By Samantha DiMauro
August 06, 2014
Credit: Courtesy of Black Ink

Harvard Square is packed with everything a hard-studying Harvard student or hard-working Cantabrigian may need for their day-to-day—and plenty of things they don’t. The most fun thing about shopping in such a cultured and diverse neighborhood is skipping the recognizable, everyday chains to discover the shops with an out-of-the-ordinary inventory.

With the Ivy League university campus at its center, the square branches off in a haphazard web of narrow streets and alleys. (They were laid out in 1631, so we can’t blame them too much.) No matter how frequently I visit, I can easily get turned around trying to navigate my way back to the train, which can—and does—often lead me to stumble happily upon somewhere I’ve never been before. Harvard Square offers ample window-shopping and independent storefronts selling unusual souvenir and handcrafted gifts. It’s the memorable boutiques are stocked with uncommon and not-so-basic necessities that keep me getting lost again and again.

Looking for more on shopping in Boston? Read T+L’s Shopping Guide: Boston.

Black Ink

The floor-to-ceiling shelves at this itty-bitty, offbeat gift shop are stocked with novelties and knick-knacks you never knew you needed. You’ll enjoy a quirky selection of stationary, rubber stamps and greeting cards, and fish bowls filled with bits and baubles like round dice and bird whistles. It also offers “gift canning” services, where you can seal your nifty trinkets in a ribbed tin can.

Forty Winks

Stepping into this friendly and comfortable lingerie boutique is like waltzing, slipper-footed, into the walk-in closet of your dreams. Racks are filled with a handpicked collection of posh and pretty lightweight undergarments, loungewear, and “sexy little things” from top designers including Panache and Calvin Klein. Don’t miss the selection of fresh-scented washes made especially for delicate lace.

Leavitt & Peirce

This 127-year old tobacco shop specializes in quality cigars, hookahs, pipes, and fresh tobaccos. In addition to appeasing your vices, go here for old-fashioned games and gifts like glass marbles, hand-carved chess sets, cuff links, walking canes, and antique-style bookends. The shop’s commitment to the novelties of bygone days is best detected in museum-like quality of the interior—century-old display cases and memorabilia from Harvard glory days, matched with the unmistakable aroma of ancient cigar smoke.

Mint Julep

This charming boutique is where you’ll find wall-to-wall signature pieces from sweetheart designer brands like Anna Sui, Manoush, and Tibi. With roots in Boston, go here to shop local and treat yourself with a wicked cute pair of designer selvedge denim jeans or a bright summer dress in a quirky print. Friends and founders Brooke Garber and Stephanie Nist started the now-regional chain in the name of Southern hospitality—and the Kentucky Derby’s official cocktail.

The Tannery

You’ll find designer labels to match the tireless, tread-heavy lifestyles of Boston and Cambridge inhabitants here. Since 1973, it’s the place to go at the height of winter to find a much-needed Canada Goose duck down jacket. Year-round, it’s best known for a selection of quality leather footwear, offering brand name favorites like Dromedaris, Frye, and Børn.