfully sumptuous, but Córdova's custom-made luxury leather creations are truly breathtaking. Through an extensive design process that includes client interviews about daily life, physical and digital sketches and hand-cut prototypes, Córdova creates handbags specifically tailored to a client's needs. The artist considers this type of design — which he calls "Story & Stitch" — as a form of storytelling, and he's right; few things give a more complete picture of a person than the bag they carry with them each day. A Rafael Adón bag may be a bit of a splurge (custom creations can be pricey, though he does feature pre-made bags on the studio floor), but it just might be the best gift for yourself.
We're all about locally made products that support marginalized communities — especially when those products are so beautiful that they can't help but command attention. Based in McKinley Heights, Anew Nature (2201 Indiana Avenue) delivers exactly that with its handcrafted, Missouri-wood furniture pieces that literally put people to work. Founder Robert Karleskint, a stonemason and contractor by trade, designed his business to help those who have done prison time get the job skills necessary for a better future. Through an internship/apprenticeship at Anew (and, in some cases, regular employment at the furniture company), the men develop carpentry and safety know-how as well as soft skills like networking and time management, even while creating unique tables, cutting boards and more from walnut and elm sustainably harvested around the region. Because all pieces are handmade, they're unique in shape, texture and markings. A limited selection of pre-made pieces is available in the workshop and online, but Karleskint says that many customers prefer to design custom products with the team. Individuals and businesses commission Anew for shelving and conference tables, and the woodworkers even have developed major projects like a sensory motor room for children. Shop online or contact Karleskint through Anew's website form to arrange a workshop appointment.
Zee Bee Market
If you're looking for gifts with true impact, your best bet might be to head to Zee Bee Market (3211 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-932-1000). Founded by Peru native Julio Zegarra-Ballon, the boutique specializes in handcrafted items from around the world that directly benefit communities in need. All wares at Zee Bee are fair trade, which means that purchases support workers through living wages and safe environments. The well-made items also are eco-friendly and sustainably produced throughout their entire supply chain, from material sourcing to remnant reuse. Zee Bee's stock isn't just a status symbol for the granola set, though — everything in the boutique is cute, durable and unique. Check out the Revy messenger bags crafted from reclaimed tires and inner tubes or the WorldFinds necklaces with baubles covered with remainder fabric. The adorable Mr. Ellie Pooh notebooks and journals are made from elephant dung and recycled paper, while kids can enjoy felt and rubber shoes that look like sharks, lions and giraffes. Zee Bee also carries a wide assortment of gifts that are perfect for party hosts, including sculpted metal bowls, handmade ornaments and witty cards. The shop even carries items made exclusively for local shoppers, such as a recycled metal bowl that features the state of Missouri and reclaimed bicycle chain coat hooks arranged to spell "St. Louis."