Bongs, books, belts, and more. Here's where to buy cool shit in Atlanta.
When we ran into famous ATLien Big Boi (Outkast, Big Grams) down at SXSW this year we talked to him about a few of his favorite spots in Atlanta. He was full of great advice for first time visitors to the city, and had a few great picks of where to eat. When it came to shopping, though, he demurred. He sheepishly told us to shop at Walter's, the OG spot that sells velour track suits, but then said he buys most of his clothes online. What's more, he added, "My wife buys all my clothes." If Big Boi ever found himself out and about in the boutiques of Atlanta he'd find there's plenty of shopping to be done. Here we riffle through the city's best shops for sneakers, bongs, books, and more.
You're never going to read about Plaza Fiesta being on a list for Atlanta's best malls. First of all, who the fuck shops at malls anymore? Secondly, it's more of a flea market than a bona fide retail hub housing name-brand shit. But it's here where you'll find shoe stores selling cowboy boots and soccer cleats, while Mexican cowboys lining the aisles are eager to make the next spur purchase. Next door, you'll run into a couple guys giving tattoos, and across from them is a woman selling soccer jerseys next to a guy hawking cell phone covers while eating a plate from one of the fantastic Mexican eateries in the food court. (No mall's tostadas would ever taste this fucking good, by the way.) In short, it's a magical place that we're glad exists.
It looks like an art gallery at first glance—the exposed brick doesn't help. But, yes, you're allowed to touch the books. Encouraged to, in fact. Reading is fundamental, and at Cover Books, there's a lot of it, especially if you're into some hard-to-find gems. If you're looking for obscure titles such as The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Pyromaniac's Cookbook, or high-brow magazines like gentlewoman,Artforum, and the Escapist, add this stop to your list. If you catch 'em on a good day, you might find an author visiting for a talk. These dudes even have dinners in celebration of the written word, art, food, and architecture. All of the above are what drives the content you'll find on the shelves. Do touch—you won't regret it.
Here's the thing: Depending on the day, this place has basically become a fucking tourist trap, and the tourists are teenagers from OTP (Atlanta speak for "Outside the Perimeter"), but it's more or less worth the trip every time. That's essentially the story for most of Little Five Points these days. Since 1982, Junkman's has taken the motto of "Atlanta's Alternative Superstore" to heart. What does that mean? Let's just say it's the only place you can buy a bong, a dildo, tight-ass shoes, and a LIttle Rascals poster in the same place. If the phrase "let's get weird" was a brick-and-mortar shop, it'd be this place. And that's a good thing.
Down the street from Cover Books is a place people looking to buy a piece of Atlanta to take home with them when they leave should visit. When it comes to retail, you couldn't buy more local than doling out a few bucks at this Westside shop. Inside, you'll stumble across affordable wall art, jewelry, and clothing crafted by ATLiens and others from the Southeast. You'll run into locals trying to support their native creatives, or a homesick couple wanting to bring a keepsake back to their new West Coast apartment. Need some scented candles, skinny ties, and watches all made in Georgia and the not-too-far beyond? Drop in, and be ready for all of that.
Chances are you've seen or heard of Walter's while watching BET or listening to song by any rapper who has ever called Atlanta home. The mom-and-pop shop has been a fixture of Atlanta business for over six decades, and always manages to keep pace with the times. This is evident in its plethora of exclusive and hard-to-find sneakers. And it doesn't start or end there. Sure, kids camp outside on Decatur Street downtown before the release of Foamposites and Jordan's, but they're going to leave with a dope fitted cap and pair of cozy joggers too. You'd do yourself a favor by dropping into say hello next time you're in town.
Army Surplus Sales
Five traffic lights down from the Fox Theater on Peachtree Street is an Atlanta OG. The location has been its home since 1957, and it's the place to find unique used and new military goods. Need a good pea coat at an affordable price? It has plenty. Oh, and there are knives, and tactical gear—a lot of it. It's kind of like when you're in the attic of your cool (but kind of bat-shit crazy) grandfather's crib, and you find a treasure chest of all the old stuff that tells his life story. As the website will tell you, its client list includes "local and foreign law enforcement, community organizations, schools, sports organizations, religious institutions, and your everyday customer," which basically is just a long way of saying, "We got a little something for everyone here."
You shouldn't be scared of the impending nerdgasms you think are about to explode all around you when walking around this Little Five Points spot. Criminal Records has walls of action figures, comics, films, and music for days. The vinyl collection is very on point, and for the most part, the staff doesn't give off the typical music snobbery you might be accustomed to at other independent record shops. You'll probably get lost in Criminal's sauce and walk out with Run the Jewels on wax, an Enya CD, Star Wars figurines, and handful of X-Men books. It's the kind of place where the same guy who checks you out at the counter is in the band you're watching up the street at Star Bar later that night. It's no wonder the place is ATL's hub for "Record Store Day." And their block parties are legendary.
Wax 'n' Facts
If you prefer more ruthless judging when checking out at the register with your vinyl selections, skip Criminal in favor of this dusty storefront. It opened in 1976, a time when Little 5 Points hustlers doled actual dope—so in a way, it's rather quaint. Find obscure blues and soul, and a new counter crush who will for sure hate you.
This store is what you might imagine Luke Skywalker's closet might be like. That's if Luke Skywalker's closet included everything from Alexander McQueen and Cole Haan to Nike and Supra. Even with the store's space-age interior and sleek design, the coolest shit to look at are the sneakers on the shelves. Won't lie, the prices are up there, but chances are you won't find that $120 pair of exclusive Saucony's anywhere else in the city. That's probably because owner Aric Rosenberg is known for hand-picking each shoe that comes through the shop, and the man knows what he's doing. If ever you needed a reason to spend more than 30 minutes in Buckhead, let this be it.
Before he was holding pitbull puppies in the "All Gold Everything" video and collecting checks from Bruno Mars, Trinidad James worked at this shop. That's significant because it's here, the popular streetwear haunt inside Underground Atlanta, where the rapper-to-be would make a lot life-changing connections. It's no surprise the city's movers and shakers frequent this spot—they have everything. Caps, sneakers, clothes, video recording equipment, and Hydro Flask thermoses are fair game. There's really not much to do or look at in Underground these days, but Ginza's merchandise and community feel are hope the area can thrive again some day.
Buckhead is a garbage slice of Atlanta usually better skipped, unless your laptop demands a visit to Lenox Mall's Genius Bar, or you're strapping at Fantasyland for a pop 45 pilgrimage. Open since 1976, the store offers standard rock fare and weirdo little 90s gems—like a Len single you never knew would (finally) complete you. Best paired with a slightly stoned disposition and a completely open afternoon agenda.
Part boutique, part tiny art gallery, and sometimes part live music venue, Pecola is nestled in the still-forming Inman Quarter shopping and dining district in the Inman Park neighborhood. Check out the wall of art pieces for sale by local artists while browsing through racks of uber-trendy dresses and separates for guys and dolls alike. There's cute stuff like tees and strappy sandals, but there's also dated-looking ripped jeans (they actually have an on-site denim distressor, FWIW) and a bag that legit looks like a net you catch fish in so, you know, choose your own adventure! At least you're shopping local.
Young Blood Boutique
If you need a non-corny gift for your hip sister, hip significant other, or hip grandma even, this is the spot. The sunlit, brick-floored space alone is just as Tumblr-ific as the curated wares—think ceramic mugs and planters, screenprinted notebooks, delicate gold jewelry galore, independently made bath products, and a wide variety of prints from local artists. It's like what you'd expect from a store created by a girl with cotton candy–colored hair who loves trying to keep plants alive, transcendental meditation and scrolling Etsy for sustainably sourced rugs at 3 AM... but, like, in the best way.
Paris on Ponce
This is one of the few places you can buy a coffee, an antique clock, a zine, a sage bundle, and attend a wedding reception all under one roof. Confused? Understandable. Its weirdness is part of the charm at this (mostly) antiques and art emporium off the BeltLine. As a self-proclaimed "bohemian destination," the 46,000-square-foot Paris on Ponce boasts dozens of vendors shilling their vintage oddities for homes, film productions, photo shoots, and kooky events. Plus, there's often a chubby pug that sleeps on a dog bed on the counter that legit looks like a cinnamon bread loaf, and he or she is the best. Speaking of which, well-behaved dogs are welcome.
With a focus on (mostly) local handmade wares, the Beehive is another great source for unique gifts—this place stocks everything from apparel, kids toys, and jewelry to bath and body products, home accessories, and pet goods. While some items border on Portlandia levels of granola-esque kitsch (does organic beard-specific shampoo really need to exist? Maybe, we don't know your life), it's still a good feeling when you can support local makers while you snag an oddity for a baby shower or that friend who invited you to his last minute birthday picnic. Just go here. Pick out something. Get a gift receipt. It'll be fine. We're here for you.
This local high-end boutique is the brainchild of married couple Sid and Ann Mashburn—the former was a designer for J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Lands' End and the latter a one-time Conde Nast editor, so you know this stuff is fussy as shit. If you're looking for quintessential Southern staples that'll cost you a pretty penny but last a long time, this is the spot. On the bright side, if you're in town for a wedding or fancy occasion, you can prove to your parents or friends that you do,in fact, have your shit together by showing up in one or a few well-made Mashburn pieces—plus, you'll fit right in with all the bros who still talk about frat parties and "the glory days."