The first week of September can spark both joy and fear for New York City parents. Yay, your kids are starting a new grade and finally getting out of the house and back into their regular routines! Boo, you’re going to have to push your way through the insane crowds at Staples or Target to grab that last protractor set on the shelf and at least five different colors of two-inch binders. Or maybe you can avoid that hassle entirely.
For the kids and parents who want to go off the beaten path and find quirky, cool school supplies that will earn them an A+ in standing out in a schoolyard crowd, there are plenty of fun places to stock up before classes start. Here are a few of our favorites:
If your kid’s style is more minimalist chic than unicorn bling, she’ll love all the earth-colored, elegant back-to-school gear at this Japan-based lifestyle emporium, which has six stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Plantation Paper notebooks are slim enough so they don’t take up precious room in backpacks, and each has a subtle color stripe on the side so kids can differentiate between their math and social studies notes ($3.50 for five). Grab a handful of the colorful gel-ink pens ($1.50 each) and a cool gray nylon-mesh pencil case to store them in ($5). Book covers in denim or canvas ($8–$9) will make your fourth grader feel as sophisticated as a college student. Various locations
There’s nothing that says “back to school” like a brand-new, perfectly sharpened No. 2. And if you love pencils, you’ll love this Lower East Side shop that’s an ode to the timeless writing tool. Pencils from all over the world, in different sizes and colors, line the walls—we love the cheeky School Supply set, in which each pencil is stamped with the name of another desktop staple, such as “paper clip” or “scissors” ($12 for six). A world traveler (or just a kid who dreams of foreign lands) can go international with the Global School Pencils Sampler Set, which includes pencils from seven countries, including Denmark, India, and Germany ($9 for seven). There are plenty of adorable sharpeners and erasers to accompany these eclectic writing implements—our favorite is a colorful parrot ($4). 15 Orchid Street (between Canal and Hester Streets), Lower East Side
Park Slope families flock to this gift shop for its perfectly curated selection of kitchen supplies, bath salts, home decor, toys, and puzzles. But for the back-to-school season, owner Ann Cantrell has stocked up with the whimsical school supplies her clients love, like the cheerful Mini Kane Rainbow Backpack ($65) and a set of Girl Power mini notebooks, covered with inspiring messages like “Be Fierce” and “The Future Is Mine” ($12 for eight). If your child is still deep into her unicorn phase, she’ll go gaga over the Sip Unicorn Dreams water bottle ($25) or the Magic Maisy Colored Pencil Set, which pairs up rainbow pencils with colorful erasers and a cloud pencil sharpener ($6). 232 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope
This Chinese department store is a New York institution, providing children with origami paper, Chinese candy, embroidered slippers, Mandarin-style pj’s, stuffed animals, and other delights since 1971. The store moved a few blocks south from its longtime SoHo location to Tribeca in 2016 and recently opened a second outpost in Chelsea Market, and it remains a favorite stop for unique gifts and school supplies. We love the dim sum and dumpling notebooks ($10 each), adorable Rilakkuma Cartoon pencil cases ($7.50 each), and delicious erasers that look like food in a bento box ($6.25). 395 Broadway (between White and Walker Streets), Chinatown
The Copenhagen-based tchotchke shop, with three locations in Manhattan and one in downtown Brooklyn, is the perfect place to stock up on crazy-adorable school supplies—and since almost everything in the store costs just a few bucks, you can give your kid a basket and let him or her go crazy! The big theme this season is llamas—pick up an old-fashioned llama-adorned lunch box ($4), as well as snack containers, water bottles, pencils, and highlighters (all $1–$3). A llama backpack is a steal at $10—it may not last the entire semester, but at that price, you can grab a spare. If your kid prefers sloths, a fur-covered notebook ($5) that she can cuddle as well as scribble in will certainly be a conversation starter. If animals aren’t your thing, there are tons of cute notebooks, erasers, and pens, in everything from lavender sparkles to baseballs. Various locations