TARZANA — If it weren't for the unobtrusive sign out front to tip off passersby, the so-called "Alley in the Valley" would remain a well-kept secret. Only those with a keen eye driving north on Reseda Boulevard would notice the sign at the corner of Oxnard Street.
This "alley" is the San Fernando Valley's counterpart to discount shopping in downtown Los Angeles' Santee Alley. Fortunately, the Valley's alley is a much more intimate shopping enclave. Although the merchandise here is not as inexpensive, much of it is of better quality and, on the whole, far more current.
12:30 p.m.: Eat lunch before you arrive--there are no ladies-who-lunch-style restaurants in the immediate vicinity. And lest you thirst, bring some bottled water to curb it, because there are no vendors or even machines nearby.
Whatever you do, don't drive away if you have to circle the block a few times to get a parking spot. Parking is tight, thanks to a few businesses on the flip side of the alley who secure their spots with threats of towing. Heed the warnings. Be patient as you circle, like the vulture who'll soon move in for the kill.
12:40 p.m.: Parked and settled, head straight for Options, a new arrival to the alley and one of the most boutique-like shops. Inside the tastefully decorated space are dresses, suits and sportswear from the current season lines of California and New York designers. Everything is neatly hung and grouped according to size.
Prices range from $15 for a T-shirt to $225 for a designer ensemble. Nearly all the merchandise averages at least 30% off the prices you would find in a boutique or department store, though not all tags feature comparative prices. Wool crepe suits for corporate types are $170, down from $275. A sleeveless black rayon-and-acetate top and bell pants--from a California designer who launched an empire with thematic ties--sells for $130.
\o7 Options, 6000 Reseda Blvd., Unit R (818) 708-7466.
\f7 1:10 p.m.: Next to Options is one of the best sources for designer-inspired handbags in greater Los Angeles, much less the Valley. Marlene Gaines Handbags offers purses with stylistic nuances found in bags with Chanel, Carlos Falchi and Judith Leiber labels, to name a few. They range from $29 to $500, and when the store has a sale, prices plummet to 80% of the original price.
There are two rooms full of bags in every possible shape and size--drawstrings, totes, clutch bags, box bags and an amazing assortment of ornate evening bags encrusted with rhinestones and other jewel-like details. There is also an area featuring costume jewelry for special occasions.
\o7 Marlene Gaines Handbags, 6000 Reseda Blvd., Unit P (818) 344-0442.
\f7 1:50 p.m.: Bargain hunters will go wild at the sales regularly scheduled at My Fair Lady. Owner Jonathan Rick will occasionally place a tent outside for a special sale. Recent table offerings include $5 leggings and other casual knitwear items. Near the tables are racks of complete outfits selling for $39.99. Inside the store are racks of varied merchandise ranging from casual cotton pantsuits to evening dresses. Much of the stock is glitzy. Women who live in oversize bejeweled T-shirts and matching leggings will love the two-piece outfits on the wall for only $15.
But the modest should beware: community dressing rooms only. Shopper camaraderie runs high here--it almost seems as if all the browsers know one another. That's just the way owner Lynn Peck likes it. He has been known to ring a bell to announce a special during the sale. One recent offer: "Ladies, did you see the cute T-shirts with the parrots on them? $15!" he shouts. The mob rushes over to check them out as if they were a K mart blue-light special.
\o7 My Fair Lady, 6000 Reseda Blvd., Unit O, (818) 881-1651.
\f7 2:20 p.m.: Stock up on primping goods at the nearby L. M. Beauty Supply Center. KMS, Sebastian, Maste and Aura, a line similar to Aveda, are just a few of the hair care products available. OPI nail polish sells for $2.95 a bottle, and complete French manicure kits cost $7.95. There are hard-to-find men's colognes by Pinaud selling for between $6.95 to $7.95 for a full 12 1/2 ounces.
\o7 L.M. Beauty Supply Center, 6000 Reseda Blvd., Unit L, (818) 705-3777.
\f7 2:30 p.m.: A Touch of Spring, across the alley from the previously mentioned stores, is smaller than its neighbors but nevertheless worth checking out. Although the shop features primarily jewelry and other accessories, there is a small selection of cotton sarong mini-dresses in festive prints, selling for $69 each. A pair of flats featuring the infamous interlocking CC logo sells for $49. The aforementioned logo is also found on sunglasses featuring quilted stems for $20 a pair, and on a gold-tone necklace on a chain priced at $35. Elegant reading glasses with rhinestone trim sell for $20 per pair. There is a vast selection of earrings, including an assortment that can be custom-ordered for bridesmaids.