[UPDATED: December 1, 2012]
We continue our month-long focus on Harlem with a look at shopping with kids in the neighborhood. The main thoroughfares like 125th and 145th Streets are filled with popular chains like Children's Place, H&M and Old Navy. But, as befits the vibrant and diverse area, you can also find more eclectic stores on the side streets and avenues.
Although independent Harlem shops aren't taking off quite like the restaurant scene, there are still several gems, each with a unique story and history. Here are our top kid-friendly stores for families to hit in Harlem.
84 West 120th Street at Lenox Avenue
This lovely toy and book shop sells educational playthings, crafts, games and dolls by the likes of Alex, Klutz, Little Hands and Barbie. My family and I could spend all day browsing the wonderful book section. In addition to well known titles, there are books by African-American luminaries like Spike Lee and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as releases by small publishers and independent authors that reflect Harlem’s rich culture and history. Although Grandma's Place carries merchandise for all ages, it's most frequented by the stroller set.
You, Me ‘N Dupri
2297 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard near 135th Street
A newer addition to the neighborhood, this super-cute children’s boutique sells clothing for babies and children up to size 14. Opened by local mom Tirzah Brown, the shop is named after her youngest daughter, Kennedy Dupri. It’s a gorgeously designed and decorated spot, featuring bright tutus, custom glittery sneakers and brands like Ralph Lauren, True Religion and Wonderboy. Of course my four-year-old went straight for the Hello Kitty T-shirts. The store also hosts weekend yoga and etiquette classes for children, and even offers tea parties, white gloves and all. Call the store for details: 646-476-5569.
Madame Alexander Doll Company
Unfortunately, this historic venue closed in 2012
You can learn about the iconic doll line at Madame Alexander's Harlem factory. My family had a lot of fun on the behind the scenes tour, which is offered by appointment and costs $8 for adults, $4 for children. You get a peek at the entire production process, from the design shop to the sewing and production departments, so you get to appreciate how the dolls and their costumes are made. There's even a stop at the Doll Hospital so you can see how they're repaired, and a walk through the Madame Alexander Heritage Gallery, which shows the evolution of the dolls from 1923 to the present. My kids were in awe of all the different dolls and costumes, and pointed out Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland and other characters they recognized. The tour ends in the Gift Shop, which is where you'll do your shopping. The lobby has great photo ops with life-size doll boxes that your kids can pose in, and an oversize rocking chair that makes your children look like tiny dolls. Birthday parties are also offered.
Swing a Concept Shop
1960 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 118th Street
This high-end “lifestyle” boutique offers a stunning selection of designer clothing (including its signature collection and an “I Love Harlem” line), and accessories for men and women. However, it also has a small kids' section with clothes, and charming handmade dolls and toys. Hopefully those items will keep your kids occupied as you browse the clothes, beauty products, home furnishings, art and other home decor, and even a selection of fine teas and chocolate.
Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe
Unfortunately Hue-Man closed its doors in July, 2012.
This cozy bookstore offers a wide selection of titles for adults and children that celebrate African-American history, art and culture. In the back you'll find the children’s section, featuring a child-sized table and a few big floor pillows. Hue-Man carries an assortment of mainstream books as well as several titles not seen in big chain retailers, and the shop plans to start a weekend children’s story hour soon. They also have regular book signings so be sure to visit their website for upcoming events. A small cafe in the front sells soups, coffee, smoothies and other snacks.
Unfortunately, this venue closed in 2014
The go-to spot for Harlem families who like to cycle, this shop carries a wide selection of rides, including balance bikes, tricycles, infant seats, trailers and kids' bikes as well as adult models. The store also offers reasonably priced bike rentals, does tuneups and fittings, and also hosts classes and occasional community gatherings. Although it certainly attracts some hardcore cycling clientele, newbies shouldn't worry: All levels are welcome.
Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market
52 West 116th Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Fifth Avenue
The first thing you'll notice about this open-air market is its mosque-like entrance. Once inside, you may be disappointed to see that some of the stalls are sadly vacant (especially if you come on a Sunday, when many vendors take the day off). But on Saturdays and weekdays, it's usually bustling with business, as visitors peruse mostly African wares like colorful fabrics, traditional clothing, jewelry and accessories, masks and art, shea butter, soap and other beauty products. Occasionally sellers can be a little pushy, but many are willing to bargain, so you can walk away with cool items at low prices. Unlike other markets, there is no food here, although there are plenty of Ethiopian restaurants and soul food mecca Amy Ruth's right on 116th Street.
264 West 125th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards
Long before The Children's Place opened on 125th, this neighborhood fixture was the store for kids' clothes. In fact, former Mayor Giuliani picked up a few duds here back in the '90s while encouraging people to shop in the area. Today, Lazarus continues to sell affordable children's wear, everything from everyday clothes to fancy outfits.
2363 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard between 138th and 139th Street
This adorable French-flavored boutique recently relocated from its old digs a few blocks down. While there are certainly lots of pretty dresses for women, the "les petits" section includes puzzles, coloring books, stuffed animals, educational toys and even baby clothes.