Midtown East has its share of department stores: Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel. When searching for gifts, however, you might want to head to the neighborhood’s smaller, specialized shops to be sure that the item you present is one that nobody else is likely to have given already. And if you are of the “one for them, one for me” school of gift shopping, you are sure to find plenty to gift to yourself.
247 East 57th Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
A number of the products sold here are crafted especially for the store; owner J.R. Sanders, a former museum exhibit designer, handpicks the rest. That’s especially impressive considering the range of items sold, in terms of provenance, product type, and price. The musical snow globe featuring a family of ducks will delight babies and their parents; the pewter staple remover in the shape of a lion is an ideal corporate gift. For housewarming gifts, you might find it tough to choose between a boldly colored vase hand blown by Michael Anchin in his upstate New York studio and the lacquered Mondrian tray. And why settle for a Chanel bag when you could instead treat yourself to a bevy of clutches carved of wood in an array of chic patterns?
147 East 57th Street (between Third and Lexington Avenues)
The self-described oldest catalog company in the country, Hammacher Schlemmer began in 1848 as a hardware store in the Bowery specializing in hard-to-find tools. It moved to its current location in Midtown East in 1926, and around the same time expanded its merchandise offering to include the sort of esoteric gifts and gadgets it is known for today. Hammacher Schlemmer takes credit for introducing the pop-up toaster, the electric razor, and the automatic coffeemaker. It continues to live up to its motto of “offering the best, the only, and the unexpected” with products as varied as washable cashmere apparel, a popcorn maker that looks like the Stanley Cup, a dinosaur-shape desktop aquarium that houses bioluminescent planktons, and a semi-recumbent exercise bike fitted with a desk so that you can surf the web while getting a cardio workout.
An aquarium coffee table is just one of the unusual finds at Hammacher Schlemmer. [Image: Wicker Paradise/Flickr]
470 Park Avenue
Sibling Allison Julius and Louis Marra opened their Manhattan shop in 2011, following the success of their first shop, in the Hamptons. The duo take “something old, something new” to heart, with many of the shop’s decorative accessories, furniture, and gifts giving a new spin to time-honored items. For instance, it sells a set of knives by venerable French company Laguiole that feature neon-colored handles, a backgammon set in a faux-cowhide case, and Louis Sherry truffles in a zebra-pattern tin designed by A-list decorator Miles Redd.
8 Grand Central Terminal
An emporium of the cute, the kitsch, and the quirky, P!Q does not sell anything that one might need, but it offers hundreds of items that one will want. This is not a shop for minimalists; it’s abuzz with color, with pattern, with things (and usually with plenty of people too). Dog- and cat-lovers will adore the totes, mugs, and other accessories adorned with Marc Tetro’s illustrations of four-legged friends. If socks are your fallback gift, you can choose from those decorated with everything from llamas to pizza. Hello Kitty earbuds, Funko Westworld figurines, Wonder Woman ice-cube trays, scented macaron-shape erasers: If it’s fun and fanciful, it’s here.
58 Park Avenue (between 37th and 38th Streets)
The mission of Scandinavia House is to introduce Nordic culture to the United States. It does so not only by hosting concerts, lectures, and exhibitions but also by selling Scandinavian wares in its shop. Sinuous Alvar Aalto vases share space with traditional Royal Copenhagen blue-and-white porcelain; vibrant Marimekko pillows nestle near leather bracelets handmade by Sami artisans; Pippi Longstocking dolls keep company with lingonberry body lotions. If you forget to bring back presents from your next trip to Stockholm or Reykjavík, you can pick up something here and no one will be the wiser.
Scandinavia House’s streamlined building is an exemplar of Nordic minimalism. [Image: Mvarick/Wikimedia]