Friday, July 19, 2013
The Good (And Affordable) Stuff
In the last quarter of the 20th Century, a gal used to be able to find wonderful little shops in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. These shops carried handmade jewelry, unique clothing and shoes, art and folk art, perfume and lotions, books and nick-nacks, pots, plates, wind chimes, fossils – you name it. The cost of the items started at $2 and went up to a few hundred dollars, but you could get quite a lot in the $15 to $45 range. My mother and sister and I looked forward to visiting these shops every time we visited New Mexico.
But many years have passed since those days, and recently a woman came into the Heard Museum Book Store during my regular shift and asked me if there was a shopping district like that in Phoenix. She told me that visiting those quirky little shops used to be one of the highlights of her trips in the Southwest. Lots of cities had them; locally we had the Mill Avenue shops in Tempe, and Tucson had its own shopping district near 4th Avenue. Flagstaff still has something resembling a cheap-and-fabulous shopping district, but not to the extent you would have found back in the 1970s and '80s. “What happened?” the traveling lady asked me. “Was it the economy?”
I suspect it was the opposite. Those shops were enormously popular. I think the landlords who owned that property decided they should raise the rents. They raised them so high, the owners of those little shops couldn't pay. In New Mexico, expensive jewelry, rug, furniture, clothing stores, and art galleries moved into those spaces. The top 5% of the population can afford to shop there now. The rest of us seem to be out of luck.
It's sad to see our paradise lost, but there are some alternatives for those who are willing to hunt a little harder. My search always starts with thrift stores. Prices there usually run from $1 to $15 for clothing, and quite reasonable for a gamut of other stuff. Places that advertise themselves as consignment stores or vintage clothing shops often charge more, but their items still cost considerably less than what you'll find in the expensive stores in the shopping districts. Second hand shops also run the gamut, price-wise, but are always worth investigating. And some of them carry new work by local artists and artisans.
Antique stores are also a mixed bag. We have a lot of them in Arizona, and almost all of them are low-priced. I walked into an antique shop in Taos on my recent trip to New Mexico, and I had to conclude that the place was too close to the pricey downtown district. The item I looked at (a gorgeous buddha) was $550. But you don't know until you look – that's part of the adventure. What sort of treasure you find depends on how much you're willing to dig, and whether or not you're bothered by dust. My tolerance for weirdness and unexpected adventure is high, and I've waded through worse things than dust to find the fabulous – on a recent journey in the Cave Creek foothills for garden rocks I fended off swarms of thirsty yellow jackets. Fortunately, bug swarms are rare on the thrift store circuit, and most shoppers can find a few places they like.
Here are some of the places my mom and I have discovered in New Mexico:
BOOMERANG THRIFT BOUTIQUE in Española carries a wonderful variety of hip clothing, including smaller and larger sizes. While we were there, they were running a sale, so we got our items for even less. The price range was $2.50 to $9.50. They carry an eclectic selection of other second-hand items as well. They're on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, near the southern end of town.
ENCHANTING BARGAINS THRIFT STORE in Española is also on the southbound side of HWY 84-285, a bit farther north than BOOMERANGS. Just drive until you see DANDY'S BURGERS and then pull into that little plaza. Their price range is $1 to $10. On this last trip I found 2 pairs of pants and 3 blouses I liked, and my mom found 5 fabulous blouses. Our tastes are quite different, yet we both found things we liked. (My husband bought 4 books.)
THE WATER STORE in Española is under new management and hasn't re-opened as of this publication, but they used to have an upstairs thrift section stuffed full of clothing priced from $1 to $4. They were my mom's favorite place, and she's hoping they'll be open again when we visit next year. If you're in the area, it's worth checking to see what's going on with them – they're on the northbound side of HWY 84-285 that leads through the town to Taos.
In Taos we always check out the COMMUNITY AGAINST VIOLENCE store on 1046 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur. From the road, you simply see a sign that says CAV. This year they only had half as much clothing as they did last year, but my mother and I both found a few things we liked, and they're worth checking out. On the other side of the street at 1024 is a consignment store called PIECES that is pricier than my mom likes, but that still has a lot of interesting stuff in it. My mom doesn't like to spend more than $5 for anything, so don't let that discourage you from looking at them.
TREASURES, located much farther North on Paseo Del Pueblo, is always worth a visit, though we have only bought a few items of clothing there. They also carry antiques and folk art from local artists, and they have a lovely little garden out front. Just up the road from them (going north) are a couple of affordable import stores, like the CAMINO REAL IMPORTS AND GIFT SHOP. They must have sold out of all their Jesuses by the time we got there (see photo), but I got a lovely urn-style garden pot and my husband Ernie bought a faux-alligator-skin wallet and a nifty t-shirt. (That was the only time I saw him get excited about an article of clothing on the whole trip.)
As you're headed out of town toward the High Road To Taos Scenic Highway, you'll see THUNDER LIZARD DIRECT CORAL IMPORTERS. They specialize in beads, so if you're a bead junky in recovery, don't go in there.
In Santa Fe, there are a lot of thrift stores on the southern end of town on Cerrillos Road, and you don't have to drive near the complicated tangle of the main plaza to visit them. These shops include GOODWILL, one of my favorite thrift store chains. I love the way they organize their stuff by color. GOODWILL discount days vary from place to place, so expect blouses to cost about $4.99 to $5.99 when they're not on sale.
The HOSPICE CENTER THIFT STORE AT 1303 Cerrillos Road offers clothing and antique/collectible items, and their clothing is always 2nd-hand fancy stuff. They were having a 50% off sale the day we visited, so we got several gorgeous items for a steal. Call them at 505-473-0972.
If you want a break from clothing shopping try A BIT OF EVERYTHING at 1836 Cerrillos Road. They don't have anything you can wear, but they're a 2nd hand/antique /collectible emporium that offers – you guessed it, a little bit of everything. You can call them at 505-983-0665.
So yes, the halcyon days of cheap and fabulous, quirky and hip shopping districts are gone. But it's possible to roll with the punches. And though people who have to shop for smaller and larger sizes sometimes don't have as much luck when shopping for second hand clothing, thrift shops usually offer more than just apparel. These are the places you might find pretty dishes, garden décor, books, etc. Second-hand book shops are always worth investigating, and they could use your patronage. Try BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS on 1341 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe (505-983-5438), just down the road from HOSPICE CENTER THRIFT STORE. They're an honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned book store, and if Ernie and I had spent any significant time in there we would have bought way more than the 4 books we did.
By the way, we were there 10 minutes. Paradise Found.