Of Recent Note

Online Merchants

‘Tis the season of Amazon and Zappos, but what about those web merchants with more rare offerings, or services you didn’t know were available online? The writers offer a few of their current favorites.

We love online shopping for its ease—and we hate it right when the credit card number is going through and suddenly we’ve purchased five times more Seinfeld box sets than we need (wasn’t one already too many?). But some merchants of sundries make up for the impersonal exchange with special stock, uniquely valuable services, or just some plain quirky personality that’s disappeared from the malls of America. Here are a few of our favorites.


I’ve only bought from DR Guitar Picks once, but the experience was a pleasure from beginning to end. David Reasoner has operated out of Amarillo, Texas, since 1968, making guitar picks from unlikely materials. Not only does Reasoner hammer out copper picks, but he also provides them in stainless steel, bronze, and brass. These I had to try. Before I realized it, I’d clicked my way to a full basket of his products and checked out, without even discovering whether Amarillo to South London was out of the question. No need to worry. A few days later a small brown envelope arrived. A hand-written note said “you’re my first European order!,” alongside a free pick necklace. And they all sound great. —Jonathan Bell


If God is kind, why did He or She produce any space as deeply soul-mashing as the local post office—even when it’s empty, even when the clerks are kind? We may never know the answer. But thanks to USPS.com, we also may never have to enter a post office again. Thus making my favorite mail-order website all about ordering stuff for mailing. Forty-one-cent stamps celebrating the pollination process, boxes that cost exactly zero dollars, and prepaid shipping labels that, unlike my handwriting, are legible. Other humans can read them! U.S.PS.com, thank you for saving me from the very thing that created you. —Lauren Frey


The Oriental Trading Co. specializes in the kind of toys, games, and junky novelties awarded by 2nd grade teachers for winning the homeroom spelling bee. Also the perfect budget supplier if you happen to be a fairground carnie strapped with a crystal meth addiction. The Hanukkah-themed items, including rubber duckies emblazoned with the Star of David, are not to be missed. —Tobias Seamon


Checking my online order history at Amazon, I noticed that I’m edging up to a full decade of holiday online shopping convenience. For almost 10 years I’ve turned to the internet to solve my gift-giving needs—and not because the items I purchased were so rare or well-priced that going to the store was out of the question, but because the gifts would need to be mailed anyway. And because clicking the buttons used to be nifty. Now the niftiness has long worn away, and online shopping’s usefulness for me is that it can place in somebody’s hands something I might not be able to pick myself—say, the perfect bouquet of flowers. At Martha Stewart Flowers, I may only get a stock photo of what’s going to be sent, but the results are fresh and spectacular, without fail. —Andrew Womack


If you’re like me, you’ve got this weird “talent” where you can pop your bottom right rib. Also, you have an unhealthy obsession with late 20th century concert art. And if you’re unlucky enough to have still not discovered Wolfgang’s Vault, well, then I pity you. From full posters and post-card-sized handbills to shirts, magnets, and even neckties, Wolfgang and company offer an extensive array of rock-and-roll merchandise at fair-ish prices, all waiting to be shipped right to your door. Also cool is that you can search the site by band, venue, and even poster artist or series. I don’t quite get how Wolfgang manages to maintain this labyrinthine treasure trove of 60’s and 70’s musical memorabilia on top of the cooking gig, but hey, who am I to question it. —Eric Feezell


My favorite tea is Twinings Lady Grey, which is almost impossible to find in anything but bags. And when you do, it’s expensive. Fortunately, Twinings will ship all their teas from their website. Along with Lady Grey, they’ve got a lot of other blends that you’ll never find in U.S. stores. —Clay Risen


Every day I take a mailbox full of direct mail fliers, inserts, Val-pak coupons, and predatory credit card offers and throw it in the garbage. Then one day last week the Bibliodyssey book shows up at my door replete with bizarre illustrations from centuries ago: biological diagrams of unknown fauna, patent illustrations for nonsensical machines, wood block prints of people falling out of the sky. It’s a Codex Arcana for the common man. —Llewellyn Hinkes


There is no greater box to receive in the mail than one that says Zingerman’s on the side. Once a small deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., and now a well-recognized beacon on America’s culinary map, Zingerman’s is the perfect answer for questions like, “What do I get for my friends who just had a baby?” “What’s the proper thing to send to someone who’s had a death in the family?” or “How much do I like bread, cheese, and chocolate?” Expensive, but invariably worth it, and with the best customer service I’ve ever seen. Even their catalogs are fun to digest. —Rosecrans Baldwin

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers