Out-of-the-box stores in St. Louis that will keep you out of the big box stores

There's a reason many retail giants and mall stores are closing their doors — well, besides the bad fluorescent lighting and scary mirrors. Shoppers are tired of being crammed into cookie cutters, forced to all dress and decorate the exact same way.

Thankfully, St. Louis is bursting with unique, local stores around every corner where the products are eclectic and the prices are affordable. When making a trip to the Lou, stock up on one-of-a-kind finds, designed, produced and sold right here in the Gateway City.

Left Bank Books
For bibliophiles, nothing is more alluring than the sights and smells of an independent bookstore — and Left Bank Books is one of the best in the country. Tucked away on a corner in the Central West End, Left Bank Books is a movie-perfect store featuring an impressive lineup of new and used books. They also play host to book readings from some of the country's most acclaimed authors (and will forever hold a special place in my heart for bringing me face to face with Nick Offerman).

At this vintage boutique, you can play dress-up all over again in your grandmother's closet with retro fashion finds that have never gone out of style. From 1950s rockabilly dresses to 1980s cinched waists and shoulder pads, you can create a look that stands out from the mall mannequins. In addition, it brings its closet direct to fashionistas on the go with "Holly," its retro camper/mobile store that makes frequent stops at craft fairs, fashion shows and community events.

Why stock up on St. Louis souvenirs that are manufactured across the world when you can buy t-shirts, tote bags and posters crafted by locals who love their city? Skip the airport terminal gift shops and head to STyLehouse where its wares celebrate the quirkiness of St. Louis, pay homage to its historic neighborhoods, and offer up inside jokes that'll leave you feeling like a local — or at least looking like one. Choose from any of their vintage-inspired designs to create custom t-shirts you're proud to wear.

OA Gallery
Art galleries line the streets of St. Louis's most beloved neighborhoods. But for those art fans who like their works more realistic than abstract, OA Gallery features one of the largest collections of representational art in the Midwest, curated by four of the most celebrated artists of the genre. Take in the breathtaking landscapes by artist Bryan Haynes or the incredibly lifelong portraits and still lifes by Lisa Ober, all ready for you to take home.

Bowood Farms
You can spend your day at IKEA, being herded through the Marketplace like a bunch of Converse-wearing cattle. Or you could leisurely peruse the aisles at Bowood Farms. This gardening and home store is stocked with everything from beautifully arranged succulents in quirky planters to bowls crafted from recycled wine bottles to serving wooden dishes and utensils. And like IKEA, it features its own café, but this one serves up vegetables and herbs grown right on site in dishes like blue corn biscuit sandwiches and house-made nutty granola.

Euclid Records
For music fans hunting for that hard-to-find LP, Euclid Records is their 8,000-square-foot treasure box. Located in Old Webster, Euclid Records houses thousands of new and used vinyls as well as CDs, books and accessories. The store often showcases lives performances and listening parties, and during the summer, hosts tent sales every Sunday featuring great prices on the music you love. Be sure to stop by on National Record Day if you're in St. Louis for one of the best one-day music festivals in town.

TFA – The Future Antiques
If Don Draper is your god, step into the 1950s promised land of TFA, the largest mid-century shop in the Midwest. Bursting at the seams with good old-fashioned nostalgia, this vintage store features furniture and home goods reminiscent of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, right down to the high ball glasses and humidors. Plus, you can even dress like Peggy and Joan thanks to a boutique full of Eisenhower-era fashions, perfectly for sidling up to any Tiki bar.

Zee Bee Market
At Zee Bee Market, you can outfit your home and find the perfect outfit for you – all while changing the lives of artisans and craftspeople in developing countries. This fair trade shop is stocked with beautiful clothing, delightful décor and one-of-a-kind gifts that are handmade, eco-friendly and sustainable. Looking for the perfect gift for yourself? Pick up a beaded clutch for a night out or fill your shopping basket with fair trade coffee for the morning after. And there's zero buyer's remorse when you know you're helping provide opportunities for others with your purchase.

Firecracker Press
Dress up your wall at home with St. Louis memorabilia designed and printed by Firecracker Press, a letterpress shop in North City. Their specialty is retro-tinged posters highlighting St. Louis's favorite landmarks and attractions, including Forest Park, the Gateway Arch and Grand Center. But they also feature greeting cards and journals as well as new work honoring the late Chuck Berry and his musical influence on the city.

Joys Collective Market
Historic St. Charles is home to cobblestone streets, packed with antique and gift shops. But when you're looking for the best Missouri has to offer, Joys Collective Market features more than 40 "shops," created by local artists, pickers and vintage lovers. While it may scream "antique mall" at first, it's really a modern twist on a classic concept. In addition to shelves of books, endless milk bottles and crates from dairies of decades past, and mind-blowing photography, you'll find on-trend fashions, leather cuff and handbags, and hand-stamped jewelry.

Nicole Plegge is a freelance writer and pop culture aficionado based in St. Louis. While she's busy writing for a variety of websites, magazines and blogs, she still can't get over never being able to attend the Eastland School for Girls.