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A Shopping Guide to Center City, Philadelphia

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A Shopping Guide to Center City, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a many funny thing. For the second-largest Northeastern city (and fifth largest in the US, by population), the first capital of the United States could justifiably be called “overshadowed.” To the north lies New York City – Gotham, Metropolis, America’s gravitational center – while just beyond that is Boston – “The Birthplace of the Revolution,” whose iconic film portrayals and championship sports teams ensure its name still rings ‘round the world.

Then, just three hours south of America’s first capital, there’s its current: Washington, D.C. I don’t need a Kevin Spacey voiceover to tell you why the District punches well above its population.

Yet, perhaps it’s this status as the I-95 underdog (coupled with rent prices literally half of Mahattan’s) that gives Philadelphia its charm, pluck, and sheer vitality. After all, while Boston has “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed” in its corner, Philly has its own Oscar story: “Rocky,” a tale of an indomitable human spirit beating all the odds. Overshadowed? Not quite. Underrated? You bet.

Last weekend, I spent a sunny Saturday downtown for a day full of eating, shopping, and touring. Since I grew up in Philly’s suburbs and would visit often, I did my best to avoid the chains and seek out the Center City destinations I know and love. I even made a customized Google My Map (link to map here) so you can follow along. 

Neat, right? Well, I thought so. Without further ado, here are the stores and sites that made the cut. 

 

Knead Bagels (725 Walnut St)

The culinary avant-garde is typically liquefied, ionized, or at the very least, gluten-free. Knead Bagels, then, is either a slave to convention or the avant-avant – and believe me, there’s little conventional about lavender bagels and scallion lime cream cheese. Knead’s iconoclastic approach to a New York delicacy has nothing to do with any metropolitan rivalries, and is instead a simple story of passion and chance. Two professional chefs, one serendipitous curiosity (quote: “I want to try making bagels”), and countless hours of recipe refinement all came together to form a single delicious result: the best artisan bagels I’ve ever tasted.

While Knead’s bagels certainly cost some dough ($3.50 for a “non-traditional” with spread, $7.00 for a breakfast sandwich), the taste is worth every penny. Go early to avoid the omnipresent line, and whatever you do, don’t default to your deli’s typical “plain on plain.” Knead’s fresh, flavorful bakey is not the place to be stale. Start your time in Philly here with an unforgettable bagel sandwich.

 

Lapstone and Hammer (1106 Chestnut St)

Visit enough sneaker shops, and even the least fastidious philosophers among us will start believing in singularity – or at the very least, convergent evolution. I’ve been to specialty boutiques in all four corners of the country, and heaven forbid, there are genre tropes. The shelf-warmers needed to guarantee access to big releases; whatever clothing brand rapper of the moment just promoted; the list goes on. Homogeny, thy name is Instagram hype culture.

Lapstone and Hammer, however, is different. In fact, it’s brilliant.

In the same way that NOAH introduced New York City to a combination of store and product best described as “streetwear for grownups,” Lapstone and Hammer has built Philadelphia’s very own temple to the cult of taste. The store is split neatly into two halves, the first of which comprises an oak-paneled room lined with designer shoes on one wall (Common Projects; Filling Pieces; ETQ) and contemporary yet understated menswear (Robert Geller; Momotaro; Schott NYC) on the other.

Just beyond the oak and denim, however, lies the sportswear: a backlit monochrome antechamber lined with every Nike release you’ve ever heard of, plus the hottest selections from other sneaker brands like Asics, Vans, and Saucony (notably absent is Adidas, who’ll be joining the lineup soon). Business in the front, party in the back.

Carve out a good chunk of time to spend at Lapstone and Hammer – it is truly (and refreshingly) like no other sneaker store I’ve ever visited. Oh, and the staff are friendly, too. Take that, boutique genre tropes!

 

Boyds Philadelphia (1818 Chestnut St)

After you wrap up at Lapstone, walk down Chestnut across Broad Street and keep going until you either a) see blue awnings or b) hear Porsches. Congratulations, sir – you’ve arrived.

As Bergdorf is to New York and Harrods is to London, so is Boyds to Philadelphia. Boyds is a luxury department store in the intangible way that few institutions can ever be, and frankly, may ever be in the rest of our history. Boyds is a landmark draped in silk and marble, its creation due in equal parts to social stratification and an altruistic drive to create pure splendor in our workaday world. The thoroughly-modern luxury brands it stocks at present – Canali, Kiton, Moncler – are testament to the continued vivality of Boyds’ towering heritage.  

As befitting of a luxury clothier, they weren’t keen of me taking too many pictures. All the more reason, then, for you to see it in person. If even just to window shop, no Philadelphia shopping guide is complete without Boyds.  

 

Barneys New York (1811 Walnut St)

As Barneys is to New York, Barneys is to… well, you get the idea. The Philadelphia outpost of New York City’s most stylish luxury department store is every ounce of the polish and prestige you got at Boyds, just with a slightly-younger demographic in mind. On the men’s side, adidas sneakers share shelf space with selections from Gucci and Saint Laurent. For the ladies, it’s all about artistic luxury – brands featured include Balenciage, Fendi, and Acne Studios.

While Boyds is a can’t-miss institution, my personal fashion tastes swing much more towards the selection at Barneys. Thankfully, while they cater to different clientele, the two are mere blocks away. Some things, however, the two share deeply in common: Barney’s, too, was mum on interior photos. Rats. Take time to peruse, try on, and ogle, then exit onto Philadelphia’s iconic Rittenhouse Square.

 

UBIQ (1509 Walnut St)

After you’ve taken some time to enjoy the Square (if you’re visiting on a Saturday, make sure to check out the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market), head three blocks down Walnut St and look for the one storefront that’s not a corporate boilerplate. On the same block as Brooks Brothers and Club Monaco is a store that couldn’t be less preppy if it tried: UBIQ, Philly’s own premium streetwear destination.

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In short: UBIQ is dope. They get every big release (Yeezy, NikeLab, etc.), stock awesome clothing from off-the-radar international designers, and have ridiculous semiannual sales featuring “last pairs” of hyped-up drops at 40% off. Plus, they even get their own exclusive Stone Island collabs (see: last season’s phenomenal Coral Blouson). UBIQ’s own apparel line also scores high marks from me – their SS17 “World Over” capsule had some really solid graphics, specifically on this Travel Poster tee.

After earlier explaining everything I found stale about typical sneaker shops, what I just said may sound like a scurrilous about-face, but hear me out. Is UBIQ “conventional” for stocking things you’ve heard of before but only ever seen online? To an occasionally-jaded style writer, maybe. Then again, I also go every time I’m in town. Even if you swear by the oxford shirts next door, you’ve gotta check out UBIQ. Huge shoutout to Kahlil and Cleveland for helping me out when I stopped in last.

Cross Broad St again, walk two blocks, and look for the steel-and-glass store front. Pull the door, walk inside, and enter the urban oasis known as rikumo. Founded in 2010 but reopened in 2016, rikumo is a Japanese homewares and lifestyle boutique selling only artisan products discovered by owners Kaz and Yuka Morihata during their frequent trips to Japan. Everything you see in store has been curated to reflect the remarkable tastes of the Morihatas as well as the considerate interior of rikumo itself. Seriously – the store is a feast for the senses.

While you won’t find any apparel here, any visitor shopping for style would be remiss to pass it up. Savor your time at rikumo and leave no stone unturned as you browse the shelves – you might surprise yourself with the unexpectedly-delightful objects you find.

Personally, I’m a fan of the teas, soaps, and Craft Design Technology officewares (below). I never thought I’d have an opinion on office supplies aesthetics, but hey, even memories get older.  

 

Reading Terminal Market (51 N 12th St)

For the grand finale: there’s everything at once.

Take a right out of rikumo, walk three blocks up 12th Street, and look for the shuffling mass of neon-dazed tourists. Don’t worry – it’s still “local character” even if other people have heard of it. It’s just kinda hard to keep a culinary wonderland like Reading Terminal Market out of the guidebooks.

Reading Terminal Market is a sprawling, bustling labyrinth of prepared food and farm-fresh ingredients, as famous for its specialty treats as its hearty lunches. Neon signs and wafting smells jockey for sensory real estate with the intensity of locals queuing for world-famous DiNic’s. The line for one of the deli’s legendary pork sandwiches (claim to fame: named one of the best sandwiches in America by the Travel Channel) was too long to rationalize when I visited, so I took a more intuitive approach to Reading and simply followed my nose. The result: a late lunch made entirely of Beiler’s Bakery donuts. Mmm. Nutrition. If Philly donuts are the key to cultivating mass, Fat Mac has all my sympathy.

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Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this shopping guide to downtown Philadelphia. Anything else I should add? Did I miss your favorite store? Sound off in the comments below or on my Facebook here to start the conversation.

 

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A Shopping Guide to Wicker Park, Chicago

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A Shopping Guide to Wicker Park, Chicago

Young. Vibrant. Aspirational. As Williamsburg is to New York, Wicker Park is to Chicago.

Last weekend, I visited the Midwest’s best pantomime of a hipster paradise for a day full of eating, shopping, and touring. This was my second visit to the neighborhood, and therefore provided a great chance to avoid tourist traps in favor of seeking out the local character. After a long day of drinking in all Wicker Park had to offer, I decided to type up this guide to help you plan your own visit to one of Chicago's most eclectic neighborhoods. I even made a custom Google My Map (link) so you can follow along.

My custom Google My Map shopping guide ( link )

My custom Google My Map shopping guide (link)

Cool, right? Without further ado, here are the stores and sites that made the cut:

 

 

RSVP Gallery (1753 N Damen Ave)

If you interpret the word “Hypebeast” as “news source” instead of “insult,” you’ve probably heard of RSVP Gallery. The Wicker Park boutique is one of Chicago’s highest-end menswear outlets, a curated collection of everything luxury streetwear under the helm of street culture legends Virgil Abloh and Don C (of “Just Don”).

It is also, sadly, a strict “no photos” zone. Considering the art on display (vintage neon signs, displaying everything from Pepsi to Chanel) and the art on the racks (Cav Empt to Rick Owens; Undercover to Givenchy), this museum-style approach to photography coverage is understandable. Somethings are just best experienced in person. Start your tour of Wicker Park here to drink in the freshest boutique in the area code.   

    

Fjallraven (1708 N Damen Ave)

If latitude is any measure, Chicago and Stockholm are worlds apart.

Good thing “thermometers” came around.  

In one of America’s most notoriously-frigid cities, this outpost of the legendary Swedish outdoors brand Fjallraven seems both welcomed and expected. A quick stroll through Wicker Park reveals many Fjallraven products in action – the Kanken backpack and Greenand jacket, both heritage functional gear in their own right, are at home within the urban rustic aesthetic favored by the “single-origin coffee” set.

Perhaps Fjallraven’s gorgeous Wicker Park store (kitted out to look like a Swedish hunting cabin, antler chandelier and all) was just an inevitable step towards a Sweden/Chicago synthesis. After all, if you go back far enough, most of the Midwest was settled by Northern Europeans – now, it’s just their clothing’s turn to colonize. Special thanks to Lucas for walking me through the Spring line, including the innovative Eco-Shell rain jackets.

 

Marine Layer (1636 N Damen Ave)

Need to escape the Swedish tundra? Salt spray and palm trees are only a block away.

While other stores in the neighborhood seek to keep you warm and dry, Marine Layer (a California-based apparel brand) has staked a claim on maximizing fabric comfort. The supersoft cotton blend found in their t-shirts is as welcome as San Diego sun, and, as the name suggests, styled to layer. For a Northern audience, that means bulky utility parka on the outside, buttery cotton tees and sweats where fabric meets skin. It’s the best of both worlds without compromising either.

Oh, and lest I forget - speaking of “no compromises,” Marine Layer is the first store I’ve ever seen to offer a “Marge” in men’s shirting. No, that’s not Mrs. Simpson. As the portmanteau suggests, a shirt sized “Marge” is the perfect middle ground between sizes Medium and Large: skinny body, long arms, and shoulders sized for the person who has both.

I tried on a Marge long sleeve (above) and it is, without a doubt, the best-fitting shirt I’ve ever worn. Tall skinny dudes of the world, rejoice.  

 

Arc’teryx Chicago (1630 N Damen Ave)

Just a few doors down from Marine Layer, functionalized form awaits.

As track shoes are to loafers, Arc’teryx is to its “heritage” outdoors brand neighbors. In short: the Vancouver-based outdoors innovator is responsible for the modern outdoors performance industry. From the technology behind the jackets (GORE-TEX Pro; taped zips) to the look of the gear itself (just compare a Patagonia jacket before and after Arc’s 1990’s apparel debut), the “Dead Bird” reigns supreme.

Most impressive of all: it’s no slouch for style.Given Wicker Park’s *ahem* sub-Alpine elevation, the Arc’teryx Chicago store carries a full selection of the brand’s lifestyle line “24” as well as the elevated techwear line “Arc’teryx Veilance.” Both are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and worth a visit to ogle alone. Where else will you find laser-cut seams and 3L GORE-TEX fabrics on a street-ready fishtail parka?

While neither line comes cheap, the brand’s devotion to materials research and construction quality means your purchase is both 1) lightyears ahead of the industry and 2) built to last that long, too. If you have the coin, please cop a Veilance jacket so I may live vicariously. A special thanks to Bryce for showing me some of the fabrics and technologies behind the new spring Veilance line.

 

The Wormhole Coffee (1462 N Milwaukee Ave)

If you yawned once today, you now have an excuse to visit Wicker Park’s most eclectic coffee shop. Walk down Damen to the six-point intersection, then hook a right down Milwaukee and walk until you see the black storefront with a gleaming white “WH” out front.

Then, enter the Wormhole.

The Wormhole Coffee is nostalgia distilled, then served up hot. In short: the saccharine memories stirred up by 80’s homages like “Stranger Things” are one-upped by a coffee break in Wormhole. Collectibles peak out of every shelf. Vintage movie posters line the walls.

There’s a DeLorean in the back.

Oh yeah – and the coffee’s phenomenal, too.

Grab a drink, settle in for a quick game of Duck Hunt on the NES by the couches, and let the childhood memories wash over you. My recommendation: try the Koopa Troopa latte, a mousse-and-peanut-butter concoction made with Halfwit Roasters espresso. It’s just adult enough to keep you grounded while your inner child comes out to play.  

 

Mildblend (1342 N Milwaukee Ave)

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Take that last sip at Wormhole, rejoin Milwaukee, and walk a few short blocks away from the six-point intersection to find Mildblend, the most whimsical high-end boutique you’ll ever visit.

Like a Parisian antique bookstore, Mildblend is more product than place. Everywhere you turn, there’s another stack or rack – a gratuitous visual clutter that is as charming as it is overwhelming. Lean in to any part of the maelstrom, however, and the world will snap into focus: just like that antique bookstore, what was once visual noise turns out to be made of treasures.

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Mildblend (specializing in raw denim) carries dozens of hard-to-find brands including Studio D’Artisan, Momotaro, and DENIM by VANQUISH & FRAGMENT. They are also one of the few US accounts of the Japanese outerwear brand Monitaly, who make some of the most artful (if slightly impractical) jackets on the market.

As long as you embrace the pure quantity of goods on display, Mildblend is sure to please.

 

Kokorokoko (1323 N Milwaukee Ave)

As day follows night, all cool neighborhoods must naturally have vintage shops. However, that doesn’t mean all that organic growth is up to snuff. For the blue ribbon in recycled clothing, walk just a few doors past Mildblend and cross Milwaukee to find Kokorokoko. Whereas Wormhole presents a curated vision of 80’s nostalgia, Kokorokoko lets you drink from the firehose.

The layout is simple: collectibles up front, clothing in the back, neon everywhere. A massive t-shirt rack is organized by color; shoes and accessories are arranged in era-evocative dioramas. Pop hits blare over tinny speakers. Yes, there are fanny packs.

I spent the longest here out of any shop I visited, both searching for purchases (I left with an oversized Weird Al concert tour tee) and merely enjoying the hunt. The prices are reasonable; the selection, out of this world. If you’re in Wicker Park, you must visit.

 

Saint Alfred (1531 N Milwaukee Ave)

Last but not least: from Kokorokoko, head back up Milwaukee toward the six-point intersection and look for the unassuming white-on-black “A.” Just below it lies an unassuming white-on-black store front.

Just inside that lies Wicker Park’s premier sneaker store.

Saint Alfred (founded 2005) is a world-famous streetwear boutique that has gained notoriety for its killer collabs, notably with New Balance and Asics. On one half of the store, Saint Alfred stocks one of the largest sneaker selections in the city, with everything from Converse to Raf Simons x Adidas elbowing for shelf space. On the opposite wall, a selection of premium streetwear (HUF to Visvim and everything in between) rounds out the space.

Of course, in this era of hype cycles and sneaker campouts, I’d be remiss not to mention that Saint Alfred is also one of the few stores in the city to reliably score highly-vaunted releases like the Yeezy Boost. But, if you’ve been in the sneaker game long enough to remember a life before Yeezy, a visit to Saint Alfred is as much pilgrimage as it is quality shopping.

 

Stan’s Donuts (1560 N Damen Ave)

After a long day on your feet, it’s time for a just desserts. Directly between Saint Alfred and the Damen CTA station lies Stan’s Donuts, a specialty pastry shop that’s become world-famous for both its mouthwatering food styling (toppings on toppings) and its sheer volume of flavors on tap.

With the sun setting on a February night, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a divine Toffee Cake donut before catching my train back to The Loop. Just as I finished, two of Chicago’s finest walked and gleefully asked the cashier for “the usual.”

If that’s not a donut shop co-sign, then what is?

 

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Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this shopping guide to one of Chicago's most exciting neighborhoods. Anything else I should add? Did I miss your favorite store? Sound off in the comments below or on my Facebook here to start the conversation.

 

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New York City: Brooklyn & SoHo (3/1/2016)

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New York City: Brooklyn & SoHo (3/1/2016)

    On Tuesday, March 1, I visited New York City’s Bowery and Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhoods. I’m a Philadelphian by birth, but have always felt a strong connection to NYC. The country’s biggest city symbolizes constant progress: there’s an invigorating spirit in the air, the feeling that 8 million people are all here because they want to participate in something more. That intangible New York spirit packs Broadway theatres and Midtown museums; swells Manhattan apartments and Brooklyn startups. In the 1800’s, metropolitan doctors recommended that patients leave the city to breathe fresh air in times of illness. 200 years later, I breathe the city and feel alive.

    My day began in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was meeting a friend at Toby’s Estate Coffee in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn-based roastery with its own dedicated café. Toby’s Estate is the epicenter of the new New York: ambition, creativity, and above all else, passion. Next to me, two aspiring screenwriters hashed out details of their script. One table over, a junior lawyer took a client call in between sips. Regardless of background, the crowd at Toby’s was here for the coffee and the company. The superb Congolese pourover I had was only half the experience.

    If you’re ever in Brooklyn, seek it out. Sure, it’s pricey (I bought the proverbial “$5 coffee”, but hey, that’s Williamsburg) and power outlets are scarce, but Toby’s just makes you want to spend time there. Raw-hewn wood tables, an open-air interior, and massive lightwells are the perfect complement to work without chargers. Coffeeshops in libraries have made me want to read less. Bring a book, grab a friend, and enjoy.

    From Toby’s, I took the L Train back to Manhattan to visit legendary sneaker store Extra Butter. Even if you’re not from the East, if you know sneakers, you know Butter. As one of a handful of shops that collaborates with the brands themselves, Extra Butter consistently turns out some of the most desirable shoes out there.

    This season, Extra Butter collaborated with Italian sneaker brand Diadora on the “Spaghetti Western” Titan II. This unique take on the Titan II silhouette connect Extra Butter’s love of cinema with Diadora’s Italian heritage to present a silhouette inspired by 60’s-era cult Western classics. Iconic films like “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” may have been written for American audiences, but were shot in Italy by Italian directors, giving rise to the “spaghetti western” genre.

    Extra Butter and Diadora celebrate that heritage with a Titan II retro runner straight from the Old West. Premium saddle leather, shearling lining, and a poncho-weave toebox combine to make a shoe that’s as much Eastwood as Lower East Side. Big thanks to Chris and Bryan from Extra Butter for the store tour.  

    From Extra Butter, I crossed Delancey Street to visit the Tenement Museum. This living history museum in the heart of Manhattan’s Bowery District is dedicated to preserving a slice of New York heritage that’s both impossible to forget and at risk of disappearing. I took the hour-long “Irish Outsiders” tour, stepping back into the 1860’s to learn about the lives of Joseph and Mary Poole. Through their experiences, the tour explained everything from the immigrant experience to the growth of New York’s ethnic enclaves and the resulting cultural collisions that made the city great.

photo:  tenement.org

    My group of 10 explored the original 19th-century apartment a family like the Pooles would have occupied before walking through Mary and Joseph’s actual home, restored to authenticity by the Museum’s historians. As a history buff, I can’t recommend the Tenement Museum highly enough. If you’re looking for a uniquely New York experience and are tired of the Midtown museum circuit, check out this Lower East Side gem.

    After the tour wrapped at 1:00, I followed Delancey to Lafayette to meet my friend Gaby for lunch at The Smile. The Smile is a rustic basement café famous for its Mediterranean-inspired takes on American favorites. It’s also, notably, a frequent backdrop for Aziz Ansari’s superb Netflix series “Master of None.”

    From the moment you cross the door, you can see why a show about New York foodies would choose The Smile: conversation dins, pasty smells waft, and a historic corner bar clinks with brunch cocktails. The environment is welcoming and communal – tables are tight, but no part of The Smile is claustrophobic. You sip espresso as waitresses rush by, nibble on nut bread with your elbow in, and it’s all oddly warm.

    Maybe it’s the superb décor. One thing’s for certain: my Harissa Honey-Roasted Chicken Breast Sandwich delivered. Great food; great atmosphere; and a certain homespun amiability it’s hard to find in a city of 8 million strangers. I will be back at The Smile whenever I’m in town.

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    I said goodbye to Gaby, left The Smile, and walked down Mulberry St to Noah Clothing. Noah is one of a handful of stores I go out of my way to visit. In a world of monochrome overbranding, Noah’s take on relaxed but thoughtful sportswear is refreshing.

photo:  vice.com

photo: vice.com

The brand, brainchild of streetwear legend Brendon Babenzien, combines music, art, sports, and culture into an experience that’s as much enlightened as it is casual cool. In addition to the eponymous Noah clothing line, the Mulberry Street store curates a selection of footwear and accessories that emphasize understated quality. Vuarnet sunglasses, retro-inspired woven belts, and heritage footwear from French brand Paraboot are right at home with the store’s own selection.

    Noah is as much about making great clothing as it is exposing people to the right ideas. For example, the store’s blog famously hosted a one-day screening of filmmaker Sterling Milan’s “Black Movie Night.” The short film examines racial politics in the movie industry through a dialogue between actors, rather than a grandiose speech. Why would a clothing label take a stance on a potentially-controversial topic? Simple: because supporting good ideas is the right thing to do. Big shoutout to Brendon, Will, and Jason for all the work they do bringing Noah to life.

    From Noah, I took Broome to Mercer to visit my other favorite downtown spot, NikeLab 21 M. NikeLab is the Oregon sportswear giant’s sleekest touchpoint. While every shoe on display is a performance machine in its own right, the luxurious marble surfaces and exclusive colorways make NikeLab as much ultramodern boutique as athletic store.

    I love NikeLab: every visit feels like a peek into the future of the world’s most innovative sportswear company. The stylized running gear available only through NikeLab (part of the Nike x UNDERCOVER Gyakusou collection) is a particular favorite. Considering my own pair of Nike Swoosh Hunters were in the mail, I unfortunately left empty-handed – I love sneakers, but making rent does occasionally take priority. Until next time, 21 M.

    With the sun setting over skyscrapers, I drank in my last New York moments, then took the E Train back towards New York Penn Station to begin a long journey home. Someday, I’ll hopefully live and work in this city. For now, I’m content to visit whenever I can.

If you’re interested in any of the locations mentioned above, I’ve made a custom Google Map retracing my steps. Enjoy your visit!

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