Have a pretentious, bearded man with a flannel shirt that you love? Or a big-glasses wearing hipsterista reading Kafka? For the hipster in your life, head to these vintage and second-hand shops.
If you love wearing the latest designs of each season but don't want to shell out designer prices, this is the store for you. A-land operates the largest fleet of concept store branches in Korea. It has 16 shops in major areas of Seoul like Gangnam and Myeong-dong and also in Hong Kong. Each store varies slightly, but they all introduce the work of new designers, with a special focus on young Korean designers. Their Myeongdong store was the first to open in 2005 and carries new designer brands, imported brands like A.P.C., vintage clothing, and accessories.
One of the few remaining record shops in Seoul, Gimbab is a relative newcomer, having opened in mid-2012. Its owner, who has worked in the music industry for years, meticulously curates the shop’s inventory. If you are a sucker for old music and LPs, the international collection of CDs, LPs, and artist merchandise will melt your dear vinyl hearts. Keep an eye out for their SNS feed to be the first to grab a hold of rare collections and items, and plan your visit ahead by checking in with their online inventory on the official blog.
Set up on what looks like a wide parking lot, Neul Jang is located on the space emptied out by the removal of the Gyeongui Line near Gongdeok Station. Parked here are several different venues, including a knickknack shop, a film library, a café by the name of Neulssinae, and Mokhwa Songyi, a work space for making environmentally-conscious living goods. On the weekends, Neul Jang space hosts a bustling flea market full of local eats, handicrafts, and second-hand goods. It’s a fruit bowl of village, park, market, exhibition and playground—come taste the flavors!
The Dongmyo Flea Market traces its history all the way back to the Joseon Dynasty. You can easily find ‘70s and ‘80s items here, including those grandpa cigarette pipes that you put the leaves in yourself. Goldstar (the old name for LG Electronics) televisions and cassette players are not only sold here but they actually work! Grandmas haggling with the younger ones for the junk straight from their home make for some humorous street scenes that can only be found here. I mean, as they say, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
A sculpture of a dog seated like a human being stares down at passersby from atop the storefront. Perched above the body of a mannequin at the entrance is a doll that looks like it might be Chucky’s girlfriend: it silently announces the business hours. Curiosity leads you to enter, and you encounter more and more things to see. On the staircases that lead you down to the basement, there are various objects on display, made by the artist-owner’s own hand. Just inside, you'll see the owner at work, so engrossed in his projects that he may not even notice you entering. It's understandable. Once you enter, an incredible, almost unfathomable quantity of pictures and accessories, installation art pieces and subsequent derived merchandise overwhelm the space. It is almost inconceivable that all this is the work of a single man. You must abandon the thought that this is a shop, and instead convince yourself that you are visiting a gallery. If you see a picture or work of art that you’d like to possess, you can quietly inquire as to the price of this thing. There are irregular holidays, and irregular flea markets. There a liberated, topsy-turvy air to the general affair—as befits an artist’s lair.
There’s no elevator. Keep walking up those stairs, until you see a small flower pot on the windowsill. You’re almost there, so don’t give up. Those who know, know to find this unconventional, 21st century bookstore on the very top floor of the building. How can a 21st century bookstore exist in a building with no elevator? We'd say it’s because there are a surprisingly large number of things you can do in this small shop. They sellindependent books that are hard to find even at large bookstores, design books, and also stationary and music albums by independent producers. It also hosts a long list of various event and fairs. Besides, there's no better way to fight our 21st century lethargy than getting a little exercise, eh? Tip: don’t expect to find best sellers, or very many English books, here.
When What The Book? opened in 2003, English books, especially new releases, were hard to come by and pricey at that. Many long-term residents credit the store for creating enough competition to lower the price of English books at major Korean outlets. What the Book? sells both used and new volumes, and has the biggest on-site English magazine section we’ve seen yet in Korea. They’re also known for an expansive children’s section, and regularly partner with international schools to host book fairs. From their searchable online database, you can order online and select either pick-up or delivery. But we think you’ll want to pick up your purchase in-store—it’s so much fun to wander the sunlit space and browse their spacious shelves. Our one complaint? We wish they had a coffee shop so we could linger even longer.
Located on the hilly streets on Haebangchon, you could easily walk past this bookshop if you weren’t keeping your eyes peeled for it. Although the space is small, the shop is jam-packed with travel photo journals and photography-related objects. While flipping through the pages of an artsy photo book, you may feel the sudden urge to run back home and pack your bags. If you do end up planning that spontaneous getaway, the independent publisher and bookshop owner offers photo workshops, as well as special events, after closing (7pm).
Art and culture magazines, especially ones not written in Korean, can be difficult to find in Seoul. Ordering them online from overseas means having to pay large shipping fees and if you're really a zine-addict, it’s nice to be able to touch them and see the cover in person before making a purchase. Owner Won Sung-kyung has loved magazines since she was young and quit her job to start Paper Muse three years ago. “To be honest, I wanted to open it in Hongdae at first but it was too expensive. Since the Steve J & Yoni P Showroom is here, I figured a lot of fashion lovers and fashion magazine lovers would be around here, too.” A neat display of foreign magazines like Vogue, The Gentlewoman, Dapper, Kinfolk, Cereal and Monocle will greet your eyes when you eneter and though the prices may be hefty (it’s difficult to find an issue under 30,000 won)—we say you should treat yourself to such rarities as the year comes to a close.
If you have recently developed a taste for Korean lifestyle and interior magazines, the name "8 colors" may have a familar ring. You could describe their look as "classy kitsch," as the shop carries a variety of vintage-inspired items for sale. Select brands include Denmark's HAY and House Doctor, as well as local brands like Roh and Main, which can all be found on their website. But don't forget that the store carries its own cushion collection, so be sure to ask the clerk for the full guide.