What an eerie and unprecedented time. I hope everyone is staying safe and staying home (so hard, I know). Since we’re all under quarantine, I’ve been thinking about all the places I want to go back to once we’re able to safely do so.
I’ve been living in Boston & Greater Boston for 5+ years now and am always finding hidden gems in this small town. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all, I always find something new. I was also told that the arts don’t thrive as well here compared to other major cities but I am beginning to think otherwise. Here are some of my favorite finds for art supplies and unique inspiration. If you’re visiting Boston and you love the arts, I really hope these shops get added to your itinerary. These places truly spark joy for me!
Also, thanks in advance for supporting the arts and supporting small businesses. And please be sure to wear a mask when you’re going out!
The Paper Mouse | West Newton
The second you walk in, you just know you won’t leave empty handed. You’re in the best place if you’re looking for a gift to give family and friends too. This small local hidden gem is one of my all-time favorites. I love coming in as I always find something new. The selection of goodies from calligraphy inks to washi tape to stationery is one of the best in Greater Boston. Everything is so cute! It’s pure magic in here. Also, be sure to check out their unique workshops. I took a Japanese paper marbling class and tea towel class (you learn how to carve your own stamp!). They were so much fun and I learned a lot. I’m so grateful there’s a store like this that’s close to me.
ICA Store, inside ICA Museum | Boston, Seaport
I LOVE this store and honestly only come here for the museum shop unless there’s an exhibit of interest. It’s a small museum despite the physical size. They offer free admission on Thursdays so that’s the night to go. But back to their store. One of my favorite features is their wide selection of art books. And stuff that you didn’t think you needed (I got my compostable Sweetgum Swedish dishcloths here). If you go on Sunday, there’s usually craft tables set up where you can create some art (free activity). Go for the joy-inducing selection of goods and gorgeous views.
Bodega | Boston, Back Bay
Small, hidden, and just a really cool place to see. You won’t spend a lot of time here but it’s fun to enter the store via a vending machine door. I like coming here to see shoes I normally wouldn’t find anywhere else. They have one of the best curated selection of sneakers. I just wish they carried more women’s sneakers! I also get a lot of inspiration going through the graphic tees. If you’re into sneakers, also check out Concept that’s nearby on both Boylston St. and Newbury St.
SOMA OPTICAL | Boston, South End
We accidentally stumbled upon this store walking around South End one day and were in for such a treat. The bright open space was beautiful contrast from quintessential brick stone Boston. This place has the coolest selection of never-seen-before eyeglass frames. Ask Alissa and Christos (the most adorable couple) about the story behind each pair of glasses. They know so much about the artist and process behind them. You’re guaranteed to be inspired. I sure was as an artist. And maybe you’ll find a new pair of glasses like I did!
Pucker Gallery | Boston, Back Bay
This gallery is hidden above the CVS on Newbury St. and is so underrated. I’m always the only person there, in addition to the people that work there. I always feel like I’m going to a museum for free when I visit. And I’ve seen some of the work in museums too (e.g., Li Hongwei’s ceramics were also displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago). They always have different exhibits so you’re always in for new art. Just follow the sign-less path to the elevator and head upstairs. You won’t regret it.
Mundy’s Asia Galleries | Great Barrington, Berkshires
Okay, this one is a little far from Boston (about 2.5 hours west) but if you’re heading to the Berkshires, add this spot to the list of things to see. I guarantee a jaw-dropping shock to your system as you realize what’s inside. This place is a time machine. You feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a younger Japan. You can really feel the spirit of samurais and artists when you’re here. It was a feeling that was hard for us to wrap our head around. Mountains of history are just right under your nose! The only difference between this place and a museum is that there’s no glass barrier to separate you from the artifacts. Everything is for sale too. I bought an art book in original binding from the Showa era. It’s beautiful and I will treasure it forever. If you’re an avid art lover and love Japan, be prepared to spend some time here. This was our last stop before heading back to Boston and we instantly knew this wasn’t going to be a short pit stop. In fact, we plan on coming back just for this store.
MIT Press Bookstore | Cambridge, Central Square
Bookstores in general are places that allow you to expand your mind beyond familiar topics. However, the layout design and the way MIT displays their books really encourages you to dig deeper into things you didn’t know you’d be interested in. This store gets me super excited about topics I didn’t even know existed. I can spend hours here getting lost in their books—which I have. One of my favorite sections is the children’s book aisle. If I had kids, I’d bring them here every day.
Crane & Turtle | Bow Market, Somerville
I just discovered Bow Market recently and love everything about this hidden and tucked-away-in-a-corner portal. Bow Market is home to super delicious vegan food, macarons, and Crane & Turtle!!! I love this shop so much. The super friendly shop owners are great too. They curate some of the best, high-quality Japanese home goods. I recently bought a knife from them because my partner was looking for a sharp knife to cut sashimi with; we are so happy with this purchase by the way. They also have an amazing collection of glassware that is sourced from various regions in Japan. You’re likely to find things you didn’t know you needed here. They are located upstairs along with other cute artist shops.