This visitors' guide was written in late 2005 for a non-local magazine.
Tired of the stratospheric prices of shapely dresses at Donna Karan yet unwilling to bow one's head in submission to Gap or H & M? Venture to the home of hip: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where affordable treasures abound. A clutch of quirky shops sell rare and quality second-hand clothing, handbags, and furniture, and high-end vintage stores offer the latest in retro-bohemian fashions. Just a short subway ride from Manhattan, with less crowded shops and streets and satisfying sustenance close at hand, Williamsburg should be your next shopping stop.
The Vibe: A youthful scene of uber-cool, where hipsters dig for deals among color-coded circular racks and a soundtrack of Bowie and Bright Eyes blares through the three-room space.
The Goods: Rows and rows of affordable jeans and pants ($15-$25), jackets and coats ($30-$100), sweaters and shirts ($10-$40), as well as dresses, records, and random funky finds like classic wool hats and cheesy 70’s lamps.
The Lowdown: The second-hand Mecca of Williamsburg, Beacon’s Closet expanded considerably after moving into its current digs three years ago. Ever since it has been embraced by both locals and informed foreign tourists. Vast selection, so persistence pays.
* Beacon’s will buy your clothes in return for 30% of its value in cash or 55% in store credit.
The Vibe: Models of pirate ships and nautical knickknacks dot the small space and sidewalk display, offering the intrepid shopper the peaceful solitude of the sea. Proprietor Bonnie Bloomberg says the name originated from the idea of her store as a treasure chest of sorts.
The Goods: Amid books, boots, hats, and a diverse and quirky selection of clothing for men and women, a classic black leather jacket in good shape was priced at $60 and a pretty polka-dot summer dress $25.
The Lowdown: This cute, eclectic store, which also serves as a salon for many area musicians, is the perfect place to find a high-quality vintage gem at a good price.
The Vibe: A constant stream of Bedford Avenue passersby slip in and out of owner Marcus Tyler’s time machine, where he spins old 45’s on a creaky record player as classic wood furniture and old tchotchkes whisk them into their past.
The Goods: Yes, there are pieces of luggage, primarily boxy brown leather cases, but the offerings here are all over the place. Fifties black Kodak cameras go for $40-$70, a porcelain lamp of a Chinese nobleman and his concubine will cost you $66, and antique wood tables start at around $300.
The Lowdown: For a hip trip down memory lane, there may be no better place in the city. “If you grew up with it,” says Tyler, ‘we’ve probably got it, or something similar.” Whether or not you want to take home a souvenir is another matter.
Amarcord Vintage Fashion
The Vibe: Sleek, white-walled outlet of vintage European styles with 21st century soundtrack and stylish employees.
The Goods: Imported from Europe, the clothes are fashionable and priced accordingly. Hats, sunglasses, and scarves speck the space, where shiny leather purses go for $70-$100 and a great selection of vintage zip sweatshirts $50-$70.
The Lowdown: Bring a chunk of change and a bit of attitude, and you might leave with something your friends will secretly envy.
Salvation Army Thrift Shop
The Vibe: Musty and smelling of mothballs, this sprawling space is the old gray lady of Williamsburg second-hand, and wears that moniker on its sleeve.
The Goods: Everything except the kitchen sink. Blazers and pants, books and cigar boxes, shelves, tables, chairs, couches, t-shirts, albums, and ancient sweaters, all decidedly affordable.
The Lowdown: It is nearly impossible to visit the ‘Burg without passing by this centrally-located shop at some point, so why not pop in? You might find just what you weren’t looking for.
For a break from the bustle of Bedford Ave, slip into Spike Hill, a comfortable brick and black wood restaurant-bar with semi-private booths, about 30 single-malt scotches and 50 bottled beers, and an excellent brunch on weekend afternoons. Just across the street is Bliss, a vibrant vegetarian café that offers hummus and lentil soup, a delicate, tasty quiche, and a wide, people-watching front window. Or, in clement weather, step into The Read Café, walk directly past the cashier and small kitchen, and settle into a table in their quiet back garden, where you can soak in the serenity and refuel with a fat mug of dark, rich coffee.