Welcome to retail with a twist
By Leonora Desar
With a steady influx of chain stores setting up stakes Downtown, mom-and-pops and unusual boutiques have become particularly prized below 14th Street. From occult and toy shops to designer boutiques, we give you an inside look at the most eclectic stores Downtown.
The Evolution Store
120 Spring St. (betw. Greene & Mercer Sts.), theevolutionstore.com
Get ready to travel to another dimension.
Inside The Evolution Store, stuffed taxidermy seems to watch from the walls as customers browse through an array of eclectic treasures. Fetal sharks, coiling diamondback rattlesnakes, a real lion skull and a two-headed human skeleton replica are just a few of the unusual items waiting to be discovered.
“The store, in a lot of ways, is kind of like the old cabinet of curiosities,” said assistant store manager Amanda Lechner. “Things from all over the world and from nature are all put together in one location.”
For the perfect gag gift, head for the raccoon penis bones or bug lollipops. If you’re in the market for a two-headed snake, the one on the second floor is small but not disappointing.
There are butterflies from all around the world with vivid, iridescent wings. The store also boasts catlike dragon masks and real human fetal skeletons.
Without leaving Soho, this quirky shop will make you feel like you’ve just visited a natural history museum…in the Twilight Zone, that is.
2 Prince St. (betw. Bowery & Elizabeth St.), misshoe.com
Curiouser and curiouser, you may find yourself thinking after stepping inside this wonderland of whimsy.
Miss Hoe looks more like an enchanted boudoir than a typical Soho clothing and jewelry shop. A pink chandelier hangs from an upside-down table attached to the ceiling, button-eyed toys repose in ornate gold frames and grinning Cheshire Cat earrings dangle from the racks.
The boutique’s vision is that of owner and designer Abby S.F. Hoe, who brings her passions for Japanese cartoons and pop, surrealist art to her clothing line and décor.
“I wanted the first boutique to be more than just racks in a minimalist store,” said Hoe. “It is a little playground—not only for myself and my interior aesthetic, but hopefully for my customers to have fun being there.”
Hairpins made from doll’s eyes, printed giraffe leggings, pistol-shaped cologne bottles, vintage rotary phones, UFO earrings and polka-dotted bloomers make the shopping experience anything but ordinary.
“Abby doesn’t like her designs to be that cookie-cutter style, where you go in and everything is the same,” said employee Shurika Kikuchi while holding up a tulle ballerina slip dress. “She really likes to have each piece be its own.”
424 E. 9th St. (betw. 1st Ave. & Avenue A), enchantmentsincnyc.com
Enchantments will bewitch you, whether you believe in magic or not.
On a typical day, a black cat named Medea weaves across the glitter-covered floor past customers browsing for books on alternative spirituality and the occult. In the back of the store, glass jars filled with herbs like Devil’s Shoestring and Queen of the Meadow attract those seeking to bring money and love into their lives. The scent of oils and incense permeates the air.
But don’t be fooled by appearances. Enchantments’ approach is far less dramatic than what you would see in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch or Harry Potter.
“It’s not a big production to create change in your life using spiritual and nontraditional means,” said employee Kathy Latham. “The ability to construct a good spell just takes practice and learning.”
Enchantments is known for its custom-made candles, which are designed with personalized spells to attract things like passion, success and healing. The customer is instructed to project their energy into the candle and visualize the desired outcome.
For New Yorkers short on space, it’s a magical solution in more ways than just one.
“You don’t have lots of open fields here where you can do big crazy rituals and light lots of things on fire,” said Latham with a smile. “In an apartment, a tool like a candle tends to work nicely.”
Fragrance Shop New York
65 E. 4th St. (betw. Bowery & Second Ave.), fragranceshopnewyork.com
Welcome to your own personalized slice of scented heaven.
Owner Lalita Kumut creates individualized fragrances for both men and women that she says can give confidence, attract love and express one’s true, essential self. For her, creating scents is about intuiting the client’s energy. The process is more art than science.
“It’s like music,” said Kumut. “You make notes—low, medium, high. When you finish making the scent, it has to be settled and balanced.”
The store evokes an older era, before chain stores and department store perfume displays. Dream catchers and beaded wind chimes rustle as customers open the door and step into a heady cloud of scent. Crystal peacock and fairy perfume bottles sparkle in gold-plated glass trays, reflecting the light.
Behind the counter are dozens of jewel-colored oils to choose from. Bottles with esoteric labels like Leather, Chaka and Fantasy mingle with fragrances developed for each astrological sign.
When a new customer arrived on a recent afternoon, Kumut sprang into action.
Arriving at the final blended product can take as long as 30 minutes in some cases.
“Being rushed and hungry makes it so that the body does not react well to the oils,” Kumut said. “You have to be relaxed.”
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