Radical Books and Pearl Snap Shirts: 5 Unexpected Boston Stores

From out of place and out of time, but perfectly at home in Boston.

A stroll up Newbury Street holds few surprises: Brooks Brothers gives way to Ralph Lauren, Anthropologie to Urban Outfitters, a predictable and plentiful helping of everything you’d expect to find in any major city across the country. Few surprises however, doesn’t mean no surprises. Hidden throughout town, Newbury Street included, Boston is home to a trove of stores with a flair and flavor you won’t find anywhere else – you just need to know where to look. From shops that could only emerge in a town like this, to storefronts that you’d expect anywhere but Boston, and then everything in between, here are five of the city’s most unique stores.

Interior of Bobby From Boston
When the pool table isn't covered in ties and cufflinks, feel free to play a game of eight ball. (Courtesy Bobby From Boston)

Bobby from Boston

Boston is a city where history and style seep from the sidewalks. For generations, students have proudly worn their colors across Boston’s campuses, and politicians in wigs, bowler caps and parted pompadours have rallied crowds to revolution and reform; frantic fans ripped their jeans and stamped their boots in the packed punk bars of Kenmore Square, while crowds cheered for the home team in jerseys and caps within the green walls of Fenway Park. The point where these moments and their stylish splendor converge is Bobby from Boston, a vintage clothing store nestled on a quiet brick block in the South End. Five steps through the unassuming doors of Bobby’s will take you fifty years into the past: tweed blazers and leather-bound trunks fill the wooden shelves, canoes and pennants hang from the ceiling, and the pool table’s green felt is arranged with silk ties, gold cufflinks and mechanical wristwatches. From denim work wear to collegiate khaki and pinstripe, Bobby from Boston is a one-of-a-kind store that captures the style and essence of every era and walk of Boston life.

Exterior of Lucy Parsons
Radicals, reformers and revolutionaries alike flock to this haven for activism. (©LGagnon/Wikimedia Commons)

Lucy Parsons Center

In 1776, Boston became the epicenter of the most radical movement the world had ever seen; the city hasn’t let up since. From the days of abolitionism, to women’s, workers’ and then civil rights, Boston’s progressive spirit has become an inalienable part of the city’s identity. There’s no better place to see that spirit alive in Boston today than Lucy Parsons Center in Jamaica Plain. Part bookstore stocked with radical writers and works, part free meeting space for activist and community groups, Lucy Parsons is a haven for Boston’s radical thinkers and world changers. Not-for-profit, staffed by volunteers without pay and run as a collective by all involved, Lucy Parsons Center is a unique embodiment of the Boston’s forward-thinking spirit.

3D Beans work
There is no sculpture more true to life than those created at 3D Bean. (Courtesy 3D Bean)

3D Bean

Since clay-tipped sticks were first dragged across cave walls, humanity has sought new ways to depict itself. Paintings moved from the wall to the canvas and sculpture from wood to marble; photography seemed the ultimate rendering, then the images started to move and speak. As this arc of development continues, Boston has become home to a place that wants to be the next great step in humanity’s quest to capture itself: a one-of-its-kind store called 3D Bean. Through the combined powers of 3D printing and a 360-degree camera system, 3D Bean creates true-to-life sculpture copies of their customers. The next great step in humanity’s quest to see itself? Who knows, but 3D Bean is surely one of Boston’s most distinct stores.

Interior of Rick Walker's
The Highway Men ride again down Newbury Street to Rick Walker's. (©Victoria Childs)

Rick Walker’s Rock’n’Roll Cowboy Clothes

Boston has a reputation for homogenous fashion: tartan flannels and duck boots fill the sidewalks, while waxed jackets, khakis and cords seem to be standard issue for a large portion of the population. Back Bay is a hub for this homogeny, which is why many a shopper does a double take when they pass the large wooden cowboy boot and bull’s horns mounted outside of Rick Walker’s, Boston’s premier clothier for cowboys and rock ‘n rollers at heart. Step down from the glitz of Newbury Street and lose yourself in this paradise of tassels, spurs and silver-face amplifiers. From motorcycle jackets and cowboy boots, to pearl snap shirts and Native American jewelry, Rick Walker’s selection of vintage clothing has everything needed to equip you and your band or posse for the open road. 

Showcase at Bartevian
Built around the corner from Edgar Allan Poe's birthplace, Bartevian pays homage to the literary titan. (©Alex Oliveira)

Bartevian Inc.

“What’s cookin’?” slings a woman from behind a pair of gold-framed green shades. Ask her once for her story, and she’s off: Her name is Pat Bartevian, she’s 95, and for 10 years she and her sister danced in Hollywood movies with the likes of Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra. She now runs a consignment shop started by her father in 1910, her sister painted the mural on the ceiling (“she really appreciated Michelangelo’s stiff neck on the scaffolding"), and she’s dedicated to promoting the story of Edgar Allen Poe’s history in Boston. The store has a little bit of everything: mink coats, brass candelabras, Latin American records, copies of the Swiss Family Robinson and a carved ivory sword or two. In the spirit of Poe, there’s a flair of the spiritual, occult and mystique about the store; pentagram necklaces hang on the wall, a skull grins at you from inside a case, and a raven keeps a watchful eye over the whole store. You don't really know what you wander into Bartevian to find, but rest assured, you'll walk out with a great story from Pat at the very least.