Thursday, November 30, 2006

X-mas trees at Bloomingdales - Westfield San Francisco Center

While not exactly a winter wonderland, the trees are pretty & the ornaments for sale are some of the best I've seen so far this season.

845 Market Street
Westfield San Francisco Centre
San Francisco, CA 94103

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Crowds at Union Square - San Francisco

The day after Black Friday, Union Square was a crowded mess. People jostled each other with shopping bags from Macy's, Old Navy and Victoria's Secret. Don't they have those stores in Hayward? Why do people come into the city to shop at these places? Wouldn't it be easier just to go the local mall? To add insult to injury, hundreds of people walked right by the striking engineers at Macys, just walked into the store without hesitation, then out again with their sale-priced goods.

While I'm on the subject of erratic behavior, why do people insist on wearing the ubiquitous Louis Vuitton bag with ugly clothes from Ann Taylor Loft or Old Navy? They'll buy the heavily branded bag, but would never buy a Louis Vuitton suit. If they were really into fashion, wouldn't they at look in the mirror before leaving the house? Even wearing something from H&M would be a step up. People are duped by marketing. It's the brand, not the look that interests them. These are the same types of people who drive BMW 300 series cars and carry Coach bags.

Wishbone - Inner Sunset

What could be a better x-mas present than an air freshener shaped like a poo? If you agree this shop is for you. Even if you don't, Wishbone has quirky unusual gifts for all the nontraditional people you buy gifts for, even yourself. The selection of cards is must nicer, and cheaper than Papyrus. Several cases sell fun, locally made jewelry and irreverent baby gifts abound.

601 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday - San Francisco

Black Friday is an American tradition, the start of the holiday shopping season, but it's not the biggest shopping day of the year anymore. Retailers are trying lure people in and get a jump on the competition by opening earlier and earlier. It's bad enough that Mervyns, Circuit City and JCPenney open at 5AM on the day after Thanksgiving, but worse yet, KMart and the 24 hour WalMarts were open on Thanksgiving day. How did they break the news to their employees that instead of getting holiday giblets, they would have to work instead?

I wish I had the wherewithal to get up this morning and see what type of people would shop on Thanksgiving day. Did they run out to buy extra roasting pans, or did they shop for Christmas gifts? Do they care that people had to work so they could shop?

It seems now that Japanese and French tourists have heard about this craziness and are booking vacations just to shop on Black Friday. Are they turning American?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Crossroads - Inner Sunset, Fillmore, Castro, Haight Ashbury

"You have some cool clothes, but...." This is the mantra that must be part of the training for anyone who takes a buyer/cashier job at Crossroads. If you want to sell your frocks, don't bother unless you have designer clothes, or premium brand names, like Levis big E's. Then, if you're lucky, you'll get $5 cash - or $8 in trade.

The selectiveness of the buyers is not reflected in the stock for sale but if you hunt you can find a few good things. For example, a recent shopping trip yielded a $300 pair of brand new, straight legged ACNE jeans for $60. A few designer garments, about 10-20 per store, are hung on the wall above the clothes racks, but overall, there is a lot of polyester, a bunch of t-shirts and jeans and some new, disposable Forever 21-type clothes. If you don't mind used shoes, some real bargains can be had on solid labels. Cute bags, purses and junk jewelry are a good way to complete your environmentally and fiscally correct recycled outfit.

The Sunset branch has the best selection for women, while the Castro branch has the most men's wear.

1519 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

1901 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

555 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122

2123 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

Monday, November 20, 2006

Samsonite Black Label -- Union Square

Gone are the days of moulded plastic in Barbie colors. The Samsonite Black Label line is chic, chic, chic. The Alexander McQueen collection is not in the store yet, but Samsonite's new shop on Union Square is filled with luggage that proves form and function can peacefully co-exist. Each bag is displayed like a piece of art in this spare, clean interior, with a price tag to match. The prices didn't seem to be dettering shoppers, though. English tourists, rich with the strong pound, and Japanese tourists who, let's face it, know good things when they see them, were plonking down their credit cards.

The Union Square Building
287 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The V & A - South Kensington

Just visiting the exhibits at the Victoria and Albert museum is a form of shopping. I suppose you could call it window shopping, or as the French say "licking the windows." It's such a giant warehouse of fashion for the home and body, that I am seriously skeptical of those who say they can see everything in one day.

If shopping is only satisfying if you actually lay out some money, visit the V&A gift shop. It sells the requisite postcards, note cards, and history, art and design books, but it's also a nice representative of good British design. Whether your preference is Urban Outfitters or Harrods you can find clothes, accessories and nick knacks to suit your taste. I still regret not buying a purse I saw there a couple of years ago. I don't remember the designer, but it was made of many different labels sewn together, similar to the technique Fake of London uses. "I'll find it online," I thought, trying to be fiscally responsible for once in my life. Sadly, it was not available online. It was one of a kind. I lost my chance to support the arts and to own a thing of beauty.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
020 7942 2000

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Harrods - Knightsbridge

What can I say about Harrods? The foodhalls are great if you're rich enough to buy a small pinapple for £10, or you're an American who's nostalgic for a fresh Krispy Creme and dedicated enough to stand in the long line.

It's little bit Las Vegas...

... a little bit Disneyland, and a large dose of naff.

I think of Harrods as the eBay of department stores. If you want access to a large breadth of designer labels, from food, to clothes to china, this is the place to go. However, if you want to look at a carefully edited selection of obscure, up-to-the-minute collections, go to Selfridges.

I'm not saying it should be avoided. There are times you may want to see everything a label has to offer, especially during the sales. I bought a lovely Anya Heinmarch tote here at 50% off, and it was a style I have never seen anywhere else. The toy department at Harrods is fantastic. It's an extravaganza of posh dolls, teddy bears and expensive cars. If you're a Playmobil fan, you'll feel like you've hit the jackpot. This is also one of the last places in London you can buy the un-PC gollywog.

Knightsbridge SW1
020 7730 1234

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tchibo - London

How does a coffee mail-order business turn into a chain of shops that changes its stock every week? Were the executives sitting around drinking coffee and reminiscing about the lucky dip? "Wouldn't it be fun," they said to each other, "if shoppers could have a new experience every week?" That must have been some strong coffee.

Strangely, though, it works. This is not to be confused with job lot vendors like the £1 store. You never know what you may find at Tchibo, but it's all new, and made especially for the chain, from a shrink-wrapped set of men's pajamas, to a Chanelesque ladies jacket, also sealed in plastic, to handy items like curling tongs, battery chargers and home furnishings. It's all a bargain, but follow the Moscow rule of shopping if you like anything, because it will be gone in a week and replaced with all new stock, except for the coffee, served fresh all the time.

Barnet, London
19, The Spires Shopping Centre
EN5 5XY Barnet
Brentford, London

101 High Street
BR1 1JQ Bromley
Camberwell Green, London

74 North End
CR0 1UJ Croydon - London
Dalston - London, London

Kingsland Centre, Unit 14
E8 2LX Dalston - London
back to top
Ealing - London, London

Broadway Centre Unit 11
W5 5JY Ealing - London
Edgware, London

Broadw.Sh.Ctr Unit 22 Station Road
HA8 TBD Edgware
Enfield, London

Palace Garden Shopping C. Unit 13
EN2 6SP Enfield
Harrow, London

84 St. Ann'S Road
HA1 1JP Harrow
Hounslow, London

21 The Treaty Centre, High Street
TW3 14S Hounslow
Hounslow, London

112 High Road
IG1 2AS Ilford
Islington, London

Su 2, Parkfield Street
N1 0PS Islington
back to top

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sen -- Spitalfields

I've always thought of herbal teas as gag inducing, so the large sign on the window did nothing to lure me into Sen. Acupuncture is even more scary. What caught my eye was the beautiful packaging in the window. The shopgirls were quick to spot a sucker for expensive beauty products with unusual ingredients and quickly convinced me to buy a bag full of stuff I didn't know I needed. I even tasted a sample of their not-too-bad licorice tasting tea. Their milky bath oil made my dry, rough skin as soft as a baby's bottom. It smells a bit like parafin, but the transformation of my skin was so great that I went back for more. I have never bought a foot cream before, but impulsively bought the grapefruit flavored foot and ankle gel. That one smelled delicious, better than the tea. Supposedly, this stuff slims your ankels down to willowy twigs. I haven't seen much difference, but I have got compliments on the way my feet smell. Perhaps acupuncture will work better in the willowy twig department?

4 Market Street
Spitalfields, London

Come Buy With Me

The only good thing about air travel, besides the destination, is in-flight shopping. Where else can you buy support hose, premium liquor, perfume, a massage wand and a birthday cake without leaving your seat? Hmm--that sounds like quite a party.

Is it a coincidence that, while stopping almost everything else from entering the UK, including canned pumpkin pie filling, customs allows people to bring fully-cooked birthday cakes into the country?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Alameda Flea Market - Alameda Point

I'm not the type of person who longs nostalgically for the past. I mean, do we really want to go back to the times before penicillin and botox? I am, however, nostalgic for the Sausalito Flea Market that was closed years ago to make way for a low-end shopping center. I much prefer to look at junk piled up on a blanket in a parking lot than look at junk thrown on the floor at Ross.

Now I have to get my junk fix at the Alameda Flea Market, officially called the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Fair. No matter what it's called, my first Sunday of every month is reserved for a good old prowl among the junk. It's a great place to pick up vintage patterns and fabric, china sold in grocery stores in the 50s, and branded premiums, like the toys cereal companies used to give away if you collected enough box tops. Furniture, clocks and Persian rugs are also big sellers. Even though there's a sign at the entrance stating that all items sold must be at least 20 years old. I'm not 100% convinced of the authenticity of some of the stuff sold here. Do fancy $300 repros of old movie posters count as vintage?

Nevertheless, it's well worth the $5 admission. This is the last great flea market left in the Bay Area. If it wasn't for the Alameda flea market, and it's dead sister, Sausalito, I've have to decorate my house from IKEA and Craigslist -- the horror!

Alameda Point
formerly Alameda Naval Air Station
at the end of Atlantic Avenue
Alameda, CA

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Where the Boys Are

Who says men don't shop?

Today, I stood in line at Lush behind a man who bought $90 worth of soap. No, that is not a typo. How do you spend $90 on soap? He looked like an ordinary businessman dressed in Friday casual khakis and a sport coat, doing a quick shop after work. His very ordinariness made me ponder the question of how and why men buy.

I realized, then, that I have seen a lot of men shopping lately. The other day at H&M, I stood in line at the cash register closest to the men's department, surrounded by men, most of them young, all of them buying clothes. Some were still shopping while in line, trying on sunglasses from conveniently placed racks. The basement of Urban Outfitters is always swarming with twentysomethings, trying on trainers and buying t-shirts, jeans and novelty costers. Young men aren't the only ones who shop for their own clothes. Every time I'm at Macy's men's store, it's filled with men carrying shopping bags. Apple is another store that's always filled with men of all ages, reading email, playing with the iPods & buying stuff.

This anecdotal evidence seems to prove that men do, indeed, shop. Shopping is not the same as browsing, though. Shopping is an end result, while browsing is a process. If I had to make a gross generalization about the sexes, I'd say that women see shopping as an activity in itself, regardless of the end result, while men see the end result.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Union Busting at Bristol Farms - Westfield San Francisco Center

My parents used to live in Southern California, in a part of Orange County that is far from gourmet grocery stores. It was very difficult to find any decent organic markets. Our closest option was Bristol Farms, about half an hour down the freeway, in Long Beach. It seemed like a shop for housewives who wanted to buy organic chicken at the same place they could pick up naff kitchen decorations. It was a good place to buy Amish-made cheese, but it was nothing like Rainbow Grocery, or Andronicos in San Francisco. The prices were double those at the local Stater Bros, so I simply assumed the workers had good grocery union jobs.

When Bristol Farms opened a new Northern California flagship in the basement of the newly remodeled San Francisco Center, I went to check it out. On opening day of the new mall, a few picketers held signs warning potential shoppers that Bristol Farms was a non-union shop. I stayed away from Bristol Farms that day, but many others simply ignored the picketers and crowded in, grabbing the ready made meals at the deli counter, eating freshly made crepes and gobbling up the nuts and chocolates. The irony did not escape me that while I was "virtuously" staying away from the evil union-buster, the stores I visited probably paid their employees the same, or less than Bristol Farms. Perhaps we expect that from retail, but not from grocery stores?

I went back a week later and went in the grocery store. I didn't buy anything, but I have to admit that the store was much nicer the Bristol Farms in Long Beach that we used to call the "posh Albertsons."

Well stocked shelves held a nice selection of grocery shelf staples, from Bob's Big Boy dressing to organic brownie mixes. Variety takes priority over quantity of any given item.

Pretty freezer cases stored high-end frozen goods.

The large candy section featured locally made chocolates and a nut counter: Think Sears in the 70s at many times the price.

Toiletries included designer and organic beauty products and baby staples galore.

The baked goods looked lush. I'm, at the moment, still taking the high ground and didn't taste any, but they looked marvelous.

While they don't sell locally raised, cruelty-free eggs, they do sell the New Zealand equivalent with the no beak clipping symbol on the side.

The picketers are still there, but not too many people are paying attention. Perhaps the union should recruit that shrill voiced lass who stood outside the Grand Hyatt during the hotel strike screaming, "Shame on you to cross that picket line. Shame on you!" People would pay attention then.

845 Market St - Suite 010
San Francisco, CA 94103
Westfield San Francisco Centre
Bart Level