It's four days and counting till the Big Unwrapping under the tree. You still haven't checked off all the names on your Christmas list and the last time you dug into your pockets, all you produced was lint and loose change.
Forget Melrose Avenue. Skip Santa Monica. Ditch the malls.
If the recession has forced you to pinch pennies, consider the bargains of Broadway, between 2nd and 9th streets downtown. The seven-block strip of small shops offers not only culture, history and a sense of community, but also a mixed bag of treasures and trinkets: $39 designer party dresses, 79-cent Barbie knockoffs, $5.99 hooded sweat shirts and children's flannel jumpsuits (three for $10). What's more, many stores are willing to barter and several will be open Christmas Day.
"Who wants to be confined inside a sterile mall?" asks Estella Lopez, executive director of Miracle on Broadway, a nonprofit group working to promote the strip as a office, retail and entertainment hub. "Downtown has an air of excitement you won't find in a mall," Lopez says. "Downtown you're strolling down a sidewalk on Broadway, peering through decorated windows and really experiencing the fabric of an urban retail center, the heart of the city."
J.J. Kaplan, a special consultant for state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), says he will be among the shoppers pounding the Broadway beat for bargains this weekend. Says Kaplan, a native of New York who works downtown: "I've been all over Los Angeles, but shopping on Broadway is about the only place that makes me feel like I'm in a real city."
He hopes to find bargains on footwear and electronics on the street that was once the home of City Hall, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the first synagogue in Southern California, and is still the site of the historic Bradbury and Eastern Columbia buildings.
Carmen Hidalgo, a secretary for a downtown law firm, says she and her family will be Broadway-bound this weekend, "because the bargains are too good to pass up."
Hildalgo, 25, says her closet is filled with fashions from Broadway shops, including Nelson's, where she has been eyeing a $109 full-length, red, fake fox coat for her mother.
Michael Weintraub, co-owner of Nelson's, says his father returned Monday from a 24-hour shopping spree in New York; he ordered more coats and about 300 fake furs--including silver fox, white fox and mink--priced from $49.99 to $109.
Weintraub points to a rack of knee-length coats near the store entrance. The coats, he says, were originally ordered by a major Southern California department store chain. But the chain turned down the order, "because they were scared they wouldn't be able to sell them." Nelson's jumped at the offer to buy the houndstooth check coats, made of 100% wool with leather-trimmed collars and buttons.
The coats, Weintraub says, would have sold for $80 at the major department store. At Nelson's, they're going for $39.99.
Other bargains include cotton and cotton-blend sweaters for $8.99, casual dresses for $8.99 and party togs, including a body-hugging, spaghetti-strap black velvet dress with a matching beaded and fringed bolero for $110.
For fashion-forward men on your gift list, J.M. Fallas has a selection as wide as any trendy men's shop on Melrose, including $2.99 funky vests that go for $40 at major department stores; shawl-collared wool jackets for $19.99 (priced at $100 or more at some stores), and colorful long-sleeved rayon shirts priced from $5.99 to $19.99.
Shoppers who are down to their last few bucks and in need of some stocking stuffers might check out Giant Penny, a sprawling store that sells everything from religious candles for $1.29 to Mickey and Minnie Mouse socks for toddlers and children (two pair for $3). Other bargains include short-sleeved cotton sweaters and vests for $3.99, long-sleeved Nike T-shirts in neon colors for $3.99, collegiate sweat shirts for $4.99, Fruit of the Loom pocket T-shirts for $1.99 and racks of royal blue, orange, red, black and white hooded sweat shirts--the fashion trend among hipsters--that go on sale today for $7.99 and up.
Quilt-lined flannel shirts--a la "Twin Peaks'--are priced at $8.99, and bright multicolored unisex ski parkas sell for $24.99.
Nearby at Victor Clothing--a men's shop where every wall inside and out is covered with murals--a $169 wool men's suit comes with a free shirt and tie--a $60 value and an offer that owner Ramiro Salcedo makes year-round. Alterations are free, and the store will pay for parking with any purchase.
Next door at Top Hat, a second-floor bridal and formal attire shop, there is a room filled with $39 party dresses--crepe, satin, chiffon, sequined, beaded and rhinestoned--ready for the holiday social swirl.