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What Do You Subscribe To?

A survey of the new, local, hyperspecialized of-the-month clubs.

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Twelve cassettes for a penny! In the pre-Internet era, it was an offer that inspired many—particularly the young, music-hungry, and unlicensed (no wheels meant no trips to the record store)—to send their allowance to the Columbia House Music Club. It was all too good to be true, of course. The thrill of receiving that first precious package (Meat Loaf! Toni Braxton! Crash Test Dummies!) after meticulously combing the club’s dense mailer dissipated upon discovering that you owed money for all those albums you most definitely did not request, simply because you had neglected to reject them in a timely fashion. But much has changed with subscription services since those can’t-quit-you clubs of yore. Nowadays, the model has been adopted by a new generation of indie purveyors hawking everything from hand-churned ice cream and homemade soup to fine-net stockings and letterpress cards, all of it neatly packaged and regularly deposited at your apartment doorstep. National of-the-month clubs have been mailing fruit, cheese, bacon, and booze for years, but this league is more local (and frequently locavore) than its predecessors, boasting an almost-studious curation of goods. For New Yorkers who don’t have the time to sniff out the newest artisanal coffee bean, purée Greenmarket-bought veggies for their toddler’s dinner, or stock up on art supplies for weekend crafting, subscription services 2.0 are no-brainers. So booming is the micro-industry, in fact, that there is a local company, Memberly (member.ly), solely devoted to helping start-up-minded entrepreneurs build a subscription service of their own. Here, a guide to a dozen of our favorite local subscription providers in this newfangled club culture; all of which, it should be noted, you can quit at any time.

Grooming Products Ice Cream Flowers Wine
The Plan
$10 to $20 per month; birchbox.com.
The Plan
$50 to $90 for one to two pints delivered monthly for three months; milkmadeicecream.com.
The Plan
$29 to $65 per delivery; hbloom.com.
The Plan
$35 to $250 per month depending on wine-club level; septemberwines.com.
Started by two Harvard Business School grads, beauty-product-sampling service Birchbox (where everything gets a stamp of approval by the editorial team before being featured) has inspired a number of copycats. Its "360-degree discovery" model relies heavily on creating profiles for customers and tailoring which half-dozen or so items get sent accordingly. Overprocessed hair your gripe? There's a deep conditioner in your box for that. The latest feather in its cap, Birchbox Men, extends the company's offerings beyond the fairer sex; besides grooming essentials, guys' boxes could include fashion and lifestyle accessories like Bookman bike lights and Baggu totes. Bored with the flavor selection at the bodega and craving local ingredients in her ice cream, Diana Hardeman stopped buying frozen treats and started churning her own. Packed in dry ice and hand-delivered to subscribers in all five boroughs, Milkmade's seasonally rotating varieties of so-called 'scream have included Rhubarb (made with stalks from the Union Square Greenmarket), Raven Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, Mint Chocolate Cookie, Carrot Cake, and the Dude Abides, a White Russian– chocolate chip concoction inspired by The Big Lebowski. There are few people who count themselves immune to the mood-altering effect of fresh flowers, and the success of H.BLOOM—in two years the company has already extended its reach to D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco—is built on the appeal of just that, offering to residents in every borough but Staten Island something traditionally reserved for a privileged few: regular deliveries of flowers. Customers choose a bouquet style (classic, contemporary, or exotic) and frequency, and the company's coterie of designers handle the rest. Those who'd rather take matters into their own hands can opt for blooms only and just do the arranging themselves. The focus of the monthly subscription from shoebox-size Lower East Side store September Wine & Spirits is on education of the more approachable variety—what makes a red chillable, for example, as opposed to a tutorial on malolactic fermentation. Installments are themed, like new- versus old-world Sauvignon Blancs or Canary Islands winemakers, and the service boasts a 99 percent renewal rate. A starter subscription gets you two bottles a month, while Cellar level earns you two or three older or rare vintages; every delivery arrives with tasting notes and pairing ideas.
Locavore baby food Coffee Art Hosiery
The Plan
$35 to $70 (varies with target age) for two deliveries per week; farmtobabynyc.com.
The Plan
$19.99 per month, for a sampling of three coffees; one-year minimum; craftcoffee.com.
The Plan
$200 per month; one-year minimum; invisible-exports.com.
The Plan
$38 per month for three pairs of socks, stockings, or leggings; discover pique.com.
Farm to Baby's co-founders Lauren Utvich and Marshall Louis Reaves bring preservative-free meals made with produce sourced from local farms directly to your children's plates. Four-to-eight BPA-free jars are hand-delivered (to North and Central Brooklyn and Manhattan south of 96th Street), then picked up when empty to be reused. Parents choose between three age-specific plans designed to broaden the baby's palate (think buttercup squash and Pink Lady apple-and-rhubarb smash). Onetime attorney and longtime coffee obsessive Michael Horn is making bean connoisseurship easier than ever with his new artisanal-focused subscription service Craft Coffee. Boxes come packed with three four-ounce samplings from exotic roasters in countries like Ecuador and Rwanda, along with specific brewing advice to achieve the best flavor. If you fall in love with a particular type, Craft Coffee connects you directly to the roaster to buy larger quantities. For founders Risa Needleman and Benjamin Tischer, Invisible-Exports' Artist-of-the-Month Club serves as a way to introduce new artists but also add a bit of surprise to collecting. Each month, a curator selects an artist to make pieces—like Kalup Linzy's video-still print, shown above—which arrive with a certificate of authenticity. You never know when you'll get a work from a future art star: Jutta Koether's drawings were part of the club in 2010; now she's in the Whitney Biennial. Milliner Satya Twena thought she wanted to design her own line of hosiery, but after happening upon a host of lesser-known luxury brands, she changed course and opted to offer a curated selection to the public instead. Subscribers to Pique choose among different styles (neon socks, teal leggings, patchwork-style tights) by lines like Gerbe and We Love Colors; if you get attached to one in particular, additional pairs are available after the 15th of the month online.
Soup Craft Projects Stationery E-Books
The Plan
$60 to $115 per month for one or two quarts weekly; in June, they will begin to offer discounted group rates; seabeangoods.com.
The Plan
$29 per month; forthemakers.com.
The Plan
$72 for a six-month subscription; totapress.com.
The Plan
$13.99 per month; one-year minimum; emilybooks.com.
With Sea Bean Goods, a micro-soupery run out of Paulie Gee's kitchen in Greenpoint, neighborhood residents Nicole and Brian Chaszar set out to offer "convenience food like you've never experienced." Subscribers christen themselves omnivore or vegetarian, then seasonal flavors like winter's white bean and kale or summer's vichyssoise (plus Cheddar sable crackers) are hand-delivered to Manhattan and Brooklyn accordingly. Crafting doesn't get much easier than with For the Makers. Jewelry designers Janet Crowther and Katie Covington dream up the projects (past endeavors include a constellation tote and a color-blocked cuff), source and gather the supplies from their trove of industry-amassed contacts, and lay out detailed instructions. Monthly boxes contain enough supplies for four to six projects. Should you get stuck closing that jump ring, you can refer to the Maker 411s section on the blog. Tota Press proves the art of letter-writing may not be entirely lost. Graphic designer Tomoko Takahashi developed a love of letterpress after hand-printing a friend's wedding invitations. With this monthly subscription service, paper lovers receive two handmade, intricately decorated blank cards, along with a tiny collage outlining her design inspirations. In the coming months, Tota plans to introduce other kinds of printed pieces and bundled packages of cards. Emily Books brings the spirit of your local independent bookstore to online form. Founders Emily Gould and Ruth Curry, both publishing-industry vets, cherry-pick memoirs and transgressive fiction by female authors like Helen DeWitt and Barbara Comyns, and also publish original essays and interviews on their blog. The books are readable on most mobile devices (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.), and the co-founders are currently developing an app to synchronize the e-commerce and blog aspects.


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