Friendly boutiques (and their drool-worthy goods) make it easy to buy local in the Midwest.

By Kelly Ryan Kegans with Hannah Agran
Tyler Kingston Mercantile in Kansas City, Missouri

Twinkle lights frame windows, a bell jingles on the door, and candles fill the air with the scent of juniper. There are cheeses to sample, scarves to snuggle and a shopkeeper to meet-a Midwesterner making a brick-and-mortar go of it in a click-to-buy age. She'll happily chat or share ideas for whoever's trickiest on your list. The idea is nostalgic, but the goods are modern-and these hometown shops get it right.

Where to Go for Home & Lifestyle

Tyler Kingston Mercantile, Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Ryan Donnell.

Step inside Jessica and Ryan Mead's Tyler Kingston Mercantile in Kansas City, Missouri, and the atmosphere is decidedly tumbleweed-chic. Johnny Cash croons. Cacti dot tabletops. The colorful geometry of Southwest textiles-some collected at flea markets on a family trip to Phoenix-play across pillows, blankets and rugs.

"A lot of local shops are doing the made-in-Kansas City thing, which is awesome and there's a need for that, but we thought we'd do it a little different," says Jessica. "I work really hard to source unique pieces from here and around the world and the U.S. that other stores aren't carrying."

The business, named for sons Gentry Tyler and Isaak Kingston, grew from Ryan's furniture-making hobby. This year the couple graduated from an Etsy shop to a 2,000-square-foot space in North KC, where Ryan's work mingles with a rotating cast of found treasures. ("I love being on the hunt," Jessica says.) What's hot now? Tribal patterns, African mud cloth and cactus everything. But there's no telling what the next trip will turn up (tylerkingston.com).

Jessica and Ryan Mead. Photo by Ryan Donnell.

Why We Love Local

Many of our featured shops have amazing Instagram feeds loaded with design ideas, first looks at new merchandise and other eye candy. This one posts @tylerkingstonshop.

More home & lifestyle shops

Forage Modern Workshop, Minneapolis Vibrant, often handmade items: mod throw blankets, kitchen linens and whimsical La Croix can planters (foragemodernworkshop.com).

Silver in the City, Indianapolis The quintessential gift shop, packed with jewelry, cookbooks and all kinds of silly things you didn't know you wanted, like sassy screen-printed tea towels and animal candles (silverinthecity.com).

Commonplace, Milwaukee A spare gallery of design-driven home decor and personal items-lots of clean lines and solid hues in mugs, bookends, dopp kits, key rings and French presses (commonplaceshop.com).

Golden and Pine, Kansas City, Missouri Speckled plates, throw pillows and woven baskets, all ethically made and carefully selected for both style and story (goldenandpine.com).

Mint + Basil, Fargo Irresistible, totally millennial kitchen and home shop, the sort of place that invites you to "creep us" on Instagram and sells faceted air plant holders, Le Creuset and small-batch jams (shopmintandbasil.com).

Where to Go for Vintage

Arlee Park. Photo courtesy of Arlee Park.

To illustrate the mellow mood at Arlee Park in Minneapolis, owner Jamie Hewitt Budnick tells a story: "One lady came in after a facial because she said she knew how relaxing and peaceful it was in here."

The shop, which Jamie opened last year with her twin sister, Ashley Hewitt Lemke, has a sort of sepia glow. Honeyed wood floors, brass fixtures and warm white walls frame wicker chairs, macrame plant hangers, Persian rugs and worn Levi's. The sisters find their furnishings and threads, many with a strong That '70s Show aesthetic, at garage sales, estate sales and thrift stores. They hope their shop inspires people to reuse good-quality pieces or even give them as presents: "Eco-conscious is our jam!" (arleepark.com)

Why we love local

You get to talk to passionate owners who really know their stock. Jamie and Ashley of Arlee Park once unearthed a crystal and geode wind chime for a customer who was struggling to pick out a wedding present.

More shops for vintage

Elm & Iron, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio Even if you don't buy a thing (good luck), thoughtful vignettes offer inspiration on mixing old and new (elmandiron.com).

Scout & Forge Long Grove, Illinois Crates, metal signs, pull-down school charts of insects and other Americana, all dinged-up in just the right way (scoutandforge.com).

West End Architectural Salvage, Des Moines A four-floor labyrinth of found furniture, stained glass, mirrors and doorknobs (westendsalvage.com).

Woolly Mammoth, Chicago A fantastically weird jackpot of antique taxidermy, toys, old Rorschach plates and anatomical charts (woollymammothchicago.com).

Home & Closet, Lincoln, Nebraska A fresh shop with clothes and decor- lots of mid-mod and wicker, plus a few fab custom items made with Pendleton wool (homeandclosetvintage.com).

Where to Go for Food & Drink

Fromagination. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux.

Most Wisconsinites take cheese seriously, and Ken Monteleone is no exception. His staff will taste 300 varieties to select the 60 sold at Fromagination in Madison, Wisconsin. But Ken aims to transcend curating. He wants to educate, too. He can explain the limited-quantity allure of Rush Creek Reserve, a spruce bark-wrapped soft cheese made only of winter milk from cows that graze in southwest Wisconsin. He can advise you to serve "stinky" cheese, like Emmi Roth's Moody Blue, as a dessert course with roasted nuts and fresh figs. And he can suggest a wine or beer pairing-though he'd rather nudge you to a less expected match, like vodka mixed with Door County tart cherry syrup. The point is, good cheese is available everywhere these days. But supermarkets can't offer insight like this (fromagination.com).

Fromagination. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux.

More food & drink shops

DeBrand Fine Chocolates, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Indianapolis Pretty truffles and luxe sundae sauces, plus warm lighting and dark walls to set the mood for indulgence (debrand.com).

The Spice House, Milwaukee, Chicago and Evanston, Illinois A nose-tickling array of spices (like, say, powdered sassafras leaves), with 60 years of experience to back up the cooking ideas (thespicehouse.com).

Churchill's Fine Teas, Cincinnati Tons of loose-leaf teas with detailed info on each, plus classes to build brewing and sipping know-how (churchillsteas.com).

Where to Go for Plants

Sprout Home. Photo by Bob Stefko.

When it comes to holiday traditions, poinsettias are a bit like candy canes or Mariah Carey on Lite FM. It wouldn't be Christmas without them, but their ubiquity somewhat diminishes their charm. Luckily, the soaring popularity of houseplants has given us leafy boutiques like Sprout Home in Chicago, where owner Tara Heibel makes it easy for a wannabe-plant-giver to think outside the foil-wrapped pot. She loves to introduce customers to unusual varieties like of-the-moment spiky staghorn ferns, pencil cacti or spectacularly variegated Rex begonias. As gifts, the sculptural quality of these plants makes them feel like works of art, not token gestures. When customers want something more classic, Tara steers them to Norfolk pines or blooming Christmas cacti in hues of pink, coral or red. Totally festive, yes, but these long-living beauts won't be curb-bound come January (sprouthome.com).

Why We Love Local

Most small plant shops offer classes and workshops where you can get your hands dirty or learn how to keep your new baby alive.

More plant shops

Stump, Columbus, Ohio Run by art school grads, with a great collection of plants and locally made pots, plus (coming soon!) a resident-artist studio (stumpplants.com).

Darling Botanical, Traverse City, Michigan Lush tropical varieties and a build-your-own terrarium bar that supplies all the materials and plants (darlingbotanical.com).

Art Terrarium, Des Moines A new business offering a solid mix of hardy houseplants and succulents against a backdrop of local art (artterrarium.com).

Fern, Cincinnati An airy, hyper-trendy spot selling all things green, plus tempting extras, like soy candles and pottery mugs. Classes include novelties like plant embroidery (fern-shop.com).

Mod Gen, Milwaukee A modern general store (get it?) with a great plant section, where succulents peek from drawers and rainbow-bright pots fill shelves (modgenmke.com).

Where to Go for Body & Bath

As with tasting wine, when shopping for body potions, it pays to have a guide with a nose for nuance-a fragrance sommelier. You'll find one at K. Hall Designs in St. Louis. Everyone here, from floor staff up the chain to Director of Retail Operations Brian Smith, can explain that the Spanish Lime or Scotch Pine candle you're sniffing has "bottom, middle and top notes."

Founded 20 years ago, this business has grown into an empire, with several product lines sold at 2,500 chains and boutiques. But the original K. Hall shop has a general-store spirit that belies the company's scale. Here, you can linger over nutmeg-scented triple-milled soap or explore this year's new Milk + Oatmeal line-all so beautifully labeled, you'll regret wrapping them up (khallstudio.com).

More bath & body shops

Merz Apothecary, Chicago An institution since 1875 that has evolved to sell thousands of lotions, soaps, candles and (sign of the times) beard oils (merzapothecary.com).

Modern Apothecary, Kenosha, Wisconsin A crazy-charming full-service pharmacy that sells local soaps, bubble bath and other self-care goodies (modernapothecary.org).

Eden, Des Moines A sunny downtown boutique with beautifully displayed personal care items, as well as natural home cleaning products (edeniowa.com).

Hand & Land, Leawood, Kansas A pair of cousins selling handmade natural products, like charcoal cleansers, bath salts and lavender eye pillows (handandland.com).

Where to Go for Clothing

Wilson & Willy's. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber.

The sidewalk sandwich board outside Wilson & Willy's in Minneapolis beckons: Get Lost in Here. Gladly. You don't just see the attention to detail in every American-made product. You feel it. Leather belts with raw, hand-scribed edges. Jackets made of smooth waxed canvas. Organic cotton scarves in the colors of clouds. Even the letter-pressed tags beg for a second touch.

Founder John Mooty knows it's a big leap from $20 to $200, but that's how you get from a flimsy blanket that won't survive a wash to a thick wool one that will last generations. So a shop experience matters. "Being able to feel materials, see details and talk with an actual person about why it is here and how it is different from things found at mass retailers makes shopping meaningful," he says. So, too, does a visit with Lamont, the 203-pound shop dog snoozing inside (wilsonandwillys.com).

John Mooty and Lamont. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber.

More clothing shops

The Fold, Omaha Boutique offering top-tier lines like Cluse watches, Derek Lam fashions, Janessa Leoné hats and Indiana-made Luur bracelets (shopthefold.com).

Others, Fargo Clothes and home goods from fair trade or charitable sources. All profits from the small store go to support local and global causes (othersshop.com).

Baldwin, Kansas City, Missouri The flagship store for a nationally known designer denim brand, with a popular line of graphic tees touting KC pride (baldwin.co).

Raygun, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri Affordable screen-printed shirts for adults and kids that revel in insider Midwest humor-and the occasional pointed political jab (raygunsite.com).

Blackblue, Saint Paul A thoughtfully chosen mix of indie and heritage brands from around the United States, including Minnesota staple Duluth Pack (blkblu.com).

Where to Go for Stationery

Calendars feel like a quaint relic of a holiday gift-unless, perhaps, you find a sweet one with flower seeds embedded in the paper, so you can plant it later. At Ruff House Art in Lawrence, Kansas, Jill Shephard specializes in those Oh, cute! kinds of moments. Though she sells all sorts of gifts-soft unicorn ornaments, illustrated tote bags-Jill's real passion is her own cards and art prints. Chains like West Elm and World Market and hundreds of mom-and-pop shops have picked up her designs. Some are inspired by canoeing, biking or "funny things my kids will say." When people browsing ask her for gift ideas, Jill suggests stationery with a caricature of a loved one or pet-turnaround for her custom designs is just four days (ruffhouseart.com).

Why We Love Local

Little shops put their own spins on trends. Case in point: cacti. We spied the prickly guys (real, illustrated, felted) everywhere-including on cards and notebooks at Ruff House.

More stationery shops

Mara-Mi, Stillwater, Minnesota Store-cafe-studio with in-house lines of playfully colorful stationery and wrapping paper (mara-mi.com).

Hammerpress, Kansas City, Missouri Vast selection of graphic letterpress goods, including mod Christmas cards and gift tags (hammerpress.net).

RSVP, Iowa City A one-woman shop selling unique greeting cards, plus extras for paper-lovers like journals and cute sticky notes (rsvp-asap.com).

Broadway Paper, Milwaukee Super browsable store selling pretty calendars, wrapping paper, cards and locally made Cream City Ribbon (broadwaypaper.com).

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