With a personalized feel and the convenience of door-to-door delivery, subscription boxes are new wave CSAs: simply sign up for goodies tailored to your interests, and forget all about it until a box filled with said goodies lands at your doorstep. But with the prevalence of discounted produce, cheap liquor and big box department stores, do these curated subscriptions actually provide a valuable consumer experience? Or are they just another sorry side-effect of the Seamless generation?
We’ve rounded up five niche New York and Brooklyn-based subscription boxes, and summed up whether they were actually worth the price, big or small. From cocktail boxes to cosmetics boxes to boxes for people who just want to live out their Instagram fantasies, read on to find out whether one of these subscriptions is a sensible addition to your monthly budget.
1. Shaker & Spoon
A cocktail-making box that includes mixers and recipes — everything but the liquor.
Shaker & Spoon is a Brooklyn-based cocktail makers’ starter kit. Each month highlights a different kind of liquor; the box includes all the ingredients except the alcohol, and recipes curated to reflect what’s seasonally trendy. (For example, there’s a March tequila box coming up that features the Old Oaxaca, a stirred beverage with mole bitters and hellfire tincture.) Since it doesn’t come with the booze, Shaker & Spoon isn’t a one-stop shop, but they recommend budget and mid-shelf bottles that you can find at your local liquor store. You’re spending $40 on a box, and probably about $20 on a fifth of liquor to make 12 cocktails (4 of each recipe), which comes out to $5/cocktail.
Verdict: Worth it. You’re not going to go to the trouble of seeking out all those fancy mixers for a cocktail otherwise, right? Or asking bartenders whether your ratios are off. As a curated box with recipes backed by regional bartenders, this is definitely worth it for cocktail enthusiasts and budding mixologists. Skip it if you prefer a bottle of wine to a highball.
Sample-sized cosmetics from boutique brands.
BirchBox is a New York company making waves for their personalized beauty kits for both men and women. You sign up and fill out a “beauty profile” with information about your skin type, hair type, favorite products, etcetera, and BirchBox sends you a monthly box of travel-sized cosmetics that fit the bill. Their website is chock full of how-tos and other clickable content — they’ve even got a flagship store in SoHo. For $10, you get four-five items with about a week’s worth of solid application in each.
Verdict: Worth it. For the cosmetically curious, and anyone who likes to feel pampered by clean things, this is a guaranteed win. Pinterest users encouraged to apply. But skip it if you’re severely makeup-challenged, or if you already know what products work for you. (Also skip it if your room is a mess, because these tiny bottles are going to fall everywhere and then get lost.)
CSA meets Blue Apron: locally-sourced delivery of foraged, farmed and grass-fed foods.
Farm-to-table loving foodies go wild for this New York City-based subscription that delivers a colorful assortment of local produce, poultry and non-perishables to your door. It’s not cheap, but it’s not working hours at the co-op, either. Portion sizes are reasonable, though you can’t live off Quinciple alone: the box includes two-three servings of about 10 items, and you’ll need other ingredients on hand to complete the recipes inside. All told, you can probably squeeze out about six-eight meals from the box, which means you’re spending about $9/meal after the add-on ingredients from your kitchen.
Verdict: Not worth it. For the ethically conscious consumer, it might make sense. And it certainly spices up your nightly routine in the kitchen, not to mention makes complicated-sounding foods like “tamarind date sauce” and “kyoto carrots” easier to wield. But in order to afford the hustle, most of us budget eaters prefer foraging the pantry to the forest. And even if you’re dead-set on being a locavore, you can find many of these items at your local farmer’s market for cheaper. Yes, even in the winter.
4. With Love From Brooklyn
A monthly tasting box of small-batch sweets and treats by well-known Brooklyn brands and vendors.
Cost: $39/months (with 3-month minimum)
This box delivers small samples of goodies by brands you’ll recognize from the Brooklyn Flea, indie coffee shops and other neighborhood gift stores. Think Salty Road, Ovenly, Mike’s Hot Honey and other well-known makers (yeah, including the Mast brothers, even though they didn’t always have beards). $39 gets you a box of four snack-y items with five-six servings of each inside. It’s jams, taffy, pickles, mayonnaise and other little lip-smackers. You’ve got to make a three-month minimum commitment.
Verdict: Not worth it. With Love From Brooklyn could be everything you hate about the borough, and it could also be everything you love. It goes without saying that if you feel the former, you shouldn’t subscribe. But even if you like these products, the fact that they have a kiosk in Grand Central Station should be your strongest indication that this subscription is for people who want to believe the hype, and brag about Brooklyn over cocktails in Manhattan. You’re better off sampling these wares for cheaper at local coffee shops and businesses, where in many cases their products are already sold.
Are you a man? Do you like manly things? If you checked yes to any of the above, consider this box that assembles themed collections of items “For Him:” think bar mallets, shaving cloths, gym bags, cigar boxes. The box’s themes are fun mind map words, like Distilled, Torch, Shelter, Homefront. You can opt to skip a box if you don’t like the theme (announced in your inbox a few days before it ships). You can also buy one of the themed boxes without subscribing, and it’ll cost $10 more per box.
Verdict: Worth it. This may be part of the movement that puts the Brooklyn hipster dangerously close to the Pennsylvania Amish, but we’re not judging. $45 is actually a decent value for the items offered, considering how cleverly organized into themes the boxes are, and the fact that the items included are usually limited-edition or online-only. If you want to be part of a boys’ club, you could do worse than this.
Honorable mention: Amazon offers similar subscription deals on thousands of home essentials and beauty products, so if you’re a creature of habit, consider ‘subscribing’ to your favorite product and receive 15 percent off, free shipping and more.
Listen, at the end of the day, every subscription is a form of luxury that you could forgo with a little due diligence about seeking out the things you want in the outside world. But we can certainly acknowledge how nice it must feel to receive a thoughtfully-crafted care package in the mail, just like mom used to send. My mom never sent me care packages. But, you know, maybe yours did.
Follow Sam for more childhood memories on Twitter, at @ahoysamantha.