This article first appeared in the December edition of The Lo-Down’s print magazine.
There’s not much left of the Lower East Side’s old bargain district, but the neighborhood’s always-transforming shopping scene remains varied and intriguing. One-hundred-year-old linen shops, cutting-edge boutiques, Bowery lighting stores and hip streetwear brands are all part of a quirky retail mix you won’t find anywhere else. This month, in our second annual Best of the Lower East Side Awards, we celebrate both the old and the new. In the past few weeks, many of you participated in our online survey, choosing your favorite shops and services. Your answers helped guide our selections in a dozen categories. Just like last year, when we focused on restaurants, our boundaries were East Houston Street on the north, Bowery on the west and the East River on the east and south. This guide is a reflection of our economically diverse community. Everyone, of course, loves a bargain. And we’re all concerned about holding on to our authentic, long-established small businesses. But at the same time, our survey showed a real appreciation for new, independent retailers making their mark on the Lower East Side. This guide is a celebration of both old-school staying power and new-school innovation in a neighborhood that has not yet succumbed to the big national retail chains.
Best Women’s Boutique: Dressing Room, 75A Orchard St.
Seven years ago, co-owner Alexandra Adame dreamed up an interesting hybrid concept: a boutique highlighting clothing from local designers combined with a cocktail bar. Drinking and shopping—an idea that seems like a good concept anywhere—was particularly well suited to the nightlife-centric Lower East Side scene. Upstairs, up-and-coming fashion designers are featured, while downstairs Adame operates a vintage and secondhand clothing exchange. Prices are reasonable. Our shopping maven, Jessica Delfino, once picked up a gently worn hat at the Dressing Room for $12. Best of all, the place is an inviting, community-oriented spot that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The bar even features a drink called “The Waiting Boyfriend.”
Best Vintage Boutique: Edith Machinist, 104 Rivington St.
Since 2002, this little shop has been carrying high-end designer labels, including beautiful silk dresses, and a smart collection of shoes and handbags. It’s a well-organized boutique with attentive service.
Best Rock ’n’ Roll Refuge: Grit N Glory, 186 Orchard St.
A lot is going on at Grit N Glory. There’s a tattoo parlor, a home furnishings section and a coffee bar. But at its heart, this sprawling lifestyle shop is a go-to destination for tapping into your inner Aerosmith identity. The friendly owners, Emily Conley and Veronica Cano, carry a great line of dresses, T-shirts and tank tops. Best of all, nothing in the store will break the bank.
Best Bargains: Rainbow Apparel, 110 Delancey St.
It’s a chain with stores in 37 states, but there’s no denying this discount destination is an indispensable shopping option on the Lower East Side. You can pick up a dress here for $20 or less. The store offers junior, kids’, plus size and children’s clothes, as well as footwear. The deals are so good most people don’t even mind almost nonexistent service.
Best Men’s Boutique: By Robert James, 74 Orchard St.
Designer Robert James is an undeniable Lower East Side success story. After opening a tiny storefront and studio on Orchard Street in 2008, he has expanded twice, establishing one of the largest shops in the neighborhood in a two-story space. The designer of classic American clothing has also opened stores in Brooklyn. His finely tailored suits, shirts and pants are popular among musicians and actors, including film star Jonah Hill. Items in James’ store are not cheap but they are very well made—and sure to last years longer than mass-produced department store brands. James also creates custom-made suits.
Best Leather Shop: The Cast, 71 Orchard St.
The Cast is the place to go for custom-made leather jackets and other punk-inspired duds. The tiny Orchard Street shop packs a big punch. Owners Chuck Guarino and Elisa Maldonado call the store a “rock ’n’ roll lifestyle brand.” A fixture in the neighborhood since 2004, Guarino moved from an underground Ludlow Street studio. He and Maldonado occasionally stage streetside rock concerts.
Best Streetwear Shop: Reed Space, 151 Orchard St.
In the last couple of years, urban streetwear boutiques such as Only NY, Ethik, Extra Butter and Colfax & Bale have popped up across the neighborhood. But the trailblazers were ALife on Rivington Street and Reed Space, two brands that helped bring “street culture” into mainstream retail. Since opening Reed Space on Orchard Street in 2003, Jeff Ng’s (Jeff Staple) Staple Design company has become a major player in urban fashion. Recently, he inked a big national expansion deal with PacSun. Reed Space carries Ng’s own line of clothing, plus a carefully curated selection of shoes, accessories and tees from other designers and brands.
Best Bargains: Richies Clothing, 122 Delancey St.
For 25 years, Richies has offered Lower East Siders great discounts on shoes, jeans, jackets and accessories. The store stocks name brands like Nike and North Face, along with some “off-label” lines. There’s a whole section for close-out items at unbeatable prices.
Best Jewelry Designer: Delicate Raymond, 73A Orchard St.
Michelle Zimmerman opened her Delicate Raymond Jewelry Bar in 2012. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, she offers a highly popular “vintage-inspired” monogram collection, subversive charms and an eclectic line of bracelets, rings and necklaces that often mix semi-precious stones with locally sourced gold and silver. The store also regularly stocks a large collection of $5 vintage ’70s and ’80s jewelry.
Best New Jewelry Store: Yaf Sparkle, 158 Orchard St.
Two years after opening a retail location on the Lower East Side, Yaf Boyle-Flaeger is making her mark with an in-house line of rings and bracelets, as well as a diverse selection of handmade baubles from other designers. The store has something for everyone. A couple of years ago, two German tourists were so inspired on their trip to the shop that they got engaged right on the spot!
Best Bed & Bath Store: Harris Levy, 98 Forsyth St.
There’s no competition in this category. Since 1894, Harris Levy has been selling some of the finest bed and bath linens in New York City at deeply discounted prices. From its pushcart origins, the shop has moved to new locations a few times, finally settling in a beautifully appointed building on Forsyth Street in 2005. Harris Levy features high-end imported bed and table linens, towels, cashmere blankets, pillows and bath-and-body products.
Best Lighting Store: New Generation Lighting, 144 Bowery
Stores in the old Bowery Lighting District have been dropping like flies in recent years, but you still have some options. New Generation Lighting is not the largest store on the Bowery strip, but it boasts good prices on contemporary fixtures and above-average customer service.
Best Kitchen Store: Chef Restaurant Supplies, 298 Bowery
The Lower East Side is not the land of Williams-Sonoma, at least not yet. At the gigantic Chef Restaurant Supplies, located on the northwest corner of Bowery and East Houston, you’ll find unbelievable deals on appliances, saucepans, carving knives and just about anything else you ever dreamed of needing in your kitchen. The store can be bewildering but is actually pretty well organized.
Best Bargain Housewares: Lot-Less Closeouts, 80 Clinton St.
You never know what you’re going to find inside this New York City mini-chain. The constantly changing merchandise, sometimes marked 80 percent off, includes bedding, toys, kitchen items, cleaning supplies and more. It can be a chaotic scene and the checkout process is often maddening, but at these prices, how can you complain?
Best Bike Shop: Frank’s Bike Shop, 553 Grand St.
Our readers spoke loud and clear in this category, choosing Frank Arroyo’s nearly 40-year-old shop on Grand Street for all of their bicycling needs. The cramped storefront is the quintessential old-school LES experience, offering personal, honest service and fair prices. Last year, Frank made headlines when a Citibike station popped up near his shop, potentially threatening his rental business, but he’s still hanging in there, much to the relief of many loyal customers.
Best Eyeglasses: Moscot, 106 Orchard St.
Yes, it’s a predictable choice, but what other choice is there? Voting against Moscot would practically be an act of Lower East Side heresy. The iconic brand, poised to celebrate its 100th birthday, chose to stay on the LES last year when the site of its long-established Orchard Street store faced redevelopment. In a gorgeous new space on the south side of Delancey Street, Moscot continues to offer its hip (and pricey) frames and top-quality, attentive service.
Best Women’s Hair Salon: Fringe, 248 Broome St.
When it comes to hair, the women of the Lower East Side have lots of different opinions! Some of you voted for very established neighborhood spots like Gonzalez Beauty Salon on Clinton Street or 245 East on East Broadway. But, in the end, our readers chose Fringe, Amy Schiappa’s Broome street salon that’s especially popular with LES creative types. After planting roots on Orchard Street, Fringe moved to a larger space in 2007. One specialty of the house is the sculpted bang but Fringe is also a go-to-spot for a last minute blow-out.
Best Barber: Freemans Sporting Club, 8 Rivington St.
There are still a lot of old-style barber shops on the Lower east Side. One of our favorites is Aminova’s in the Essex Street Market, where the barber from Uzbekistan will give you a cut for $7 and absolutely no chit chat. In our reader survey, however, a modern day rendition of an old fashioned barber shop came out on top. Freemans Sporting Club won accolades for high quality haircuts in a vintage setting. At Freemans, you get a buzz for $21 and a scissors cut for $42.
Best Nail Salon: Think Pink Nails & Spa, 215 East Houston St.
Although manis and pedis are slightly more than at your average LES nail salon, you’ll notice a difference in quality in this relaxing, spotless space. The service is warm and reliable. As an extra enticement, a short shoulder rub from a good masseuse is included in the manicure. Manicures start at $18.
Best Tattoo Shop: Daredevil Tattoo, 141 Division St.
Michelle Myles opened Daredevil Tattoo across from her Ludlow Street apartment in 1997, right after New York legalized tattooing. In more than 16 years, she inked everyone from artists to musicians to drug dealers. As we all know, Ludlow became an inhospitable location for independent business, so last year Daredevil moved down to Division Street. Myles and her tattoo artists continue to offer great custom designs and personal service in a cool new space that was painstakingly restored.
Best Tailor: Stanton Tailor Shop, 90 Stanton St.
The tiny shop has been in business for 30 years, offering fast, inexpensive tailoring services. Some alterations can be completed in 20 minutes or so, while you wait. The friendly staff listens to what you want and aims to please.
Best Car Service: Delancey Car Service, 29 Essex St.
Uber may be a nationwide sensation, but here on the Lower East Side, local car services have been reliably serving the community for many years. Our readers offered various opinions about which companies are most reliable. But Delancey Car Service came out on top. In almost all cases, the gruff Essex Street-based dispatcher has a car at your door within five minutes. Most of the time, the guys behind the wheel know exactly where they’re going, unlike a lot of cabbies, who tend to get lost these days even on the most straightforward routes.
Other Notable Shops:
Adrienne’s Bridal, 134 Orchard St.. A source for custom-made wedding gowns established on the LES in 2003, after decades in business on Long Island.
Bluestockings, 172 Allen St. A collectively-owned radical bookstore with more than 6,000 titles on feminism, queer studies and other related topics.
Lost Weekend, 45 Orchard St., lostweekendnyc. A combination coffee shop/retail store offering surf wear and accessories.
Ted’s Fine Clothing, 155 Orchard St. The long-established store carries an extensive collection of retro rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts.
Tokyo Rebel, 158 Allen St. Punk, rock, gothic and Lolita fashion from Japan.