Astoria is home to a hip, even quirky collection of independent shops. In addition to one of Queens’s only bookstores, the neighborhood boasts what might be the city’s only combination pet store/cafe, a gaming haven, an old-school record store, and even a shop selling nothing but ukuleles and related accoutrements.
31-29 31st Street (between Broadway and 31st Avenue)
A finalist for Publisher Weekly’s 2018 Bookstore of the Year award, Astoria Bookshop opened in 2013, at a time when many were predicting the demise of the physical bookstore. This indie store is more than surviving, however; it is thriving. One reason may be its robust calendar of events—not just book launches and author readings but also writing workshops, book clubs, and kids’ story times. Another may be its well-curated assortment of titles for adults, teens, and kids alike, which includes both best-sellers and staff favorites. Perhaps the most important reason is the laid-back, friendly vibe courtesy of a staff of voracious readers with eclectic tastes who are more than happy to help you find your next read.
34-17 28th Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets)
Astoria Music sells bouzoukis—and much more. Image: Dave Fey/Wikimedia
Just a few years shy of celebrating its centennial, Astoria Music at one time sold records and was a straight-to-vinyl recording studio as well as a purveyor of musical instruments. Whether your instrument of choice is guitar or flute, keyboards or drums, you are likely to find it here, along with accessories ranging from speakers to strings to mouthpieces. Astoria Music was founded in 1922 by a Greek family and is currently owned by a musician of Greek descent, making this the ideal place to buy a bouzouki. A stringed instrument popular in Greece, a bouzouki typically features mother-of-pearl inlays, making it as beautiful as the music it creates. You can take bouzouki lessons here too, in addition to bass, guitar, piano, and violin instruction.
36-19 Ditmars Boulevard (between 36th and 37th Streets)
Despite its diminutive space, this boutique sells an impressive range of women’s shoes, jewelry, bags, beauty products, and gifts. Many items, such as the Ella B. Candles and the brass refrigerator magnets by Seltzer, are made by small, women-owned companies, though products from better-known brands, such as shoes by Vince Camuto and Chinese Laundry, are represented too. Among the products with a local flavor are T-shirts that declare “Astoria Is My Hood,” necklaces etched with a depiction of Hell Gate Bridge, and scented candles named after various Queens neighborhoods.
30-02 14th Street (at 30th Avenue)
Dogs are most definitely allowed at this coffee shop; in fact, that is Château le Woof’s raison d’être. Bring your four-legged friend in to shop for some all-natural dog treats or a toy, then let him run about with the other canines in an enclosed side section while you sit down for a latte or an iced chai tea, a salad or a Châtoast—an open-face sandwich topped with the likes of brie, olive tapenade, and mushrooms. Your canine can get groomed here as well; afterward reward him with a homemade dog muffin and maybe a cookie for yourself. No dog? You are still more than welcome.
42-11 Broadway (between 42nd and 43rd Streets)
X-Wing, Y-Wing, U-Wing game pieces and Spendor Game. Image: courtesy of The Geekery HQ Facebook page
At the Geekery HQ, you are sure to find fellow players of Magic: the Gathering. Image: Jesper Währner/Flickr
Adults and kids alike can fly their geek flag proudly at this store devoted to games and gaming—not videogames, but rather board, card, and role-playing games, from Settlers of Catan and Bears vs. Babies to Clue and Cards Against Humanity. But that is just the front of the store. In the back are long tables where you can play games with like-minded geeks. Most weekday evenings feature some sort of Magic: the Gathering play, but weekday afternoons are devoted to open play, and weekends feature everything from Star Wars: Destiny to HeroClix gatherings.
23-19 Steinway Street (between 23rd Road and 23rd Avenue)
Whether you are a recent convert to the joys of vinyl or you still play your original copy of Led Zeppelin IV on a turntable, you will want to make this old-school record store your next port of call. Hi-Fi Records sells new and used albums, including reissues and imports. On any given day you can choose between Iron & Wine and Iron Maiden, Cat Power and Cat Stevens, Public Enemy and Public Image Ltd. It also sells turntables, speakers, receivers, styluses, and the like. Hi-Fi operates a small coffee shop in the back as well; while you sip there’s a good chance you will be exposed to tunes you have not heard before.
29-03 23rd Avenue (between 29th and 31st Streets)
Lavender Label began as the Little Soap Shop, a 200-square-foot space where owner Vivian Dritsas sold her artisanal, all-natural soaps, scrubs, creams, and candles. Because many customers were parents seeking chemical-free products for their kids, Dritsas expanded her offering to include clothing and shoes for little ones and moved to a larger, though still bijou, shop. Amid the glittery Mary Janes and mini hoodies you will find an array of skin products you might not have even known you needed, such as Battle Bar Soap, formulated for athletes and anyone else who works up a sweat as well as those prone to acne, or Stinky Foot Bar, made with antifungal peppermint tea-tree oil.
32-15 33rd Street (between Broadway and 34th Avenue)
33-02 Broadway (at 33rd Street)
33-06 Broadway (between 33rd and 34th Streets)
The flagship of the budding Lockwood empire opened in 2013, specializing in home goods, many made locally, with a dash of whimsy: coasters shaped like oversize buttons, pineapple-base table lamps that could lean either classic or kitschy, tasseled throw pillows, chic French presses. Owner Mackenzi Farquer’s sensibility proved so popular, she expended into womenswear, opening Lockwood Style a year later. Lockwood Style sells jewelry, bags, and other accessories in addition to clothes in sizes up to 22, somewhat unusual for a shop specializing in indie designers. Cute gingham dresses and brightly patterned jumpers share space with beaded hoop earrings and totes adorned with a hand-drawn street map of the blocks surrounding the store. Shops in Jackson Heights and at the Queens Museum followed. Then in 2017 Lockwood Style moved to larger quarters a few doors from its original space, making way for Lockwood Paper to move in. When you simply must have wrapping paper featuring bunnies dressed like Wonder Woman, premium planners from Leuchtturm1917, or a clever birthday card, this is where to come.
36-01 36th Avenue (at 36th Street)
UkeHut hosts live music too. Image: Marco/Flickr
UkeHut proudly professes to be the city’s first and only ukulele shop. The staff will patiently allow you to strum its 150 ukes, from soprano to bass, until you find the instrument that is meant to be yours. Ukulele lessons are available too. Not keen on the uke? UkeHut hosts open jam sessions, complete with beer, wine, and snacks, where musicians are welcome to play other instruments as well. In addition, local jazz and rock groups periodically play here.