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The RFT's 2016 Guide to Shopping Local in St. Louis 

We gave five shoppers $100 each. Here's what they found in Soulard, the CWE, Downtown, South Grand and Cherokee

click to enlarge Misha Sampson and Ceaira Jackson at Soulard's La Belle Histoire.

PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN

Misha Sampson and Ceaira Jackson at Soulard's La Belle Histoire.

You may be looking for the kind of hand-made or purposefully repurposed goods that you just can't get at the mall. You may be too lazy to drive to Chesterfield. You may just want to escape the big-box boredom of the suburbs. Whatever your reasons, shopping locally can have a big impact. Keeping your dollars in the community shores up neighborhoods and fuels the young creatives investing in them. And, yeah, it helps you find neat stuff, too.

This year, the RFT gave $100 each to five St. Louis movers and shakers. The only stipulation: That they spend it in a particular walkable neighborhood — and let us come along for the ride. With shoppers surveying the Central West End, Downtown, South Grand, Cherokee Street and Soulard, the experiment resulted in a host of interesting purchases — and a whole bunch of inspiration for your next shopping trip.

DESTINATION: Soulard

SHOPPER: Misha K. Sampson, co-founder of the late Fleur de Lilies; restaurateur behind a Creole concept coming soon.

I originally sought out Soulard because my business partner and I were opening Fleur de Lilies, a restaurant with a Creole concept. That made the neighborhood kind of a no-brainer — it has such a French feel.

I'd actually never been to Soulard before we looked at the building. I'm a Central West End girl at heart. OK, I'd been to the market a few times, but that was my only reference. So once we signed the lease I had to discover everything, and that was really cool. When we first looked at the Fleur de Lilies building, the neighbors immediately came over and started talking to us, and it just felt right. There is so much character, so many beautiful places. You could go get your food from the Soulard Farmers Market or Vincent's. Really, you could live your whole life there, with everything you need.

click to enlarge Jackson and Sampson check out offering at the Porch in Soulard. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Jackson and Sampson check out offering at the Porch in Soulard.

The Porch (1700 S. 9th Street, 314-436-0282) is one of those places. It's a really unique wine and gift shop that's diagonal from Bogart's in the heart of Soulard. They have everything. We spent a lot of time there looking at trinkets, books, some really good pictures. I got some candles and a really old cookbook called The Encyclopedia of Cookery that is going to come in handy. It has everything in it, like it breaks down different apples and compares them to each other, talks about the difference between ground and cracked pepper and just a lot of things that are good for me to read. I can cook my butt off, but I'm not a trained chef, so that book helped validate some of the stuff I already thought, and now I can see why it made sense to me.

After the Porch we went to Soulard Spice Shop (730 Carroll Street, 314-783-2100), which is inside the market. I had never been there before, but my shopping companion, our chef, Ceaira Jackson, had. But even she didn't know everything they had. We looked around and got some ground coffee, some loose tea, a tea ball and the "Soulard Grill" seasoning mix, which is amazing. It has a real smoky flavor, and I put it on some salmon yesterday. That store is awesome because they are really sweet and informative about things, like different ways to grind the coffee and how to make it stronger or weaker, or the tea and how many times you can use the tea ball.

Vincent's Market (2400 S. 12th Street) is a local grocer and they've been in Soulard since the early 1900s. You wouldn't believe the wine selection they have at this local market. I got some wine and Champagne there and spent time looking around, which was nice because usually I am running in there to grab something really quickly. It was nice to go in and have the chance to walk around and see what all they really have — some cheeses and charcuterie and a really nice beer selection and local ice cream. It's a really nice place.

click to enlarge Soulard Spice Shop sells spices, cheeses, coffee, tea and more from within the Soulard Market. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Soulard Spice Shop sells spices, cheeses, coffee, tea and more from within the Soulard Market.

The last place I went was La Belle Histoire (2501 S. 12th Street, 314-556-0156); it's almost like a witch shop. The owner makes custom handmade Mardi Gras masks, candles and handmade Chinese lanterns. They also sell voodoo books and books on praying away bad spirits. The owner is really sweet, and it's just a really unique place. They have some really good smelling lotion, perfume and lip balm. She makes some of them, and others she brings in from small distributors. There is a company called Tokyo Milk that I really like that makes perfumes and lotions, and they have really good artwork on their stuff — the lotion comes in a painter's tube, and each different scent has different artwork on it. They have it in Sephora and at the mall, but I didn't know they had it in a local place. The store also has tons of things with the fleur de lis on them. I don't know if that store would work anywhere else, but here in Soulard, it fits right in.

— as told to Cheryl Baehr

Turn the page for shopping trips through Cherokee Street, South Grand, the Central West End and Downtown.
click to enlarge Sam Coffey and Nicole Casper check out an open-air market on Cherokee. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Sam Coffey and Nicole Casper check out an open-air market on Cherokee.

Destination: Cherokee Street

Shopper: Sam Coffey, owner, Fortune Teller Bar

Because of the timing of the shopping trip I decided to set a theme of buying décor for the Fortune Teller Bar — our four-year anniversary party was coming up and we wanted to contribute to our more eclectic style of decorating. I took my friend Nicole, who is a bartender and does maintenance and decorating and management stuff for the bar.

The first place we went was Refab (3130 Gravois Avenue, 314-357-1392), one of my favorite places in St. Louis. They are few blocks off Cherokee at Michigan and Gravois — a nonprofit organization that deconstructs buildings, then sells the things they deconstruct. It's just multiple floors — probably football fields — of cool architectural supplies. We were looking for stuff that would look cool just hanging on the wall, so we went to the second floor where their smaller items are and we found this really cool old metal steering wheel, from a 1940s international pickup truck, that we thought would make a really cool accent piece at the bar. It was a piece after my own heart — I have a soft place in my heart for old pickup trucks. That was $20.

click to enlarge Coffey purchases post cards from STL-Style. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Coffey purchases post cards from STL-Style.

So after Refab we went by STL-Style (3159 Cherokee Street, 314-898-0001). The Vines boys over there do a really cool thing where they turn some of their top Instagram posts into postcards. We bought like fourteen postcards, with the idea in mind that we would later hit up the old antique shops on Cherokee, trying to find an old window that we could put the postcards on the back side of the glass and hang it on the wall. I always look for a way to support the Vines. It's easy to do; Jeff and Randy Vines are some of the best cheerleaders St. Louis has ever had, and they just do a really fantastic job of representing the city through merchandise they design and create in-house. It's a really easy place to buy something for someone that is kind of hard to shop for. If you're buying something for someone outside of St. Louis, you can share your own civic pride very easily and affordably, or if you're buying something for someone who lives in St. Louis, it's a no-brainer. You can make custom t-shirts there or you can pick from 100 different designs that are St. Louis-specific. It's one of my favorite places to shop; I go there as often as I can. This time I spent $15.22 on the postcards.

From there we just started walking down Cherokee and we stumbled on a flea market, which has been happening lately in Love Bank Park (2851 Cherokee Street). We met a rad guy who runs the flea market named Antoine; he's open Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. We found this pair of really cool small lamps. We are always on the lookout for little lamps because they can make a great gift or look really cool in the bar — we like everything to be a little bit different. We don't have any matching chairs or anything; it's a very eclectic taste, and the lamps fit perfectly. They cost $15.

Shopping is really fucking exhausting, so we stopped at Yaqui's (2728 Cherokee Street, 314-400-7712) and we split a shot of Old Overholt with a Coke back — with tip that was six bucks.

From there we kept walking east. My phone was dying and I habitually lose my phone chargers — like once a week. I lose phone chargers faster than I lose sunglasses. So I ran over to Communication Depot (2629 Cherokee Street, 314-771-0000) and got a phone charger for $5.

Then we went across the street to El Chico Bakery (2634 Cherokee Street, 314-664-2212) and each had a tamale and a soft drink. Saturdays and Sundays only they have the best damn tamales you can imagine. I was a little bit worried because they sell out pretty early, but they had two greens left. So we each had a green tamale — they're just absolutely incredible. There we spent $6.30.

Then we went to Flowers to the People (2317 Cherokee Street, 314-762-0422) because I wanted to get some stuff for the monkey shrine at the bar, but they were closed for a wedding. So we went to Lady Jane's Antiques (2110 Cherokee Street, 314-225-5519) — this is where we were hoping to find a window for the postcards we got from STL-Style. We looked around at everything and saw some really incredible stuff. They've just got a whole plethora of really cool old windows where the paint is chipping, and we found one we liked. We tried to give the owner some money but he refused to take it and said we owe him some beers at the bar instead.

On the way back we saw another flea market in the City Kitty Courtyard (2125 Cherokee Street). STL City Kitties is a nonprofit organization that promotes creating habitats for feral cats so that they can be trapped, then neutered/spayed and released. So they were having this massive flea market, and we ran by there and got some little cloth Indian elephants on a string for the monkey shrine. That cost us a $10 donation.

click to enlarge Nicole Casper browses the selection at Saint Louis Hop Shop. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Nicole Casper browses the selection at Saint Louis Hop Shop.

Then we stopped by Saint Louis Hop Shop (2606 Cherokee Street, 314-261-4011), our last stop. If you're looking for cool craft beer, that's the place to go in St. Louis. I got a four-pack of Schlafly Proper Cider — it's really awesome. It's made in collaboration with brewers in Devon, England, and it's a traditional cider made with a straw press. They put straw down on this giant wooden table, then they put the apples, then more straw and more apples, and they mash it down with a giant tree trunk. Pretty rad, really good stuff, and the guys at Hop Shop are awesome, really knowledgeable. They can package gifts, they can do gift cards and you can taste beer there. They're not partnered, but their store opens up to a nonprofit bakery next door. I had to dig into my pockets for the four-pack and wound up spending about $102 total on the entire trip.

Honestly, this was one of the most challenging things I've done. There are so many amazing places on Cherokee to shop, it's hard to figure out where I would spend $100. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of places, which is rad, and you can do all your Christmas shopping in one stretch. I do it every year. I take one afternoon, get drunk, go down one side of the street and come back down the other. By the end of it I have the list done and a good buzz too. — as told to Daniel Hill

Turn the page for more shopping trips, including one in the Central West End.
click to enlarge Ashley Diaz shops at Bowood Farms. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Ashley Diaz shops at Bowood Farms.

Destination: Central West End

Shopper: Ashley Diaz, attorney

I am 110 percent a city person and am obsessed with St. Louis architecture. But while I lived at the corner of Laclede and Sarah in the historic Central West End for three years while attending SLU law, I really didn't buy much in the neighborhood other than things like food and drink and froyo. My shopping excursion was like exploring my old neighborhood again for the first time — and it was nice to get re-acquainted.

I started at Bowood Farms (4605 Olive Street, 314-454-6868) because one of my first experiences when I moved back to the city after college was going to brunch at Cafe Osage next door. Bowood Farms is a cute little store that has anything you could ever need for plants, as well as home goods, natural self-care products and a small kids section. While I was there, I found a smudge brush, which you burn to put good energy in your home. It was perfect for my mom and only set me back $16. Plus, it's something you wouldn't see in a typical store.

click to enlarge Diaz picks out a St. Louis-themed coloring book at Left Bank Books. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Diaz picks out a St. Louis-themed coloring book at Left Bank Books.

I browsed the fashion options at Living Collective (4703 McPherson Avenue, 314-932-5665) and Enchanting Embellishments (4732 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-5300) before moving on to Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731). I was most excited to go there because I'd read that the store has a coloring book of famous places in St. Louis. It was $16 as well — and now I'm not sure if I'm going to give it to someone or keep it for me. I also found a $20 watercolor of the Muny by this really great artist named Marilynne Bradley, whom I'd previously met at the Shaw Art Fair. I get my mom and I season tickets to the Muny every year as part of her Christmas present, so it was another perfect find for her. It was nice to be surprised by having a local artist's work there for me to purchase.

After that, I went down farther into the heart of the Central West End to Fauxgerty (228 N. Euclid Avenue), which specializes in vegan leather. It also has clothes, purses, jewelry, natural body care products and other curated items. From there I got sea salt spray in a pretty glass container for $20 for my sister-in-law, who is always doing fun stuff with her hair. I'd never noticed Fauxgerty before, but it was a very calm space, with no clutter and pretty typography on products.

click to enlarge Fauxgerty offers "vegan leather." - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Fauxgerty offers "vegan leather."

After Fauxgerty I went to Bissinger's (32 Maryland Plaza, 314-367-7750). I bought a quarter-pound of malted milk balls, which sell for $20 a pound. (Fast-forward a day, and they're already gone between my boyfriend and me.) I also got a couple of macaroons at $3.50 each as a little treat. I think I'll be back there to pick up chocolate closer to Christmas for my dad; he's the reason I like malted milk balls so much. Let's just say this stop was taste-testing research for Christmas.

— as told to Elizabeth Semko

click to enlarge MacroSun International features a variety of gifts from all over the world. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • MacroSun International features a variety of gifts from all over the world.

Destination: Downtown

Shopper: Anthony "Redd" Williams, hip-hop dance instructor at COCA

I live Downtown, so I know that the neighborhood has more to offer than just the financial district. There are so many start-ups and local businesses, I barely had to walk a block for this shopping trip. I always try to support these places with my business, especially those that are struggling or just now up-and-coming, to keep the area vibrant and moving forward.

I started at DNA (Dictate Never Accept) Clothing and Apparel Boutique (1308 Washington Avenue, 314-825-5757). They specialize in men's fashion, offering tons of options in urban streetwear. Nate Brown, the boss of DNA, has been called a "styleologist," and always keeps up with fresh changes in hip-hop fashion. I shop here often, so I am pretty well-stocked with whatever clothing in is in vogue nowadays. But DNA has its own stylish, signature "St. Louis" snapback hat, so I thought I'd add that to my wardrobe for $44.

click to enlarge A St. Louis-themed cap from DNA is just the thing. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • A St. Louis-themed cap from DNA is just the thing.

We then went right over to MacroSun International (1310 Washington Avenue, 314-421-6400), a variety store with fair-trade goods and gifts from around the world. They specialize in art pieces, home décor, and just about anything else you could think of from places as far away as Mali and Thailand. Everything they sell is high quality. From their jewelry and clothing to prayer bowls and incense, you could spend $5 or $2,000 and get really high-quality gifts. It's too bad that such a nice shop is going out of business now, but I enjoyed looking through everything they had to offer. Since they're closing soon, MacroSun has a sale of 25 percent off all purchases, and I snagged a brass bracelet with "I love Nepal" on it and also a ring, totaling only $15 after the reduction.

click to enlarge Williams browses some items at Tabo-Co, a smoke shop and novelty gift store. - PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Williams browses some items at Tabo-Co, a smoke shop and novelty gift store.

Next up was the Taba Company Smoke Shop and Novelty Store (1300 Washington Avenue, 314-436-8588). I don't smoke, but those who do would be set, considering all the different kinds of products Taba sells. They also supply high-quality merchandise and clothing made locally in St. Louis. I actually took a more pragmatic approach and eventually decided on a pair of super-potent candles for $8.95 each. My loft has high ceilings, so normal scented candles usually don't cut it, but these ones from Taba completely fill my space. I also thought I'd search out for something I could buy for my mom. She collects all kinds of bags, to display and to use, so I found her this cute owl backpack for $24.

I ended the shopping spree across the street at Blondie's Coffee and Wine Bar (1301 Washington Avenue, 314-241-6100). They have the most homey, welcoming atmosphere that's always friendly and open, exactly what you want for a brunch-based restaurant. They're open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, but serve breakfast and lunch items off a diverse menu, suitable for all eating habits, throughout the day. I'm personally a dessert guy, so I ordered a brownie with whipped cream and ice cream, which, though simple, was amazing. The Brownie Sunday was $6 and finished off the trip on yet another high note.— as told to Harry Hall

Turn the page for one last shopping trip, on South Grand.
click to enlarge Marie-Aimee Abizera shops at Zee Bee Market. - PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • Marie-Aimee Abizera shops at Zee Bee Market.

Destination: South Grand

Shopper: Marie-Aimee Abizera, executive director of Missouri Immigration and Refugee Advocates

My fiance and I are new to town — he's a cardiology fellow at Saint Louis University — so Tower Grove East is the only place we've lived in St. Louis. We keep joking that if we have to stay here longer after he's done with training, this would be where we want to settle. Mostly because we're both runners, and it's definitely a runner's paradise with Tower Grove Park two streets down from us. Plus, the restaurants on Grand are awesome. You've literally got everything from Starbucks to Pho Grand. It doesn't get better than that.

For my shopping trip, I went to Zee Bee Market (3211 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-932-1000). I had strolled in there before, just 'cause I'm always attracted to fair trade stores. But I was also looking for something specific — we don't have a pantry in our apartment, so I'm always looking for creative ways to handle storage. They have these baskets from West Africa that I really wanted to be able to use for things like onions and potatoes.

click to enlarge "I like hats, and I love accessories of any kind. That's my weakness." - PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • PHOTO BY HOLLY RAVAZZOLO
  • "I like hats, and I love accessories of any kind. That's my weakness."

Then I got a winter hat as well. Mostly because in Nashville, where I moved from, winter's not really bad. So everybody's been telling me to prepare for winter here. I wanted wool, and more of a Panama hat as opposed to a beanie. I like hats, and I love accessories of any kind. That's my weakness. I found it; it was perfect, it was really perfect.

We'd met at 4:30; I had skipped lunch in order to get out of work early. So the second stop was Cafe Mochi (3221 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-773-5000). It's right on Grand, and they have happy hour for their sushi rolls from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., I believe. So we went there, and I pigged out on three rolls. The "Godzilla" roll, which is insanely delicious, spicy tuna, and one of the specialty rolls. But the Godzilla is my favorite. That was my first time there, and I think I've been back twice already since then.

Then we walked around. There's a furniture store that I really, really like, Rocket Century (3189 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-875-0705). They always have really cool pieces. I don't think of it as vintage — to me they're more than vintage. They remind me of the furniture my parents had growing up in Africa. Very cool and simple, yet really statement pieces.

They had this — I don't even know what to call it. It's almost like a turntable. Oh, that was out of this world. It was so cool, one of those pieces you don't get to see that often. Growing up, my dad had one of those, so I'm just a little bit nostalgic. I think that's why I really really want one. But you can't buy anything in there for less than $100, so it was just eye-shopping.

I think the South Grand area is really the quintessential example of what immigrants bring to this country. Not to be political, but as a person who came into this country as an immigrant, the food and the culture that other immigrants have brought are just ridiculously good. It's not that these immigrants are just benefiting off of the American society. The American society also gets to benefit off of them. It's a two-way street.

— as told to Katelyn Mae Petrin

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