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Need Travel Gear? Let the Shopping Begin--the More Cut-Rate, the Better

August 27, 2000|SUSAN SPANO | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

I've been a discount maven since my mother taught me that things you buy on sale are always better than things you buy at full price. But I've grown more selective about the kind of bargains I hunt. Obviously, travel clothes and gear are favorites.

This time of year, after the summer season has peaked, some bargains can be found in mail-order catalogs, on the Internet and at warehouse sales, clearances and close-outs all over California. This is a sampling of those sales. It isn't exhaustive; it represents those I've tried and like, and it focuses on warehouse and store clearances that I've found to be great fun.

I made this discovery last March when a colleague told me about a three-day warehouse sale at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was sponsored by travel gear retailer TravelSmith, which sells by catalog and Internet. I've always wanted a signature TravelSmith "Indispensable Black Travel Dress" (made of Supplex-Lycra knit, in four styles, ranging from $79 to $99), but there isn't much in the company's catalog I wouldn't buy if the price were slashed. And at the warehouse sale, prices were reduced by up to 70% (with additional markdowns on the last day).

People streamed into the civic auditorium the Friday morning the sale started. Tables were mounded with items I recognized from the catalog--black travel dresses for $35 (but not in my size), $5 money belts, odd-colored luggage for less than $100, slightly scuffed Rockport walking shoes for $45 and wide-brimmed, crushable straw hats for $15 that usually sell for $39.

In the heat of the moment, I almost bought a hat, and a soft, warm DuPont Thermalite jacket in red (the only color available) for $40. Then I realized I didn't need either and started talking about the wonders of Rome with two elderly women gearing up for a pilgrimage to St. Peter's.

I left the travel gear sale empty-handed, but it wasn't time wasted because I've learned that it's wise to shop around so you can see what's available and compare prices before buying.

The company hopes to hold another sale in Santa Monica next year, though a date hasn't yet been set, says Christine Robak, Travel-Smith's vice president for inventory management. The Novato, Calif.-based company regularly holds big sales in Northern California, at the Marin County Civic Center in May and at the San Mateo Exposition Center (Nov. 3 to 5 this year). It also has an outlet store in Berkeley (open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), sale catalogs in January and July and about 100 reduced items available on its Web site.

Another big travel gear sale takes place in October and April or May at Magellan's retail store in Santa Barbara. Like TravelSmith, Magellan's outfits travelers by mail-order catalog and Internet. (Gear at 10% to 50% discounts and clearance clothing are also available at the Magellan's Web site.)

Fortunately for Angelenos, there are sale events coming sooner, such as the second annual Labor Day Sale at Distant Lands Bookstore and Outfitter in Pasadena Friday to Sept. 10. Selected items from every department in the store, such as shoes, luggage and clothing, will be marked down 15% to 75%, and in the book section, travel narratives and coffee table books will be reduced 25%.

I get much of my travel gear from outdoors outfitters such as REI and San Diego-based Adventure 16, which has four stores in the L.A. area and one in San Diego, all of which are holding fall clearance and rental gear sales through Sept. 4. At these events, where lines form around the block before opening, Adventure 16 sells its rental stock of sleeping bags, tents, packs, stoves and other outdoors equipment (and replaces it with new items for renters). And the San Diego store has a special sale outlet, open in the summer only, through Sept. 4.

There will be Labor Day sales at all five REI stores around L.A., as well as some unadvertised upcoming sell-offs of returned merchandise, with discounts of 30% to 80%: Saturday to Sept. 4, Arcadia; Saturday, Santa Ana and San Dimas; and Sept. 9, Manhattan Beach. San Dimas is an "attic store" that sells discontinued and clearance items from other nearby REIs. For those who prefer shopping by computer, an REI Internet site, http://www.rei-outlet.com, is devoted entirely to sale goods.

So let the shopping begin--followed by the traveling, of course.

Call these stores for hours and directions:

Adventure 16 Costa Mesa, 1959 Harbor Blvd., telephone (949) 650-3301; Adventure 16 Tarzana, 5425 Reseda Blvd., tel. (818) 345-4266; Adventure 16 West L.A., 11161 W. Pico Blvd., tel. (310) 473-4574; Adventure 16 Solana Beach, 143 S. Cedros, tel. (858) 755-7662; Adventure 16 San Diego, 4620 Alvarado Canyon Road, tel. (619) 283-2374. Internet http://www.adventure16.com.

Distant Lands Bookstore and Outfitter, 56 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, tel. (626) 449-3220 or (800) 310-3220, Internet http://www.distantlands.com.

Magellan's, 110 W. Sola St., Santa Barbara, tel. (800) 962-4943, Internet http://www.magellans.com.

REI Arcadia, 214 N. Santa Anita Ave., tel. (626) 447-1062; REI Santa Ana, 1411 S. Village Way, tel. (714) 543-4142; REI San Dimas, 602 W. Arrow Hwy., tel. (909) 592-2095; REI Northridge, 18605 Devonshire St., tel. (818) 831-5555; REI Manhattan Beach, 1800 Rosecrans Ave., tel. (310) 727-0728. Internet http://www.rei.com.

TravelSmith, tel. (800) 950-1600, Internet http://www.travelsmith.com; TravelSmith Outlet, 875 Potter St. (at 7th Avenue), Berkeley, tel. (510) 981-1345.

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