Here at the RFT, we're celebrating our 40th anniversary all year long, and how better to honor the very month of our founding than by visiting the 40 shops we love best in greater St. Louis? We excluded both bookstores and record shops since we wanted to go beyond our two great obsessions, reading and music. Even so, we found it downright painful to narrow the list to the 40 you see here today. (Maybe that's why we cheated a bit: Check out our bonus sidebar, a three-pack of single-item-focused food stores.)
Each of these shops is the product of a unique vision, a St. Louis entrepreneur with a dream and a business plan. But paying a visit won't feel like homework. Use this list to shop for the holidays, buy a gift for someone you love or just give yourself a little pick-me-up. We made it to 40; isn't that excuse enough for you to treat yourself?
- SARA BANNOURA
- Star Clipper: a downtown destination for comic book lovers.
Is Thor: Ragnarok based on an actual comic book series? Did Batman and Superman ever really duke it out? Is Wolverine truly dead? These are the questions moviegoers often ask after being inspired to visit a comic book shop for the first time. Luckily, Star Clipper (1319 Washington Avenue, 314-240-5337) is the perfect place for newbies to learn the basics. The staff — comprised of fans of every genre, writer and artist out there — excitedly leads new readers through the confusing histories and timelines behind those big-name superheroes, suggesting must-read series and event crossovers. And there's more to love at Star Clipper than the storylines that receive the big-screen treatment. Pick any age or interest, and employees will pinpoint a non-DC, non-Marvel series that perfectly fits the bill. Want something whimsical and child friendly? Check out Wrapped Up, a series from St. Louis publisher Lion Forge about a mummy kid whose wish to eat pizza every night is granted by a wizard, with questionable consequences. What about something that speaks to millennial concerns? Try the biting Snotgirl, which contrasts a blogger's perfect social media existence with her real-life hell. Star Clipper has plenty to love even if comics aren't your bag, thanks to a huge assortment of character-driven plush toys, collectible figures, home goods and board games. From a Funko Pop! version of Pennywise the clown to intricately sculpted busts of Wonder Woman, the shop can cover everyone on your gift list.
Everybody needs a little bit of glamour, especially during the holidays, and City Boutique (4300 Manchester Avenue, 314-657-0125) offers it in spades. The clothing shop, which sits at the bustling intersection of Manchester and Tower Grove avenues, features everything from workplace attire to everyday outfits, but the special-occasion pieces are where it really shines. Employees say that velvet is the big trend this winter, so they've curated a huge collection of crop tops, pants and dresses made from the luxurious material. Fashionistas also will notice that City Boutique is jumpsuit central, with the one-piece style available in an array of fun fabrics, colors and prints. Boots and shoes of every type and heel height are available (mermaid-sequin ankle booties, here we come!), and no memorable look is complete without some statement accessories. City Boutique offers glitzy rhinestone cuff bracelets, foot-long waterfall earrings and shimmery metal necklaces along with an assortment of hats and headpieces. City Boutique stocks its shelves with all sizes, and its sister store Curve Junkie, which is dedicated to larger sizes, is just around the corner.
- SARA BANNOURA
- Looking Glass Designs: for that gift you really only can get in St. Louis.
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.
In a rehabbed warehouse off the beaten path in the Central West End, you'll find Bowood Farms (4605 Olive Street, 314-454-6868) — a nursery, shop, cafe and studio. Bowood Farms opened just over ten years ago and has slowly expanded, most recently to include the studio, which hosts classes, events and weekly yoga. Much of what's sold in the nursery is grown on site or on the owners' farm in Clarksville, which has been in the McPheeters' family for four generations. There are herb gardens on the roof at Bowood, and a hoop house across the street, that produce fresh herbs and veggies for Bowood's Cafe Osage. They grow perennials, annuals, and also sell pumpkins and Christmas trees. In the shop itself, an airy warehouse-style space, you'll find charming paper goods, imaginative children's toys and books, artisanal soaps and lotions, plus a large variety of flowers, greens, succulents, pots, seeds and more.
- MATT SEIDEL
- Rafael Adón: Lafayette Square's go-to spot for high-end handbags.
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.
- SARA BANNOURA
- Fauxgerty: the Central West End's fashion destination.
Fauxgerty, the brand, represents the opposite of fast fashion, so when you shop at Fauxgerty (228 North Euclid Avenue), the boutique, you can feel good about making mindful clothing purchases, especially knowing that many garments are made right here at home. St. Louisan and designer Chrissy Fogerty and her team create incredibly cool faux leather jackets, bridging the divide between style and conscious consumerism. And because a fashionista can't live on outerwear alone, Fauxgerty also offers lovely ladylike dresses and skirts made from vintage deadstock fabrics, as well as cheeky organic cotton tops embellished with sayings like "Plant Killer" and "I'm organic."
East + West
Located in the Central West End, East + West (387 N. Euclid Avenue, 314-553-9288) brings well-made, durable menswear to St. Louis. You'll find brands here that you can't get elsewhere in the city, including the store's own line of everyday essentials. Goods on offer include denim, belts, sweaters, jackets, home fragrance, carryall bags and more. East + West first opened in Kirkwood in 2012, then moved to the Central West End and added a second store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2016. The stock of unique items does have a higher price point (a flannel shirt for $198, a beanie for $85), with a focus on quality investment pieces rather than throwaway trendy items.
- SARA GRAHAM
- Intoxicology: a cocktail lover's mecca in the Grove.
Andy Foerstel and Melissa Pfeiffer's one-year-old shop in the Grove, Intoxicology (4321 Manchester Avenue, 314-833-3088), feels almost like a party — a swanky cocktail party at the kind of mid-century modern house you only wish your friends owned. It might be the vintage turntable, the cunning bar cart or all that terrific glassware. Or maybe it's just the great selection of spirits? Intoxicology explains that it's not just a liquor store but rather "a store about liquor," and sure enough, the owners offer everything from barware to bitters to bourbon — as well as friendly, knowledgeable suggestions for which up-and-coming brand you might want to sip this time. Classes and tastings frequently sell out, so keep a close eye on the shop's website (www.intoxicologystl.com) to get in on the fun before it's too late.
Lemon Gem Kitchen Goods
If you don't know your way around a kitchen, shopping for a foodie can be a little overwhelming. That's where Lemon Gem (4180 Manchester Avenue, 314-696-2744) comes in — owner Beth Styles not only stocks products that cooks at all levels need, but she also can talk you through a plethora of options at any price range. One of the only locally owned kitchen supply stores within city limits, Lemon Gem features high-quality inventory such as sustainable serving bowls and spoons by Eco Smart, cheese graters by Microplane and porcelain bakeware for casseroles and soufflés. Styles has also carved out a wonderful niche by carrying products from other small businesses, such as the Short Stack mini cookbook series and Olive & Sinclair artisan chocolate. Local artisans aren't left out; you'll find cookie cutters that celebrate Missouri and Collin Garrity's handmade wooden rolling pins among the store's wares. Of course, experiences are no-fail gifts, so consider reserving spots for you and your bestie during Lemon Gem's events. A fierce supporter of the neighborhood, Styles has collaborated with individuals and local shops on fun affairs about stocking the pantry, creating tasty mocktails and baking the best pie ever. Learning how to have fun with food really is the gift that keeps giving.Turn the page for our favorites in south city -- and the county.