The Deep Ellum neighborhood is not just a great place for getting yourself pierced somewhere unthinkable. It's also nothing short of historic. In the mid-'90s, you could find Kurt Cobain fighting onstage at Trees, and 20 years later, at the same venue, you'd find Macaulay Culkin dancing in the crowd at a DMX show. It's delightfully trashy and sinful, tempting you with devil music and glazed doughnuts. The area goes through glacial periods of hot and cold, where locals proclaim its heyday every five years before it's once again deemed barren and passé. It now flaunts its fertility by getting knocked up left and right with new businesses. Anything goes in Deep Ellum: a club hidden behind a decoy candy shop, a barber shop called "Testorone," even a Scientology center. The shops keep with the spirit of the area, and are just as exciting as any of its bars and restaurants.
Acme Rubber Stamp Co.
The family-owned company has stood firmly in Deep Ellum for the last four decades. It's a bit like stepping into Grandpa's attic, where time has stood still, with that creaky-floored charm and oddly delicious old-book smell. Acme's designs – from old presidents to mermaids – are classic Americana, but they also custom-make, say, a vivid stamp from a photo of your selfie-loving friend's face, all in the wee span of 24 hours and at an excellent price. For an original and uniquely retro gift, this is the greatest place in Deep Ellum.
The Akola Project is a socially conscious, nonprofit organization responsible for the creation of orphanages and centers to empower women in Uganda. The fancy boutique carries the jewelry and accessories made by Ugandan women, and in Dallas, most employees are women who'd been victims of trafficking. The hand-made jewelry, such as traditional layered beads or ethically sourced cow-horn cuffs, are bold yet delicate, polished and regally elegant.
This vintage store is more of a shrine to nostalgia. It's a place that caters to our whimsy, rampant with absolute curiosities. You could get lost for hours looking at your favorite '80s toys or forgotten ET lunch box. Owner Sam Thompson is a delight, starting with the fact that he has Ouija board set up on a table and chairs out front, because at B4 they understand you like that.
Dallas Pin Up
Burlesque has exploded in Dallas, and in this shop in particular. Every item, from girdles and bullet bras, to their darling small gifts, has a pin-up, rockabilly or glam aesthetic. It's the type of outerwear you need to match your corseted undergarments. Their flirty lingerie runs through most sizes, and there's a good selection of high-waisted bathing suits. The boudoir photography studio in the back hosts parties and individuals looking to be made over into a dreamy Bettie Page fantasy.
Deep Ellum Trading Co.
This is a great place to visit if you'd like to put and end to the famine of the local starving artists. The store, owned by the Deep Ellum Community Association, prints and sells commissioned work from local artists by getting their work onto magnets, prints or T-shirts. The organization collaborates with artists on the production and design of streetwear and clothing. You can feel pride in your patronage, be it of a "Defend Deep Ellum" T-shirt or pizza-slice earrings, as each item comes with a picture of the artist.
This boutique has an old-Vogue air. Items are not second-hand but truly well-preserved, upscale vintage. They carry the kind of dresses you'd picture Brigitte Bardot wearing in the summer, while the men's section seems to emulate Leon Bridges' closet. In the store's back section, called The Vault, there are rare '20s and '40s finds, Oscar de la Renta gowns and Burberry trench-coats. Hat-wearing mannequin heads line the walls, and merchandise is kept in trend with the seasons, so now is a good time to find a prom dress that absolutely nobody else will have.
Although there are some women's items, this is mostly a men's boutique, one that carries hard-to-find running shoes and what owner Brandon Ayala calls "graduated streetwear". The cool, urban and hip-hop vibe is strong – heck, they even have a leather jacket that belonged to Kanye West, if you're feeling overly confident. It's a fun place that throws frequent events and has a small art gallery in the front. For history enthusiasts, rest assured that each vintage piece comes with a literal story, the biography of your select item is attached to the garment.
Get Reel Goods
This gift shop is owned by the Deep Ellum-based animated movie studio Reel Effects Studios, which made the colossal success called The Book of Life. Their store is full of quirky toys designed by Ren & Stimpy's designer, and rustic products like local honey and artisanal pencils. They also offer fun drink-and-draw classes, though they place greater emphasis on drawing.
This fetish supply store has every harness, hood, whip and device you need to fill your dungeon. If you're curious about medical, electrical or puppy play, they have more answers than the darkest corners of the Internet. Their leather dresses and steam punk clothes are of impressive high quality, more Jean-Paul Gaulthier than Christian Gray-inspired. It's not only a near museum of imaginative foreplay; the store's also an open environment where you'll learn about those parties that nobody else could tell you about.
Life of Riley
In contrast with the inexplicable abundance of Deep Ellum's robot statues, Life of Riley's front door is guarded by a shrub in the shape of a teddy bear that looks like it was impeccably made by Edward Scissorhands. The beautiful store is like a high-end gift shop, a decorator's dream, with furniture refurbished with a modern edge. Owner and interior designer Billy Milner describes it as "a lifestyle store." It's one where you want to smell every original scented candle, touch every notebook and let your wallet fly open. Even their gift-wrapping is innovative. Life of Riley has an appealing uptown look, but fits right in the neighborhood with little things like their "filthy cock soap".
The Greenville vintage store mecca moved to Deep Ellum some years ago. A customer was overhead making the eloquent assessment: "It's a bunch of random-ass shit," which is true in the best of ways. You can easily find a powder-blue china cabinet next to a string of Moroccan lamps. If your dream is to replicate the set of That '70s Show at home, look no further. It's bright, full of history, and much like the flashiest garage sale you've ever been to.
Off the Record
The bar and small music venue, which was formerly Club Dada's green room, was repurposed last year into one of the few bars in the country to be equal parts vinyl store. Records are curated by Greenville's famed Good Records, but the bare-bricked place is quintessentially Deep Ellum, with an impressively eclectic vinyl collection ranging from classic rock to Taylor Swift. In addition, the place hosts a number of cultural events centered on music, like lectures, book clubs and speed-dating. It's a great place to indulge in compulsive record shopping after a few drinks, or to browse during the day while making friends.
Petit Atelier/Tissu Fabrics
The Petit Atelier studio stands out in Deep Ellum, sitting on a corner with a pleasing exterior out of an old Provence village. The fashion-designer owners open up their personal studio for aspiring couturiers, offering sewing classes and renting it as a common studio that provides sewing machines and ample space. Their adjacent fabric store, Tissu, has a wonderful collection of rare, lush, imported fabrics and vintage trims, from Parisian ribbon from the '60s to exquisite bridal fabrics.