Best Shopping

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Shop girl
BY NINA WILLDORF

ATTENTION, CONSUMERS: IF you're not shopping right now, you're missing out. Just take a look around - there's serious financial damage to be done. With Copley Square's new Christian Dior store, a freshly stocked H&M downtown, and indie boutiques popping up faster than the salesclerk can ask, "Cash or credit?", Boston's become a true shoppers' paradise.

Several months ago, a girlfriend with a credit-card trigger finger came up from New York for a weekend visit. I asked her what she wanted to do. "Shop," she said with a duh inflection. "Boston's the bomb for shopping."

It's a little embarrassing that it took an outsider to open my eyes, but once she flipped up her thumb on the scene, it was the beginning of the end for me. From creative boutiques to tasteful chain stores, easy-access strip malls to neighborhood commercial centers, Boston shoppers have their hands full. The ease and quality of its shopping make Boston dangerously dense territory for spending. Each neighborhood has its own flavor. If I'm in the mood for some Serious Shopping, I head for a hedonistic Saturday at Downtown Crossing. I'll brace myself for dizzying crowds and get ready to duke it out over marked-down duvet covers, but that's a small price to pay for the promised 50 percent-off this and additional 15 percent-off that at the area's megastores. Spanking new discount chains like the ultra-hip H&M and the not-as-hip TJ Maxx have recently settled in. And Boston's famed Filene's Basement, the Gap Outlet, shoe-hog haven DSW Shoe Warehouse, and the momma of all Macy's sit in a crowded one-block radius fit for maximum multi-tasking.

Then there's Newbury Street. Whether it's a perfectly weathered pair of jeans or a tastefully distressed dresser, the notable commercial strip in Boston's Back Bay serves a variety of shopping whims for those with ample cash. Work your way from the snazzy Arlington Street intersection to edgier Mass Ave, and you'll find yourself not just poor but limping, weighted down by lots of bags. The street has it all: iconic boutiques like Calypso, Agnes B., Kate Spade, and Face; up-market chain stores like Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters; and the city's very own fashion claim to fame, Louis Boston.

The student ghetto of Allston/Brighton doesn't just serve up fat slices and cheap beer. It's also a great place to buy cheap housewares and clothes. For the frantic furnisher in desperate need of a dresser, desk, nightstand, and set of shelves (i.e., the student and immediate post-college furniture set), a quick trip to the Harvard Avenue strip satisfies. There lies a series of stores worthy of poor, desperate newcomers' fantasies. You'll find old, selectively tolerable furniture, and more often than not, underneath that stinky couch is a set of chairs for cheaper than you can imagine.

Once upon a time, across the river in Harvard Square, shops catered to students who went to school in Boston but were embarrassed to specify which one. Back in the day, beatniks could roll from dingy coffee shop to inspiringly dark used-book shop, and they had many to choose from. Now, trendy teens roll from sanitized Abercrombie & Fitch to hipper-than-thou Diesel, though a few solid bookstores remain, like WordsWorth and the Harvard Coop.

When Harvard and rising property values displaced the Square's old-school stores, many moved down Mass Ave to Somerville's Davis Square. Avoid the natives who can't stop lamenting the neighborhood's recent transformation (gentrification, people: it happens everywhere). If it's CDs or books you're looking for, Davis can deliver, from dreamy Disc Diggers to used-book emporium MacIntyre & Moore. And to perfect that bohemian image, tuck a copy of Jonathan Franzen's of-the-moment tome under your arm just so, slap on a pair of used jeans from local vintage store Black and Blues, and voilą! Your ensemble is complete.

Nina Willdorf can be reached at nwilldorf@phx.com.


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