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FASHION / SHOPPING SCENES : A Little Art, a Little Crafts, a Lot of Fun


Gil Nickerson arrives armed and dangerous, with a wad of cash and a metal pushcart he uses like a battering ram to power through the crowd.

"Check this out," he says, tripping over another shopper to get a closer look at a homemade wagon wheel lamp. "I've always wanted one of these." Five bucks later, it's his.

Estelle Carter is on a mission of her own. "Isn't this pretty?" she says of a $15 wall hanging of dried grass, seeds and vegetables before adding it to her wagonload of finds: several print blouses, Tupperware, Rol-a-Decor do-it-yourself wallpaper kit.

The 29-year-old Saugus Swap Meet in the Santa Clarita Valley, an hour's drive north of Downtown Los Angeles, is in many respects like its kin in other parts of Southern California--a mix of garage-sale fodder, such mass-market merchandise as tube socks, and handmade crafts. But many shoppers here find that the emphasis is on the latter.

This is not the place to find antiques, mind you, but rather hand-painted pine shelves, lace-covered baskets and bottles filled with multicolored beans. Did we mention the macrame vests?

The enablers for all this craft abuse are just as eclectic: the women in halter tops and shorts munching on $2 breakfast sandwiches and cups of spicy fries from the snack bar, the farmers in overalls, grandmothers in tube tops, bikers in black leather and even the occasional punk-rocker type. Everyone seems to have children in tow.

In addition to the odds and ends and cutesy craft work, apparel and accessories--everything from baby-doll dresses, T-shirts and pull-on shorts to belts, bags, shoes and Army-Navy surplus gear--are widely available.

"I'd say 75% of the merchandise is new," says Ray Wilkings, general manager of the 39-acre meet, which doubles as the Saugus Speedway and draws 15,000 or more on a given Sunday.

Clothing contractor Sonny Quejado has been dealing in women's cotton and rayon blouses at swap meets for 16 years. Lately, he's been running a special ($15 blouses, $5 shorts) at Saugus in hopes of establishing a client base.

"I just moved from New Jersey, so I'm monitoring the crowd to see what they'll buy and how much they'll pay for it," says Quejado, who takes in about $1,000 per show. His customers don't seem to mind that most of his merchandise is years out of date.

"It's fun to buy things you don't really need. It's kind of like going to a big carnival but without the rides," says Carter, scurrying off to look at hand tools with her husband.

The Deals:

A spin through the Saugus Swap Meet turned up plenty of bargains as well as some duds. We passed on the $10 weathered fiberglass boat without a rudder; the $25 silver ice bucket ("a $95 value," we were assured) and the (you-call-this-a-discount?) $15 CDs.

Our purchases included a three-strand gold-plated necklace ($3), two paperback books (50 cents each) and a crystal finial ($1). And we got a free sneaker wash from a cleaning-solution vendor. Total cost of our afternoon visit: $9 including admission and snack.

Other bargains: White cotton crew socks priced at six pairs for $5; three T-shirts (cotton-poly blends) for $10; new and used hand tools ranging from 50 cents to $5.

The Details:

Location: Saugus Speedway, 22500 Soledad Canyon Road, Saugus.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Admission: $1 per customer. Free parking.

Call: (805) 259-3886.

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