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Seeking a break from the cookie-cutter looks and madcap pace of modern malls? Consider Historic Claremont--home to low-profile boutiques full of gardening gear, antiques and floaty floral dresses. : Earthy Explorations

SHOPPING SCENES: A Guide to The Village in Claremont


Historic Claremont may be familiar to college students and locals alike, but strangers may be surprised by the treasure trove of bohemian shops inside The Village, as the shopping center is known.

Indeed, how Claremont's charming boutiques have remained relatively undiscovered by the rest of Los Angeles is perplexing in light of the great shopping there. Perhaps its low profile has something to do with its single-story setup: The Village's earthy, no-frills exterior looks like it should be hidden in Topanga Canyon. It's a welcome respite from the urban turquoise color schemes seen in L.A. strip centers and is sure to appeal to those who enjoy open-air browsing.

The shops are not for college students only. Young parents with strollers are plentiful. Chess players occasionally sit at a makeshift table in front of the Claremont Tea Company, studying their next move and sipping their steamy brews. A handful of heavy-metal enthusiasts gather around Rhino Records to browse among rare records and new CDs.

Just getting to The Village can be a learning experience. L.A.'s Metrolink stops at the center, making it a perfect destination for families who want to make a field trip out of riding mass transportation. Claremont is also a fairly easy drive from Orange County. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes because shops are scattered along four blocks. Maps are available in several locations.

Shoppers won't want to miss Rousseau's Garden, located inside an intimate split-level enclave of shops. It features garden-related items and home accessories, many hand-painted or hand-sculpted. A pair of large vintage plant holders in a rust finish are priced at $28 each. Lush floral arrangements and sumptuous pillows line the exposed brick floors and walls.

A variety of silver pieces, antique books and Victorian jewelry can be found at nearby Harvard Square Collection Antiques and Cambridge Row Antiques. The stores have an extensive selection of hard-to-find sterling and silver-plated napkin rings. Another strength: an impressive collection of antique linens in pristine condition, many less than $20.

One of the most offbeat clothing stores in the center is Shrimps, where everything from floaty floral dresses to colorful T-shirts are sold. The tiny shop also features Uruguayan leather goods, socks with Mona Lisa motifs, straw hats and even plastic toys starting at $1.

Another must-stop is Square West Gallery, where American Indian, South American and African artworks are temptingly displayed. There are kachina dolls, Salvadoran nativity scenes and Indian rattles. The store's ethnic clothing selection features separates by textile artists in Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona.

One of the favorite spots with the ladies-who-lunch crowd is Barbara Cheatley's, where two levels are devoted to unusual gifts and clothing. The store features long, printed rayon dresses and a collection of children's clothing by Alison Scott that includes elaborate handiwork and is priced in the $20 to $30 range.

Another store with three parts under one name--Raku--should not be missed. It's filled with inexpensive goodies, along with trendy home accessories and linens. One area, the Paper Star, stocks an amazing assortment of writing, tissue and wrapping papers, including the decorative fiber papers haruki and rakusui. As tactile as they are colorful, these papers almost feel like fabric and can be used for lampshades or book covers. A single 24-by-36-inch sheet costs $7 to $10.

Inside Tsia, another component in the compound, merchandise runs from Hue hosiery to Guatemalan robes. Among the most popular items: comfy leather flats and sandals made in Bosnia.

If the exotic shopping nurtures equally exotic lunch cravings, don't fret: Ethnic choices abound, including Aruffo's Italian Cuisine and Yiannie Greek Restaurant. Locals rave about the breakfast fare at Village Grill, while pastry fans flock to 3Cs. Bite for bite, trinket for trinket, The Village is a great place for nibbling, serious shopping or just browsing.

Walk This Way The Bottom Line: Located between 4th Street, Harvard Avenue, 1st Street and Indian Hill Boulevard. Drivers take I-10 and exit at Indian Hill, then turn left. Metrolink riders may call (800) 371-LINK for schedule and fee information.

Distinctive characteristics: Handmade decorative items and clothing from Guatemala, Africa, India and other faraway locales.

Historical appeal: Claremont Heritage, the town's historical society, offers walking tours of the Village and surrounding homes on the first Saturday of every month, unless it is raining. The tour fee is $3. Claremont Heritage also conducts tours of area colleges ($5), as well as an annual interiors tour of the town's historical homes ($10). For more information, call (609) 621-0848.

Particulars: Ample free parking; close proximity to a public library and post office.

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