January 30, 2006
In today's fast-paced world, It may feel as though little room is left for the simple pleasures of yesterday. Thankfully, Boston is home to a multitude of shops that appear unhindered by the advancements of the past few decades. Fiercely loyal to their original concepts, these quirky alcoves are hidden anywhere from the posh brownstones of Newbury Street to the renovated warehouses of Fort Point, waiting to sate visitors with a taste for nostalgia. Whether you have a weakness for old gadgets or a passion for classic poetry, you'll find your own talisman of days gone by in one of these secret pearls.
Age . 354 Congress St., 617-482-0048
Antique designer furniture, wall art,
After the Art Deco movement and before the Modern Age, there was the Machine Age-a time when design met mass production and became industrialized. The plethora of bold, sleek furnishings that make up Normand Mainville's showroom in Fort Point offer a stylish representation of this era. Overflowing with pieces like Danish designer Hans Wagner's 1950s sofa, personally refurbished by Mainville, the space is a haven for aficionados of visual design, and items from Machine Age have been featured in films like There's Something About Mary. "People come back very often, because it's like a gallery," says Mainville, pictured below. "They not only buy the furniture, they buy the history behind it. You have more soul in a vintage piece than a new piece of furniture, because it comes from a name, a region, a period-a movement of modern."
Grolier Poetry Book Shop .
6 Plympton St., Cambridge, 617-547-4648
Nestled in a quiet side street of Harvard Square and brimming with piles of chapbooks, the Grolier has long served a fundamental niche of the literary world. Founded in 1927, it is prized for being one of just two for-profit poetry shops and the oldest continuous bookshop in the country. Its owner, Louisa Solano (pictured right), has reigned over this lyrical kingdom since 1974, and remembers frequenting the shop since the tender age of 15. "The proprietors were a heavy drinking set," she says, recalling the circle of bohemian intellectuals who characterized the shop in the 1960s. "At that time, it was like a fantasy. The floor creaked, the paint was chipping, the light was low. It was like being on a ship in a storm." Over the years, Grolier's notable patrons have included the likes of Jack Kerouac, Seamus Heaney and John Ashbery, and it is not unusual for laureates to personally donate copies of their work. Yet perhaps Grolier's brightest jewel is Solano herself, who, after a warm chat, will always recommend just the right verses.
Nuggets Records . 486 Commonwealth Ave., 617-536-0679
Vinyl, cassettes, music memorabilia
Kenmore Square has gotten an upscale facelift in the past year, but several institutions still capture its former down-to-earth aura. Among them is 27-year-old Nuggets Records, which sells used records of all genres-jazz, blues, punk, rock, soul and R&B-for as little as 50 cents each. Named after a compilation by the Patti Smith Group, Nuggets was started by a circle of friends who sold records out of cardboard boxes in Harvard Square in the late 1970s. Over the years, the store has acquired "tens of thousands of records" and been visited by many a famous musician. "We get some autographed stuff from people that have come in here, like Billy Joel," says owner Stewart Freedman (pictured right). "Hothouse Flowers came in, Fred Schneider from B-52s, Al Kooper, which is cool."
Bobby from Boston . 19 Thayer St., 617-423-9299
Vintage clothing (Open by appointment only)
Stepping into Bobby Garnett's showroom in the South End's up-and-coming SOWA Gallery is like teleporting into a hodge-podge of a dozen different movie sets. Pungent with the aroma of leather and cigarette smoke, the store abounds with whimsical apparel from all eras-from WWII leather flight bomber jackets (complete with helmet and goggles) to 1950s two-tone jackets to embroidered gabardine Western shirts. Though the showroom includes a women's collection of must-haves like go-go boots and 1920s hats, Garnett (pictured right), who's cultivated his love of clothing since 1971, originally wanted his space to be a men's haberdashery. "You go to vintage stores and you never find men's stuff," he says. "So I wanted to have the men's vintage clothing store." Bobby's clients include designers Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and Armani, and his couture can be seen in star-studded films like the soon-to-be-released The Good Shepherd.
Herb's TV . 68 South St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6440
Antique radios and televisions
Repairman Herb Pratt has been dabbling with radios since before the age of television. "When I was 14 or 15, I got interested in radios, so I worked at a radio shop after school," he says. "During World War II, there were no new radios made, so people had to get them repaired when they broke down. In fact, many years later, I'm working on the same type of radios." Pratt (pictured below), whose life passion was spawned in that radio shop in Malden, has presided over his Jamaica Plain shop since 1968. His collection of antique radios includes fully functional pieces that date back to the 1920s, and some have been sold to collectors for as much as $2200. "Over the years, these radios have become collectibles," says Pratt. "Many people just collect real expensive radios and never use them. But I make sure that the ones we have are rebuilt completely. Hopefully people will turn them on."
International Poster Gallery . 205 Newbury St., 617-375-0076
Vintage posters / For Jim Lapides, collecting vintage posters has "been a labor of love" ever since he became partial to Italian design while studying art history in Florence. In his quest for graphic masterpieces, Lapides has traveled to estate sales, attics and flea markets in remote corners of the world. "I'm interested in modern art in all its guises-good design from all eras," he says. In 1994, he opened the International Poster Gallery in a spacious brownstone on Newbury Street. Adorned with striking, impeccably restored posters by artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Adolfo Hohenstein and Milton Glaser, the IPG boasts one of the world's largest collections of antique posters, distributing art to clients such as the Museum of Fine Art and the Library of Congress. Unlike many other antique poster vendors, who tend to gravitate towards the popular French designs, the IPG strives to be truly international, and carries sizeable collections of Swiss, Soviet and American designs, as well as the world's largest Italian collection. "Posters still represent amazing value," says Lapides. "The whole world is interested in posters now-it's become really global."
Cadia Vintage . 148 Salem St., 617-742-1203
Retro housewares, clothing, accessories and memorabilia
(Open Sat 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. & Sun noon-5 p.m.)
Tucked away in an out-of-the-way corner of Salem Street, Cadia Vintage is one of very few North End nooks that doesn't deal in food or potables. The shop's tiny, quaintly decorated interior resembles a retro dollhouse. The shelves are stacked with odds and ends like ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers, engraved jewelry boxes and hand-painted toothcombs. A box on the floor holds a set of 1950s Playboys; a pair of chrome plate-heeled black suede pumps protrudes from the corner. Carole Springhetti (pictured below), who co-owns the shop with her mother, has a penchant for kitschy flea market finds. "[A friend and I] had talked about how fun a shop would be. After getting encouragement from my family, I went for it. The bonus-it's a great form of recycling."
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