By Kate Gavino

Last week, I headed downtown to visit five of the surviving businesses listed in the 1969 guide The Un-Super Markets —  and found that the shops ran the gamut from grim modernization to wonderfully stubborn old-school grit. But what about uptown? For my second installment, I started near Columbia and worked my way down the Upper East. Blame it on the twilight hour or the onslaught of holiday decorations, but this trip seemed much more festive. And despite the bright lights of Bloomingdale’s and H&M, the small businesses held their own in a few surprising ways.

1. Mondel Chocolates




Perfectly situated near Book Culture, this store’s biggest claim to fame is that Katherine Hepburn once proclaimed it “the best in the world.” As I was putting in my order of mint chocolate truffles, a group of Columbia students came in, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the intricate sweets. Suddenly their leader judged the store to be “mad expensive” and redirected them to Duane Reade. As they left, the elderly woman at the counter stuck her tongue out at them.

2. Orwasher’s Bakery




The once-tiny store has expanded into a café that now offers artisan cheese and Free Trade coffee. But bread, particularly the New York rye, remains its bestseller. With its own Wikipedia entry, it seemed like Orwasher's had continued to make a name for itself since The Un-Super Markets came out forty-odd years ago, but the woman at the counter didn’t know what Wikipedia was. “It’s an online encyclopedia,” I explained, “that anyone can edit.” “Anyone?” I nodded. “That’s ridiculous,” she decided, handing me my bread.

3. Tender Buttons




When I need buttons, I make a beeline for the cheap and plentiful stores of the Fashion District. The UES was the last place I would have thought of until I found Tender Buttons, a shop as precious and fastidious as its name. The store seems to be stuck in 1964, the year it was opened by a dictionary editor and named after a Gertrude Stein book. Countless wooden drawers keep things organized, and the walls are lined with ornate specimens in frames. The store was set to close in 10 minutes, so I kept my lingering to a minimum. I had my eyes on a set of buttons depicting Marie Antoinette’s severed head and vowed to return for them.

4. Argosy




Aside from the Strand, this is the only bookstore in The Un-Super Markets that still stands. Argosy has the feel of a museum, compelling customers to keep quiet and not touch anything. But I felt right at home in the basement: it’s like any other careworn used bookstore, complete with sneeze-inducing dust, cramped aisles, and plenty to add to my collection of Penguin classics. As this was my trip’s final destination, I felt a certain sense of warmth toward the elderly woman at the register. I wished her a good night, and she replied, “I don’t celebrate Christmas.”