The Best Gift Shops
In the age of Amazon, it’s completely feasible to cross everyone off your list from the comfort of your desk. That said, so long as you don’t find yourself somewhere too overcrowded, there’s really nothing that inspires holiday spirit more than a day spent picking up special, unique pieces for loved ones in person. Here, our favorite shops for perusing with an armful of shopping bags in tow and Christmas music playing in the background (plus a few online favorites for emergencies).
BookCourt (Closed)163 Court St., Boerum Hill | 718.875.3677
This family-owned business is definitely a favorite among the many writers who live nearby. The store is sprawling, you'll find plenty of Brooklyn authors represented, and there's a great big room devoted to kids' titles. In the evenings, they host readings.
Kinokuniya Bookstore1073 6th Avenue , Times Square | 212.869.1700
If you have a stationery or sticker addict on your hands, they’re going to freak. This Japanese mega-store facing Bryant Park is one of our favorite midtown oases, and a solid option for a quick sushi cafeteria-style lunch. There’s an entire floor dedicated to Japanese manga comic books, a solid selection of design books and international fashion magazines, but the basement is the main draw. There, aisle after aisle is stuffed with an incredible array of Japanese stationery goods—adorable pens, pencils, notebooks, and erasers to last a lifetime.
Oroboro326 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg | 718.388.4884
From clothing to ceramics and beauty goods, this store's main focus is on hand-crafted items, many of them locally made. We've found lines like Caron Callahan, Chimala, Ace & Jig, and Cosmic Wonder on our forays here.
Blue Tree1283 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.369.2583
Phoebe Cates and Lisa Matlin's boutique is pretty great: Downstairs, you’ll find really beautiful jewelry and a great assortment of toys, including hand-painted Russian dolls and Keith Haring dominoes. Upstairs, you'll find clothes from little known designers, especially for the neighborhood, like Ally Capellino handbags and Yoshi Kondo dresses. It's not surprising it's a hit on the Upper East Side, as it brings uniqueness and discovery back to a neighborhood that’s generally dominated by big brands.
Catbird219 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg | 718-599-3457
For years, this teeny tiny shop on Williamsburg's main drag has been one of the best resources in Brooklyn for jewelry. Stackable rings, sweet little pendants, and more precious offerings from designers like Elisa Solomon fill the cases. Weirdly, because space is tight, we actually like shopping their website more.
Love Adorned269 Elizabeth St., Nolita | 212.431.5683
As the jewelry extension of the East Village tattoo parlor, New York Adorned, you might expect that the jewelry here would be of the skull and crossbones variety. But it's actually gorgeous, and for the most part, dainty: There are sapphire studded earrings from UK-based designer Polly Wales, tourmaline slab necklaces by Lola Brooks, and diamond rings in the shape of mini-crescents by Anna Sheffield. They also have an excellent—and unexpected—range of home goods and gifts. There's a new outpost in Los Angeles, and a great shop in the Hamptons.
Mociun224 Wythe St., Williamsburg | 718.387.3731
You'll only find Caitlin Mociun's eponymous jewelry collection on her site—but should you go to her new, Williamsburg store, you'll see the work of her friends, too, including hexagonal brass necklaces by Iacoli & Macallister, and Chen Chen and Kai William's marble bangles. You'll also get to shop Mociun's full line, from her signature eensy, triangular turquoise pendants to her custom rings, which feature a mismatched—and stunning—combination of stones.
Atelier Courbet134 10th Ave., Chelsea | 212.226.7378
The first thing to catch our eye upon entering this striking black interior is an antique black carriage full of books and hand-made cushions: It's just one of many visual statements throughout the space. Look around and there are shelves lined with design objets of diverse provenance, and of course there are no labels, as those would fetter the very calculated, striking displays. While the main room features a mix of furniture and objects, the annex features a deeper look at the work of their stable of craftsmen, from Malian textile designer Aboubakar Fofana to Oyuna, the Mongolian cashmere designer.
Collyer’s Mansion179 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn Heights | 347.987.3342
This sweetly curated home goods shop in Brooklyn Heights—a worthwhile trek in of itself—stocks artisan-made goods with a slightly nordic bent, from Mid-century style furnishings to ceramics, lighting, throws, and more. The art on the walls changes frequently, as does the stock—while it's named for the fire fighter's term for a hopelessly cluttered home (after the Collyer Brothers who collected north of 140 tons of stuff), the stores are anything but.
Creel and Gow131 E. 70th St., Upper East Side | 212.327.4281
Jamie Creel and Christopher Gow are serious collectors who spend much of their time traveling the world sourcing far-flung objects for their townhouse shop. We go just to see the wacky and elegant displays that mix coral and taxidermy, Suzani textiles and kitschy South African ceramics. It’s a real mix with prices to match, and if you’re looking for a truly offbeat gift—like say, a hand-blown glass hammer and nails—chances are you’ll find it here.
Global Table107 Sullivan St., Soho | 212.431.5839
Occupying a sliver of space in a quiet stretch of Soho, Global Table is one of those places that's packed from floor to ceiling. Sourcing items from all over the world, the prevailing aesthetic is bright, colorful, and modern, though they also have a great selection of wooden serving pieces, like salad bowls and cutting boards. It’s rare to walk out empty-handed.
John Derian6 E. 2nd St., East Village | 212.677.3917
Beyond being the best resource in New York for Astier de Villatte’s stunningly hand-turned plates, bowls, and glasses, John Derian's instantly recognizable decoupaged glass plates and paperweights have a unique old world appeal that also applies to the small objects, furniture, and curiosities he stocks in his iconic East Village shop. It's a small microcosm packed with antique objets and hand-made works by artisans with a similarly whimsical aesthetic, from Leanne Shapton's painted wooden "books" to Hugo Guinness' drawings and prints. Derian also designs his own line of furniture which mixes right in with the flea market finds and bohemian-inspired printed fabrics at his dry goods shop next door.
Michele Varian27 Howard St., Soho | 212.343.0033
Along with her own line of printed wallpapers and textiles, Michele Varian sells a mix of flea market finds, jewelry, and general curiosities. It's always worth a stop for an unusual gift or home accent.
The Primary Essentials372 Atlantic Ave., Boerum Hill | 718.522.1804
Helmed by fashion stylist Lauren Snyder (she’s worked for Bergdorf Goodman and Glamour), The Primary Essentials revolves around goods that feel hand-worked—but never crafty. Gorgeous indigo-dyed textiles and simple quilts mingle with Earth Tu Face body washes, simple canvas carryalls from Joshu + Vela, and blue ceramic studs from Jujumade.
SHOP Cooper Hewitt2 E. 91st St., Upper East Side | 212.849.8400
Housed in Andrew Carnegie's former Georgian mansion, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum still conserves the original dark wood-lined interiors and imposing staircase, even after closing for a few years for a major upgrade in the hands of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, among others. The shop on the second floor is part of the revamp, too, with the architectural firm's custom modular shelving framing the tailor-made space. The wonderful mix of beautifully designed objects and utilitarian goods remains the same, however, and from designers young and old, from Ben Medansky vases to Tom Dixon spice grinders, and much more. It is by far one of the best museum shops on the planet.
Sprout Home59 Grand St., Williamsburg | 718.388.4440
Recently relocated to a brand-new, much larger space, Sprout Home offers a wonderful variety of plants, planting accessories, flowers, floral arrangements, and adorable home goods, for the city's urban gardener. They also offer classes from Wreath Making to caring for container plants in colder months. With its airy but elegant aesthetic, this store is truly inspiring. There’s also a location in Chicago.
Steven Alan Men’s347 Atlantic Ave., Boerum Hill | 347.382.9125
We head to Steven Alan for the perfectly tailored yet lived-in men’s and women’s shirting that comes in an endless variety of plaids and stripes. Beyond that, it’s the relaxed mix of pieces from designers like A.P.C, Isabel Marant, Rachel Comey, that keeps us coming back. The outpost in Tribeca is the flagship and the original, though there are now locations scattered around the city.
Swallow361 Smith St., Carroll Gardens | 718.222.8201
While you won't walk out of Swallow with big case goods, you are likely to find something small and unusual, like a tiny brass bird or an opalescent vase. They also have really beautiful tabletop, from rough-hewn stone plates, to little salt cellars.
MoMA Design & Book Store11 W. 53 St., Midtown | 212.708.9700
The MoMA gift shop—which is really more of a full-fledged design store—is incredibly well-done, making it one of those rare spots that's a one-stop resource for everyone on your list come the holidays. Here you can purchase everything from Issey Miyake's architectural Lucent tote, to an Eames chair, to a Yoshitomo Nara doggy radio, to obscure titles you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
Muji620 8th Ave., Midtown | 212.382.2300
This Japanese export has been quietly opening outposts all over LA and NYC (the tiny to-go kiosk inside JFK's international terminal is particularly genius), though Muji goods have been shoppable at MoMA for years. The stores are simple in both concept and aesthetic: After all the brand is predicated on the idea that the best design is the least design. Minimalist fixtures and neutral color palettes are used to display the most well-designed utilitarian goods—housewares, t-shirts, stationery, and more—that are as functional as they are generic, which allows them to fit in every home regardless of sensibility.
Xenomania206 E. 6th St., East Village | 646.590.3211
Emilie Irving’s East Village antiques shop specializes in 19th and 20th Century textiles sourced from Central and South Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. The charming collection of worldly and eclectic goods also includes antique ethnic jewelry and lampshades made from vintage Indian saris. It’s the perfect place to pick up design flourishes for decorating or a gift for a friend.
Nalata Nalata2 Extra Place, East Village | 212.228.1030
Off the beaten path on a Manhattan side street called Extra Place, fiancés Stevenson Aung and Angelique Chmielewski, have just opened a bricks and mortar showcase for their e-tail shop, full of off-the-beaten-path extras. In their careers as industrial and fashion designers, respectively, they’ve spent years amassing quite the collection of Japanese-inspired design—that mix of style, craft, function, and a little wabi-sabi—and finally have the perfect glass-fronted location to showcase it all, from Azmaya tea accessories to Sunao cutlery, to Fog Linen baskets.
Homecoming107 Franklin St., Greenpoint | 347.457.5385
What started as a coffee and tea shop with flowers and small succulents for sale—what else?—has quickly become much more of lifestyle shop, carrying a mix of mostly local-made ceramics, books, magazines, and small design goods. Stop in for a Blue Bottle coffee, or a Bellocq tea—their studio is next door—and walk out with a couple of small indoor plants, a Postalco notebook, and a Grain Edit beeswax totem candle.
CW Pencil Enterprise15 Orchard Street, New York | 917.734.8117
As far as specialty shops go, CW Pencil Enterprise is downright granular. It’s shoe-box sized and therefore really easy to miss, so keep an eye out for the pencil drawing, which the owner, Caroline Weaver, put up in lieu of traditional signage. Inside, the floors are black-and-white checkered, and the shelves are lined with neatly labeled jars of pencils and on-theme art. Make good use of the pencil-testing station, which is set up on a Mid-Century desk and topped with vintage-looking sharpeners and old-school notebooks, while the staff (it’s usually Weaver herself manning the store) drop knowledge about each pencil’s provenance, history, color, and optimal use. CW carries amazing stationery brands like Craft Design Technology, Tombow, and Field Notes; and then there’s the Pencil of the Month club and custom pencil services, which the owner fulfills herself by hand with an antique hot foil press.
Moda Operandi Madison24 E. 64th St., Upper East Side | To schedule an appointment, please contact: [email protected]
Moda Operandi's second showroom (which, like the online store, and the first physical showroom in Belgravia, specializes in pieces that are straight from the runway) just opened off Madison Avenue in conjunction with New York Fashion Week. The space itself, a two-story townhouse identified by a single display window, is every bit as elegant as you'd expect, with de Gournay-wallpapered walls, a full-service kitchen, and furniture hand-picked by co-founder Lauren Santo Domingo. The exclusive, private shopping experience is by appointment only, but the selection of designer goods, including the most stunning jewelry, is second-to-none.
Mast Brothers111 N. 3rd St., Williamsburg | 718.388.2644
While they're best known for their gorgeous (artist-inspired) packaging, Mast Brothers places great emphasis on the art of chocolate-making—as evidenced by the fact that they offer tours of the process itself at each of their stores. The Brooklyn location is one of the three flagship stores and factories for the brand, which brothers Rick and Michael Mast founded in 2007 (the other two are located in Los Angeles and London). A package of bars makes for a practically perfect—and blessedly TSA-friendly—hostess gift.
Top Hat245 Broome St., Soho | 212.677.4240
Nina Allen's shop, Tophat, first grew out of her online store, Sweet Bella, where she sells specialty items like fruit and vegetable-shaped ceramics, unique pins and patches, and Stalogy office supplies. Her nondescript shop on Broome Street doesn't look like much from the street (even for Broome Street), but it's well worth stopping by, as she stocks the shelves with the same things from her online store, plus one-of-a-kind finds and antiques that she doesn't post. In the winter they have toboggans for rent.
Coming Soon37 Orchard St., Chinatown | 212.226.4548
Helena Barquet and Fabiana Faria's concept shop on Orchard Street is part of the cadre of businesses blurring the boundaries between the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Barque and Faria originally met working at galleries, and their store is reflective of their art-inspired aesthetic, with reupholstered midcentury furniture, sculptural home accessories, and neon-tinged coffee table books. There's also a great selection of candles and quirky accessories, so it's a home-run for gifting.