We, the mortals of San Diego, emulate your winged cross-trainers, swift Hermes, with Red Bull and fixed-gear bikes, but we shall never match your speed or slyness. It's fitting that as the god of commerce, you are also the guide to the underworld; shopping in the city by the sea can be treacherous even outside Black Friday. Olympian, son of Zeus, please set aside your tricks, lift your caduceus and lead our shoppers through the darkness to these supreme shopping establishments.
Best no-frills vintage store
If few prospects sound less inviting than spending a day jumping in and out of dressing rooms while being quietly judged by college-age fashionistas, I feel your pain. So it's always nice to come across a clothing retailer that retains a sense of nonchalance. Located a few blocks from the beach in Encinitas, Home (629 S. Coast Hwy. 101) is adorned with all the typical goods one might expect from a vintage boutique—'80s hair-metal T-shirts, a rack filled with cheap sunglasses and graffiti-inspired paintings decorating the walls. However, unlike most shops of its ilk, it's not overpriced, and most of its quality selection of used men's button-ups comes in under $20. It's also the rare clothing store with some legitimate cultural history. Originally a bar and restaurant started in 1970 on Manhattan's Upper East Side, it often played host to rock 'n' roll royalty of the era, including Bowie and Alice Cooper. But it was regular patron John Lennon who gave the shop its closest link to rock immortality, sporting the Home logo on several different T-shirts and striking up a lasting friendship with original owner Richard Ross before the shop was sold in 1978. Revived by three of Ross' nephews on the West Coast in 2002, this Home isn't overextending itself to live up to its NYC namesake, and all the better for it. The relaxing vibe and solid deals are a good enough reason to travel north and make shopping a less painful experience.
Best new vintage store
Hunt & Gather is a tiny treasure trove in University Heights (4496 Park Blvd., www.huntandgathershop.com) owned by Zoe Crenshaw and Lee Reynolds. The couple has put together an impeccably maintained collection of unique merchandise from estate sales, rummage sales and their own travels that Crenshaw reworks with her fleet of sewing machines in the back of the store. The results rival designer wear from the pages of Nylon. New clothing includes headwear by Brixton and consignment from a handful of local designers. Crenshaw promises the coming months will introduce jeans, cashmere sweaters, Hunt & Gather original screen-printed tees and styling services. Some pieces are a bit pricey, as is anything “vintage,” but they're fair considering the amount of thoughtful work that goes in to each one. There's a kick-ass record selection, too, that comes from Reynolds' personal collection of more than 10,000.
Best retail-store role model
It's not unusual to walk in to South Park's Junc Boutique & Gallery (2205 Fern St.) and see a completely different store than the one you saw on your last visit. On a whim, owner Jeffrey Parish might decide that he's bored with the color of the walls or that the jewelry display looks better over here than over there. Parish, who used to own Normal Heights' Sugar, moved his men's and women's clothing-and-accessories store to South Park two years ago, into the space formerly occupied by Magpie, and changed the name. In keeping with Magpie's tradition of hosting art shows, Parish partnered with San Diego artist Jasmine Worth, who curates Junc's semi-regular shows and makes sure Junc stays true to the “& Gallery” part. Art aside, the charm of Junc is its gestalt—that immediate impression you get the moment you walk through the door and take it all in. It's a store with lots of come-hither—the kind of place that fans of independent retail have been wanting to see more of in San Diego.
Best resale clothing (just for men?!)
Ever wonder where all the deep-pocketed fellas of La Jolla take the good shit from their closets before calling up The Salvation Army to come pick it up? Hit up Le Chauvinist (7709 Fay Ave.), an understated little resale boutique that makes up for its size with a vast amount of designer brands taking up every inch of the space. Hipsters seeking flannel and Members Only jackets need not apply. This is where you go when you've graduated from the scene and are looking for a vintage Armani suit and some matching Canali boots. For those not so dandy or posh, it also sports a great selection of Western gear, Hawaiian shirts and hats. It even has its own line of T-shirts with the name of the store emblazoned on the chest. And, by the way, there's no sexism here. Look up the word—you'll be surprised by what it originally meant.
Best discount store name ever
A smörgåsbord of odds and ends, 97¢ Stuff 'N Thangs (3773 30th St. in North Park) not only beats those other guys by two pennies, but just pronouncing its name makes even the straightest man sound like a sultry Southern drag queen. Now in its 12th year and boasting a 27-cent clothing rack, it still remains North Park's provider par excellence of Tasmanian Devil baby-shower invitations, dandy irregular trench coats and wooden shoes.
Best place to buy a living wall
Most of the time, plants taking root in your walls would be a bad thing and a sure sign that it's time to hire a maid service. But not at Pigment, the North Park specialty shop whose living facades grow from floor to ceiling—on purpose. To get an idea of what these things are like, take the display behind the cash wrap. It has more than 700 plants fixed to about 15 2-by-2 panels carefully selected and artfully arranged into a wall sculpture that gives going green a new meaning. Pigment (3827 30th St., www.shoppigment.com) will design a custom façade for you, too, at your house or business. They'll help you pick out just the right plants for the light and conditions in your space. The design and construction process is pretty involved—each panel has to sit horizontally for at least a month for the plants to set, and if you want a true wall of green life (more than 4 feet high), you'll probably need a self-irrigating system. For you do-it-yourselfers, Pigment will also sell empty, individual panels that you can take home and plant and hang yourself. If you're not into the whole plants-growing-on-your-walls thing, they've also got a selection of pots, planters and other items you can buy for a more traditional look.
Best thrift store for people with lots of time on their hands
The Amvets Thrift Store in Middletown (3441 Sutherland St.) can be overwhelming if you're not a seasoned sifter. Those who lack the determination to dig through an entire warehouse of discarded clothing will probably find this place to be hit-or-miss, but the Law of Large Numbers dictates that the sheer volume of this store's inventory guarantees great finds if you put in the effort. It's especially worthwhile when your clothing budget is marginal, as the average price is roughly $5 per piece. Added savings come from the two colors of tags that are half-off each day. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to go, when every color tag besides the two chosen are half-off. Convoluted? Yes. Cheap? You betcha. There aren't fitting rooms, but no one seems to mind when I undress in front of the mirror in the middle of the store. Hold on to your finds for dear life, though. I usually have to shoo away a few scavengers when I put down my bundle to try things on. Insufficient parking can be a hassle, so I recommend the five-minute walk from the Washington Street stop on the Blue Line instead.
Best place to walk in with rags and walk out with riches
Goodwill it ain't. There's no need to spend two hours of a beautiful afternoon digging through piles of old softball T-shirts and oddly shaped Levi's, only to find the perfect dress at the same time as a semi-toothless (and quite territorial) crack-addict. Shopping at Rags (4967 Newport Ave. in Ocean Beach) is a different experience. Walk into Rags, peruse the wall of dresses organized by color and walk out within 15 minutes with a one-shoulder green Free People dress for $12. Feeling a little funkier? Red jeans that slide on like a second skin make great party pants, for $15. More practical? Slouchy leather boots for $10 might cut the mustard. The same girl, who looks eerily like the mannequins, almost always staffs this local shop. She'll buy your old clothes from you for decent store credit, then set you loose to spend it all on sweater-dresses, hooded T-shirts and massive belt buckles depicting the Last Supper. Hallelujah.
Best melting pot that doubles as a grocery store
For tourists, it's Seaport Village, San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld. For those with longer tenures, it's that one really good fish taco, dive bars in Golden Hill and South Park or catching a free summer show at the Embarcadero from the pier. But nothing truly represents the city of San Diego more completely than the Ralphs on G Street, Downtown. In five years of living in the urban core, there's no single place I've frequented more. And each trip, whether at high noon or the witching hour, was nothing less than an adventure. A myriad of social classes, languages, cultures, ages, sizes and shapes of patrons is always represented in its 24/7 aisles. And depending on the time of year, hordes of convention center microbiologists, Vulcans and wind surfers regularly join the wildly eclectic scene. At almost any time day or night, there's so much going on and so many people milling about that it feels like an international trading post on Mars. Whoever thought that something as mundane as picking up toothpaste and frozen waffles could be so much fun?
Best place to buy that thing you never knew existed
Hey, so that cigarette butt you just tossed on the ground? It's toxic—a study out of San Diego State University says so. Apparently, in Japan, you'll find no cigarette butts on the ground. Why? Probably because smokers carry stylish pocket ashtrays—the Japanese are clever like that. Marukai Market/Daison (8111 Balboa Ave. in Kearny Mesa) has perhaps the best, if not only, selection of Japanese pocket ashtrays in San Diego. Choose from vinyl cases in solid colors, a houndstooth print or with puppy and kitty faces on them. Like most everything at Marukai—a Japanese version of Target—pretty much everything costs $1.69. That's right: less than $2 for anything from wrapping paper to ceramic plates to boxes of Pocky.
Best place to achieve that sought-after Parthenon look
“You know, I don't think there's one apartment in Hillcrest left that doesn't have a statue of David. You can blame me for that,” says Steve Moore, co-owner of Column One (401 University Ave.), which offers an array of sculptures, urns, and, um, columns. Moore says he sees people walking by every day and tossing change through an open door into some of his water fountains, which he then matches and donates to Mama's Kitchen. Items starting at $4 and reaching into the thousands also include a 6-foot-tall sitting Buddha, an ample selection of speakeasy-style door grilles, a small army of Chinese terracotta warriors and a mini margarita-toting garden gnome with a message by his feet that reads, “I gnome what you did last summer.”
Best boutique to idolize
As if glittering skulls and milagro crosses weren't enough to get you excited about Mexican culture, Vintage Religion—a North Park purveyor of religious goods for your home, body and spirit—has started offering hands-on classes for the spiritually savvy or, at least, for those who enjoy communal arts and crafts. September saw the birth of sugar-skull-making classes with professional skull builders Maryann Luera and Ana Ibarra providing students with everything they needed to construct their own foil-and-frosting bedecked skulls just in time for Día de los Muertos. Next on the list: rosary-, altar- and tamale-making classes, the dates of which will be announced this month (www.vintagereligion.com). In the meantime, Vintage Religion (3821 32nd St.) will continue supporting the “Blessing of the Animals,” at which Father Mike Mangoian blesses local pets in the spirit of St. Francis (free to all, with a suggested donation of $5). Perhaps the best time to browse for that Buddha statue or Frida Kahlo portrait you've been hankering for, though, is during Ray at Night, when shop owner Philip Shirk celebrates faithful customers with mini-facials, henna tattoos, chair massages and fresh pan de muerto.
Best use of old CityBeat covers
Friends Michelle Gross and Leslie Pearl were on to something when every Wednesday after reading our humble publication, they'd save the covers, ads and interesting graphic layouts. After a process of plasticization and embellishment, the result was their brand-spanking-new line of “magbags.” “They're wearable art, and no two are alike,” boasts Gross. Ranging from $50 to $70, the bags can be purchased, as well as custom-ordered, at Wrapsodywraps4u.com.
Best knitting circle
As far as booksellers go, The Grove (3010 Juniper St. in South Park) is top-notch, specializing in local authors and offering a delectable selection of style and cookbooks, current fiction, poetry and even literature on the elegant craftsman homes that line older streets in this and other San Diego neighborhoods. What owners Susan Wells and Anne Mery had in mind when they opened The Grove in 2003, however, went way beyond books. Their store became a gathering place for local artisans, crafters and readers alike. “We named it The Grove,” Wells says, “because all of the streets in the neighborhood are named after trees, and we wanted it to be a unifying factor.” Alongside rows of colorfully covered books sit hand-sewn pillows, mosaic mirrors, wooden nichos and jeweled bracelets produced by various independent artists. At the rear of the store, a wardrobe full of funky buttons gives way to shelves holding bright fabrics, soft yarns, spools of thread and even felting supplies, which can all be used in the knitting and specialty craft classes The Grove (www.thegrovesandiego.com) offers throughout the year. Classes, as well as the store itself, are open to anyone eager to learn.
Best south-of-the-border shop
Enough of the coffee cups shaped like boobs, ceramic Tweety Bird banks, Simpsons velvet art and all the other stereotypical souvenirs you find on Revolución. Better to blow your peso wad on something that actually reflects the cultural rebirth currently going down amid the gunfire and climbing body count south of San Ysidro. Exhibit A of said renaissance is the HAHA store (Calle Zitacuaro 47, Colonia Hipodromo, thehahastore.blogspot.com) a new gallery / boutique located near Tijuana's Caliente casino that specializes in apparel, accessories, toys and art, all made in TJ. Owners Shardey Colin and Lorena Cienfuegos keep the place stocked with plenty of reasons to empty your wallet. Not to be missed are Yasmin Arestegui's Tim Burton-esque Technicolored monster dolls, Feminine & Masculine's unisex wood-heeled boots, Franklin Coallo's deeper-than-deep neon V's and anything slinky and strappy by Jorge Sanchez. Getting there involves a $7-or-so cab ride from the border. Most items go for less than $30. Yes, they speak English, and, yes, you can pay with dollars.
—Jeanette Bernal Rodriguez
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