Best of NJ 2014: Shopping

Looking for a stylish shoe boutique? What about a small but stocked record store? We catalog the best shopping in the Garden State!

Sound of Music: "There's never a dull moment," says Laura Smith of the workday at Princeton Record Exchange. The store's bins are crammed with used LPs, DVDs and CDs, and some new titles, too.
Photo by Yvonne Albinowski

Bridal Boutique
I Do, I Do in Morristown aims to offer everything a bride needs for her special day, including head pieces, shoes, accessories and, of course, hand-selected designer gowns. “We cater just to the bride and make it all about her when she comes in,” says Patricia Lipper, co-owner of the studio along with Leia Marley. Sundays are reserved for private fittings. (35 South Street, 973-998-6215)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Exquisite Bride, Princeton; Three Graces Bridal, Lebanon

Indie Bookstore
With its creaky wooden floors, hand-lettered signs and sagging, homemade shelves, Montclair Book Center might seem like something of a dinosaur. But if you’re a book lover, you’ll be glad this throwback Montclair retailer has survived. New hardcovers are discounted 10 percent, but it’s the vast selection of used books at bargain prices that’s the real draw. And you can trade your own volumes for cash or credit (by appointment only). Even used LPs and CDs—added to the product mix several years ago—are far from extinct at MBC. (221 Glenridge Avenue; 973-783-3630)

E-readers are swell, but nothing beats the sound of turning pages, the feel of good paper. Town Book Store in Westfield has been connecting customers with literary gems for 80 years. “There seems to be a renewed interest and appreciation in the uniqueness of what small bookstores have to offer,” says owner Anne Laird. The shop holds frequent in-store events, often with local writers and poets. (270 East Broad Street, 908-233-3535)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Words! Asbury Park; Bookateria Two, Ocean City

Indie Record Store
Founded in 1980 by Barry Weisfeld, Princeton Record Exchange is one of the most respected independent music stores on the East Coast. A must-visit for vinyl aficionados, Princeton boasts bins crammed with some 140,000 new and used CDs, used DVDs and used vinyl records in every genre. Got a stack of old LPs collecting dust in your attic? Princeton will buy your collection online. However, if you want to browse Princeton’s treasures, you’ll have to visit the store. “We don’t handle online orders because our selection changes greatly from day to day,” says manager Jon Lambert. (20 South Tulane Street; 609-924-3472)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Tunes, multiple locations; The Record Collector, Bordentown

Gift Shop
The White Butterfly is a gem in downtown Jackson, a charming boutique filled with delights for everyone on your list. Popular lines include Alex and Ani bracelets, Lenox china, Brighton handbags and much more. There’s also a registry for brides and babies. Grab a salad and a cappuccino at the outdoor café, open year-round. Fire pits keep it cozy and quaint. (200 N County Line Road; 732-901-6262)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Verdi Blu, Glen Rock; Sickles Market, Little Silver

Braunschweiger Jewelers is a fifth-generation business that can trace the family’s dexterous fingers back to a clock factory in Germany. The company, with locations in Morristown and New Providence, prides itself on warm relationships with clients. “We once had a couple pull up in a limo on their wedding day to have a photo taken with the person who sold them their rings!” says president Kristy Braunschweiger-Smith.

REGIONAL WINNERS: Hamilton Jewelers, Princeton; Anthony Jewelers, Palmyra; Cabnet, Margate

Sam’s Fine Men’s Clothing in Livingston is a New Jersey institution. The Cohen family, which still owns the business, established it in Newark in 1899. Times have changed, but the service at Sam’s hasn’t. “We have free alterations,” says co-owner Jeffrey Cohen, “and our employees are trained by European tailors.” Made-to-measure clothing, wardrobe consulting and free delivery are among the options for the well-dressed gent. (555 S Livingston Avenue; 973-422-1000)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Village Tweed, Spring Lake; Richard Bennett, Haddonfield

Musical Instruments
Andy’s Family Music Center will sell you a violin, guitar or pretty much any instrument and enthusiastically teach you to play it. “Very simply, we employ the best, most down-to-earth teachers in the world,” says Joe Vitello, owner of the Livingston business. To accommodate the many musically inclined stay-at-home moms in the area, he plans to launch lessons during school hours. He’ll even help put together the rock band you always wanted to join. (77 West Mt Pleasant Avenue; 973-716-0400)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Jack’s Music Shoppe, Red Bank; Black Horse Music, Runnemede

Shoe Boutique
Shoe enthusiasts kick up their heels for 10-year-old Piazza Della Sole, a Montclair shop that specializes in comfortable, stylish footwear. “No matter how old you are, everyone wants to feel good in their shoes,” says owner Camille Kessler, who carries brands such as Gentle Souls, Pikolinos, Fly London and Taryn Rose. Handbags from Victoria Leather, Carla Mancini and Latico, and accessories like wallets and watches, round out the offerings. (620 Valley Road; 973-783-9243)

REGIONAL WINNERS: If the Shoe Fits, Red Bank; Benjamin Lovell Shoes, Haddonfield; Bare Feet Shoes, Atlantic City

Women’s Clothing
Restyle Renew in Denville specializes in designer collections and high-end mall brands, consignment-style. The shop also has an extensive collection of plus-sized women’s clothing. In addition, you’ll find original works by local jewelry makers, painters and other artisans. The possibilities are always changing. Mindful shopping is encouraged through the reuse of clean shopping bags and totes. (27 East Main Street; 973-983-8100)

REGIONAL WINNERS: Camel’s Eye, Spring Lake; Waterlilly, Spring Lake; Turquoise, Point Pleasant Beach

Children’s Boutiques
Denim & Daisies describes its kids’ fashions as “chic, unique, and a bit unexpected.” The Denville shop, owned by a mother-daughter duo, has clothes for boys up to 24 months and girls up to size 14 from sought-after brands such as Kate Mack, Biscotti and Flowers by Zoe. You can find anything from socks and holiday outfits to baby blankets and stuffed toys. (8 Broadway; 973-331-9009)

Adorableness meets cool at Over the Moon, a whimsical boutique that specializes in baby gifts and designer clothing for kids (infant to tween sizes for girls and infant to size 10 for boys). A staple in Upper Montclair for more than 30 years, the shop also carries books, cards, shoes, accessories and special-occasion dresses. “We’re now outfitting the children of kids who got their baby clothes here,” says owner Susan De Ghett Worth. (619 Valley Road; 973-746-1728)

Elaine McKeon and her mother-in-law, Linda, opened Charlotte West in Manasquan when Elaine’s first daughter, Charlotte, was born eight years ago. The merchandise is upscale and unique. “We’ve got lots of grandma gifts,” says Elaine. (100 Main Street; 732-223-9400)

Vintage & Consignment
Cranford’s Augusta Mae is named for the grandmothers of co-owners Clara Nunziato and Kim Catrice. It’s no wonder the chic shop has such a welcoming ambience. Browsing the goods collected by Nunziato and Catrice is like raiding the closet of your two coolest aunts. “Clara and I often help our customers complete an outfit,” Catrice says. “It’s a very personal shopping experience.” (35 Alden Street, 908-370-7748)

House of Style in Manasquan is worth a weekly visit. The high-end consignment shop gets new merchandise daily and only accepts the best of the best: Trina Turk, Coach, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Armani. “Used” here means gently worn and fully stylish. “We are like your dream closet,” says co-owner Lisa Grillo. A second location, with casual styles from the likes of Free People and Juicy, opened last year in Point Pleasant Beach. (116 Main Street, Manasquan; 732-722-7007)

School of Vintage in Surf City (summers only) and Tuckerton (year-round) is more than a consignment shop. Owners Jeannine Errico and Erin Buterick have a passion for handmade clothing and create one-of-a-kind dresses inspired by ’40s and ’50s structured tailoring. The shop also boasts handmade jewelry, bags and wedding dresses; antique home decor and art; and in-house mending and alterations.

Toy Stores
Denville’s Learning Express prides itself on getting to know its littlest customers. And with play areas galore, the little folks can get to know their potential new toys before Mom and Dad seal the deal. Knowledgeable staffers offer their picks; feel free to challenge them to any game on the shelves. The store specializes in toys for infants to age 13, but owner Diane Bowser warns that even adults get hooked. The Bowser family recently joined arms with the Teaching Room in Morristown, which has been in business for over 25 years. (3056 Route 10 W; 973-366-2800)

How does an independent toy and children’s book store compete with the big box stores? “We’re more nimble,” says Joanne Farrugia, owner of JaZams in Princeton, which has thrived since 1996. “We can react to trends faster,” she adds. Celebrated for its gregarious staff and finely curated selection of toys, JaZams also partners with the town library on an annual Children’s Book Festival, which in 2014 drew 80 well-known authors. (25 Palmer Square East; 609-924-8697)

The Happy Hippo opened 38 years ago in Moorestown and still greets customers with a selection of such classic toys as yo-yos, Wiffle Ball bats, Slinkys and science kits. Rather than inundate kids with electronics, the family-owned shop, now with an annex in Haddonfield, stocks toys that fuel the imagination. “Nothing in here puts you in front of a TV or computer,” says manager Zeke Boren. (135 West Main Street, Moorestown, 856-234-1974; 201 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, 856-429-2308)

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