Baltimore's Shopping Scene: Unique, Local, Funky and Unforgettable

Sure, you can find jewels and upscale clothing in suburban Towson Town Center, on its "Designer floor", albeit the stores are tightly edited. But where Baltimore really shines is in its indie stores (though many have been recently gentrified out of their brick and mortar existence), its appealing locally crafted products, vintage things from a bygone area.

Independent clothing stores in Baltimore are different from their counterparts in other large cities. Certainly for those stores that cater to younger shoppers, their vibe is welcoming and laid-back, not disdainful. Baltimore's young generation, even when well-heeled, just doesn't "do" snobby!

Fun, funky and thought-provoking collide at Atomic Books.

Baltimore is a melting pot of ethnic groups from across the world. Little boutiques, stores, carts in malls, stalls at farmers markets are sources of interesting and hard to find goods.

Just like the chicken and the egg: is it the global interest in movies like Diner and Hairspray that encouraged Baltimore's antiques and vintage stores or was it vice versa? Either way, Baltimore has whole antiques and vintage neighborhoods, though their numbers are rapidly shrinking and shifting in the face of rising rents and other reasons.

Baltimore is the home of several locally made food and beverage products that make cherished gifts.


Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Graul's, in business since 1920, has several locations in Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore. Each location is managed by a different family member, so each has its own personality. The Ruxton location is where Baltimore's elite prepare for parties and their own family dinners. Never fear that a recipe isn't going to work from sub-par ingredients: gorgeous quality meats and fish are expertly treated by a real butcher and fishmonger. Freshly baked breads come in many forms, including several mini roll varieties which practically beg you to make creative sandwiches with them. Their prepared foods are ridiculously delicious – based on family recipes – and have a decidedly Southern bent. Often, especially Saturdays, the store puts out samples. They carry locally crafted prepared foods that have made up many a treasured care package.

Samuel Parker
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Visitors to Baltimore often forget the chic, high society functions that we have. With elite private schools, fox hunting, extensive art collections, major philanthropists and of course, the second jewel of the Triple Crown – The Preakness – men have lots of occasions when they're on display. But you can't really look your most elegant sifting through stacks of clothing at mall stores, with food court noises wafting over. Samuel Parker offers upscale labels, colors and styles that look First Class, not cookie cutter. When going for the very best, it's good to have the personalized service and tailoring in a quiet atmosphere. After all, fine clothing is an investment in you!

Grandma's Candle Shop
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

This family-owned store opened in 1978 and has changed locations, but has always been on W. Saratoga Street, within walking distance of downtown and the Inner Harbor. Open every day except for Sunday, they're more in-depth, old-school than the typical New Age shop. The store is brightly lit and neatly organized, so you can easily find what you're looking for – though the staff is happy to help if you can't. The smaller oils are stocked behind the counter, for instance . . . making labels a little hard to read. No problem! They have a written list. They offer spiritual advice for a fee. You may either visit them in person at the store, drop them a letter via the e-mail, or simply give them a telephone call. They have supplies like candles, books and oils for Voo Doo, Wiccan, Judaism, Buddhist, Christian, Santeria, and countless other religious cultures.

Trinacria Foods
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Just west of downtown, within walking distance of the Inner Harbor and the Washington Monument, is Trinacria Foods. A family-owned business since 1908, they make their own breads, dried pasta, sauces and frozen pasta dishes. Even their oddball flavors like pumpkin ravioli are insanely delicious. If you have to bring a house gift – but are tight on funds – they have bottles of Italian wine that start at $3.99! Frugal housekeepers: shake the sofa cushions for change. They have lots of things, including fun pasta shapes, for under a dollar! Gorgeous tins of Italian desserts make for wonderful holiday gifts. Cans of white peach Bellini soda will bring out your inner mixologist. Have to worry about a 3-1-1 bag for airline travel? Seasonings, house-made cookies, Italian candies will all past muster. How 'bout a little present for you? Their made-to-order muffaletta sandwiches rival those in the Big Easy.

Nouveau Home & Interior Design
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Visit any truly stylish Baltimore home or business. Those magical spaces inhabited by people who haven't thrown their souls and personalities away with chain store furnishings all seem to have a little something from Nouveau Home & Interior Design. There's just something sexy, Marie-Antoinette, yet streamlined about what they create. Rich fabrics and unexpected colors contribute to the look. Now back in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, they're stocking much more than furniture. Check out their table accessories, gifts and candles, even locally made evening bags for women! Often, it can be the little touches that make the difference. Changing a room doesn't always require a complete re-do, after all!

Bill's Music
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

On a street known as a music haven for decades – live music, instrument stores, record stores – Bill's Music stands out among their excellent neighbors. It's been family owned for 50 years now. Today, they offer a full compliment of services to the amateur and professional musician: instrument sales, rentals, sheet music, amps and other electronic equipment, lessons, repairs, band rehearsal space and used gear purchasing. Sure, they have all the top brands and vintage gear prized by rock stars, but they also carry instruments for all other styles of music. You can also find violins, auto harps, banjos, brass, woodwinds, accordions and all kinds of keyboards.

McCormick World of Flavors
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Right in the Light Street Pavilion at Baltimore's Inner Harbor is the kind of souvenir shop that may well attract as many locals as tourists! McCormick's World of Flavors sells all kinds of difficult to find extracts, international label products and seasonings. It's a great place to hit right before you start your holiday baking! But of course, it's also home to all things Old Bay. The quintessential Baltimore seasoning is used for steamed crabs – of course – but also deviled eggs, crab cakes, loody Marys, on corn and in battered/fried foods locally in our restaurants and homes. You'll also find crab serving platters, huge Old Bay tins (hide your secret things in them!), ties, scarves, t-shirts and cookbooks.

Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Hampden's Trohv – get it, like a treasure trove? – is a vast, inviting place just to walk around. With exposed brick and vintage displays, you know you're not having a cookie-cutter shopping experience. Even nationally available books are specially curated to contribute to what they say is a combination of urban grit and Southern items. Okay, so it's more well-heeled city hipster than "gritty". You'll find artisan candies, books on mixology, indie perfumes, throw pillows with Baltimore's longitude and latitude, hip baby items, vintage furniture pieces and mustache wax. Don't forget to wander downstairs to check out the larger pieces, more books and cool kitchen additions.

Atomic Books
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Hampden's Atomic Books is what an indie bookstore should be: clean, brightly lit, stocked with cool, hard-to-find, local, as well as indie books and 'zines. Even if you thought of yourself as a weirdo as a youngster, you'll see in the book subjects that clearly, there are others like you. Whether it's Japanese tattoo art, graphic magazine authors, Grrrl power or whatever, you're likely to find what you're looking for . . . or don't be embarrassed to ask. Indie 'zines, some the size of a deck of playing cards, are often someone's heart and soul printed and stapled at their home. You'll also find a small selection of cool, fun gifts. Co-owner Benn Ray has got his finger on the local literary and political scene. As such, you can write an actual letter to John Waters and he'll make sure the hometown boy gets it.

South Baltimore
DeBois Textiles
Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Down in South Baltimore, the industrial non-touristy part of town, has been a business that's been family-owned for over 50 years. Thanks to the clever idea to run ads in Baltimore's alt weekly, thrifty non-jobbers have discovered this clothing emporium. There are basically 4 parts to the store. The first (and probably original) is their vintage and remnant section of gorgeous fabrics. Those who don't sew or know people who do will practically cry at the unfulfilled wardrobe potential. To one side of the cash register counter is a recessed section holding vintage designer clothes. Adolfos that Nancy Reagan would have loved at under $100? Yup! The main floor section has non-designer – but great – vintage clothing and shoes for men and women. Just ask for the plus-sized collection: the staff is so friendly! In back are the bargains: second-hand or close-out modern clothing, all under $15.