Great Small Shops #1: Practical Goods

[The winter corner.]
Wendy, who runs the Practical Goods Thrift Shop in downtown Saint Paul's JAX Building, will refuse to sell you a polyester-blend bandanna. She won't do it, and doesn't carry them. If you have one, she'll probably try to talk it out of your hands. They can give you a rash and aren't absorbent.

The same goes for certain kinds of pots and pans, sub-par fabrics, furniture that easily breaks. Practical Goods is the anti-Walmart, a place where nothing is disposable. Instead, Wendy curates her store with the eye of an engineer, and can recite with gentle aplomb details about the invention of the pressure cooker or the proper care of wooden spoons.

(I picture a store called Impractical Goods full of Wendy's rejects: non-QWERTY typewriters, left-handed scissors, fondue sets, tiny magnifying glasses.)

I first discovered Practical Goods at its old location on Saint Clair Avenue, when a rainbow array of porcelain pots glittered through the windowpane. In the almost mystic entryway, I recall grinning as Wendy answered a small question with her reply outlining a philosophy of stuff. With a rich description of its properties, she talked me into trying a cast aluminum skillet. And Wendy was right, it's magnificent, especially for cooking perfect tortillas. I've since gone back in times of need to find useful things: a potato masher, a hand-crank coffee grinder, a corn pot, spoons, tweed, a butter dish, a linen shirt.

[The old Saint Clair storefront.]

[Bandanna parabola, hats, overalls, wooden furniture.]

[Wendy, bottom left corner, discussing material culture with a customer.]

[Tweed rack.]
Every time climbing the metal stairs to the 3rd Floor of the JAX building, finding the hallway lined with bright shirts, Wendy has been waiting with her cats and her knitting needles like a Buddha of thrift under her white bun. I might play the piano or discuss Renaissance food. That said, it doesn't hurt to call ahead.

Of course, it's all about to end. Just like her earlier shop, Wendy is due to lose her lease as the JAX Building, home to a bounty of artist studios, has been sold. It wasn't hard to see it coming. The building is both run-down and beautiful, and directly adjacent to the sparklingly restored Union Depot train station and the light rail terminus.

When she had to pack up her store the first time, you could feel the dread descend. A store like Practical Goods does not fall lightly into place. Wendy does nothing without great care, and putting everything into a storage pod must be like a trauma.

Get there while you can. Find your material needs and bring questions. You will not leave empty handed.

[Candles on a grand piano.]

["Home is where the cat is."]

[Roller skates.]

[Blue, green, and orange glass objects before a wall of denim.]

No comments: