Shopping in Chennai has long traversed the path from an activity conducted on a needonly level to everybody’s favourite ‘pass’ time. There’s a recent twist: from stores that cater solely to canines to a garden boutique and designer collectives, niche is the buzzword. Best friend’s wedding? Get them something from,Shopping in Chennai has long traversed the path from an activity conducted on a needonly level to everybody’s favourite ‘pass’ time. There’s a recent twist: from stores that cater solely to canines to a garden boutique and designer collectives, niche is the buzzword. Best friend’s wedding? Get them something from Mere Yaar ki Shaadi collection from the Play Clan boutique. Mother’s Day gift dilemma? She can’t say no to a cheery plant from Harith Tharang-The Garden Shop. More often than not, these stores are characterised by their owners who encourage conversations and make shopping an interactive process. Lateef Mohamad of The Old Curiosity Shop says it best. “There are times when I’m here at the store talking till midnight with a customer. There may be no sale even, but we are both richer at the end of it.”Omar Lateef at The Old Curiosity ShopVintage world: The Old Curiosity ShopNot everything here is for sale, nor is everything available to everyone at The Old Curiosity Shop. “We strongly feel that the person should value what he’s going to buy,” says owner Lateef Mohamad. “So we show things to our customers accordingly.” Set up way back in 1950, this is one of the oldest antique stores in India. The Old Curiosity Shop is actually named after a novel by Charles Dickens about an antique store. The shop is stacked with curios from all around the world-vintage books and chamfer chests from Europe, rugs from Persia and jewellery from royal families of England. advertisementMohamad’s son, 25-year-old Omar Lateef, will most likely meet you at the store. A model and actor, he’s also determined to carry on his father’s legacy. From original Elvis and James Dean polaroids to 150-year-old carriage clocks to gramophone records- antiques of all kinds are available here. They also stock Indian memorabilia for foreigners who frequent the store.Where: 146, Mount Raod, Anna SalaiTel: 28460298Cost: Rs 25 for a keychain to lakhs for other antique items.We love: Cloisonne and porcelain thimbles right out of an English fairy tale.Quirk unlimited: Play ClanPlay Clan is the very definition of Indian kitsch. This Delhi-based design store chain aims at making memorable images out of the mundane. The small Playclan boutique store at the newly opened Raintree hotel is packed with Indian pop culture paraphernalia such as funky T-shirts embroidered with public transport, idols and Bollywood dialogues. The ‘one billion’ tote bag to commemorate the burgeoning population of the city, the Kathakali tote and the purani Dilli tote are intricately designed with numerous in-jokes. The Enna Rascala Rajinikanth journal reigns supreme amongst the other journals on display. Fridge magnets, keychains, watches and cheque book cases following the same standards of funk are also available.Where: Raintree, Anna Salai.Tel: 28309999 www.shop.theplayclan.comCost: Rs 85 for a postcard to art frames for Rs 1995.We love: The 3-Idiots T-shirt that says ‘Main apna surname change nahi karoongi’.Pavitra Mohan at the storeSpice route: Masala ChaiWhat started off as a blog by Pavitra Mohan grew into a popular store design store. Masala Chai, at Ashvita Cafe and Gallery, stocks over 50 brands of jewellery, clothes, bags, bric-a-brac and home decor from South Asia. Products by funky Indian brands such as Chumbak and Magnut are also available. These include keychains, bouncy bobble heads, photo frames and car danglers. You could pick up magnets with caricatures of tongue-in-cheek characters such as Flying Fakir, Dancing Mallu, Simbly Simon and Melvis. Dresses by Funk For Hire, Rachna Reddy’s clutches and jewellery by Baby Baniya are the other eyecatchers. Unique item: kitschy cushions with psychedelic graphics and retro prints of 80s films from a brand appropriately called Item Number.Where: 11 Second Street, Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore.Tel: 42109990, 43129920; www.masalachaionline.blogspot.comCost: Rs 100 for a keychain from Chumbak to Rs 8,000 for clutches by Rachna Reddy.We love: Vinita Nair’s trays made in decoupage style with ethnic designs and printed literary verses.Design dreams: EvolvEvolv is a retail concept that offers individualistic Indian fashion created in collaboration with leading and upcoming Indian designers for urbane Indian youth. Conceptualised by Atul Malhotra this design store offers a range of design products from designer wear, accessories, stationery to books and magazines and music. Some leading Indian designers who have collaborated with Atul include Manish Arora, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Abraham & Thakore, Namrata Joshipura, Sanchita and Malini Ramani. The product mix includes apparel from young designers such as Gaurav Gupta, Amit Agarwal, Shrivan Narresh and AM:PM. The store also stocks accessories such as headphones from Skullcandy, shoes by Language, and Play Clan products. Travel freaks could also get their hands on luxe city guides, love travel guides by Fiona Caulfield and Wallpaper Guides.Where: Luxury wing, Express Avenue.Tel: 28464250; www.evlov.inCost: Rs 295 for a Play Clan journal to Rs 16,800 for a Malini Ramani dress.We love: John Lennon-ish sunglasses by Spitfire.Nilofer Cassam with her hampersCustom made: Hampers by KireiadvertisementThe tag line of this concept store reads ‘A smile, a rose and a bundle of bows’. “We gift smiles,” says 26-year-old Nilofer Cassam who runs Hampers. Conceptualised on the lines of foreign stores such as Harrods, at Hampers Nilofer puts together a range of exclusive gift products. Depending on the budget, she puts together an all-in-one hamper consisting of beauty products, gourmet eateries, books and small knick-knacks. The emphasis is on classy and contemporary packaging. “It’s Western in idea and execution,” says Nilofer. The items are sourced at much lower rates than retail prices so customers get more for their money. She adds, “I customise the hamper keeping in mind the personality of the client.” There is a conscious effort to include keepsakes such as champagne flutes and gourmet books. This way, the hamper remains a fond memory even after the cupcakes and wine are finished.Where: 6 Haddows Road, Nungambakkam. Tel: 4677333.Cost: The hampers start at Rs 3,000 and go up to Rs 15,000.We love: The Father’s Day hamper with Moet & Chandon champagne, spa vouchers and pocket books.Treasure chest: The BoxBrightly coloured plastic pots line the exterior of The Box, The Park hotel’s souvenir shop. However, these pots are not for sale. What you can buy from this store are items handpicked from the city and across the country by Priya Paul, chairperson of The Park. All the stuff here has a slice of Chennai-coffee table books on Bharatnatyam, plates with pictures of Kollywood stars and items from Chennaigaga, a brand that makes unique city souvenirs such as T-shirts, bags, mugs and more. There are other gift items such as cushions with Kathakali motifs, Taj Mahal miniatures and journals of Mumbai.Where: The Park, Anna Salai.Tel: 42676000; www.theparkhotels.comCost: Rs 120 for fridge magnets to Rs 53,000 for a leather bag.We love: Brightly coloured wire baskets by Varnajalam.Green ideas: Harith TarangTucked away below the asphalt jungle is this garden boutique selling a variety of plants and plant accessories. It was set up by Rashmi Sunil, who’s father-in-law Sudhakar Shankar runs M.T. Rajan Pooncholai, an establishment that deals with plant rentals and maintenance. Inspired by garden centres abroad, Rashmi decided to add a retail vertical to the Rajan establishment. About 200 varieties of plants are displayed at the store. However, there are more options that can be sourced from their backend farm. You could pick up interesting hybrids also. For example the phycus (a decorative rubber tree), which took 15 years to grow, is actually four trees woven into one. Unlike a nursery, at this garden boutique the customer relationship extends beyond purchase. “There is a move to go green and organic,” says Rashmi. “We encourage and help people do that.”Where: 40, Bazullah Road, T.Nagar. Tel: 6527 5990; www.hariththarang.comCost: Rs15 for a tulsi plant to Rs 15,000 for the phycus tree.We love: A planter or a pot shaped like a man with a pipe.Pet talk: Kennel MartadvertisementIt’s a pity that you can’t bring your dog to this store but there are a whole lot of things you can take home for your pet. The Kennel Mart is a pet speciality store which not only has a lot of goodies for dogs as the name suggests, but also has gourmet food and scratch posts for cats. It is the only store in the city to stock hamster and guinea pig, and fish food. But dogs are clearly the focus here. There is a mind-boggling range of accessories such as shoes, raincoats, Tshirts and even bathrobes. The shelves are lined with shampoos, body sprays, specialised toothbrushes and toothpastes for dogs.Where: Kennel Mart Spencer Plaza S 111, 2nd Floor, Phase 3, Spencer Plaza.Tel: 42036465; http://www.kennelmartonline. comCost: Rs 45 for a scooper sheet to Rs 14,000 for a pet carrier.We love: Orange and pink shoes that come in a set of four.Game plan: Dollars and PoundsThis store has moved beyond cricket mania. There are soccer jerseys, gold T-shirts, racing jackets but radio silence on cricket. Entrepreneur V S Nawab started this store in 2001 with the idea of selling sports paraphernelia apart from cricket. “I want other sports to have a fair fighting chance so no cricket items here,” he laughs. Apart from the sport items, there are accessories, clothing and biking gear. The soccer section has been designed like a football field while the clothing section is done up like a warzone. There’s barbed wire, water flowing beneath the metal staircase and even a burnt jeep. Have fun.Where: No: 44, Sardar Patel Road (Near IIT), Adyar.Tel: 4351 4080/1/2; www.dollarsandpounds.netCost: Rs 20 for a wrist-band, Rs 1290 for a ‘music T-shirt’ that glows rhythmically when music plays around to Rs 6,000 for a racing jacket.We love: Biking gear available in bright colours.Navila Avis at her storeBody treats: TowliyaThe name says it all-Towliya is all about towels. Terry towels, jacquard towels, bathrobes, hand towels, co-ordinated towels, bath mats, hair ties, they are all available here in every conceivable and customizable colour and size. Owner Navila Avis persuaded her husband, an exporter of terry towels to open this shop for her. And even today, it is the only place in the city people where people can order for customised towels with monograms and colours of their choice.Where: 8, Amble Side, Khader Nawaz Khan Road.Tel: 28331340.Cost: Rs 25 for a hand towel to Rs 1, 650 for a co-ordinated set of four towels.We love: Lace trimmed towels.Hand craft: D’HutQuaint exteriors lead you into what seems like a mysterious cave full of curios. Neethirajan and his wife Reshuma started D’Hut three years ago. The store is spread over two floors and packed from wall to wall. “We stock hand made cultural handicrafts from across the world,” says Reshuma.”It all started when my husband, a marine engineer used to bring back handicrafts from different places and we looked for a space to display them.” The store stocks a range of handicrafts from Africa, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Kenya and Tanzania.The eye catchers here are the variety of masks and chimes which dot the walls of the ground floor and can be seen even while you’re driving past. You could also pick some gift items, home decor and even some furniture. “We recently stocked some unique shelves and stools made of used boats,” says Reshuma. She travels across the world, spends time with villagers who custom make the products for her. Most of them work under thatched roof in small huts and that’s how she came up with the name D’Hut.Where: 137, East Coast Road, Srinivasapuram, Thiruvanmiyur.Tel: 94433 36930Cost: Rs 30 for keychains and life-size tribal art pieces from Papua New Guinea for Rs 50,000.We love: Rainstick from Africa- something which the rural folk believe brings rain.