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A Flashback on 4th Street


Do you look good in a yellow knit shagadelic dress from the 1960s? Can you get away with wearing a bowling shirt previously worn by "Chet"? Then get yourself down to Long Beach's East 4th Street for an oasis of vintage style.

East 4th Street between Cherry and Junipero avenues has long been home to the kind of small, alternative stores whose owners wouldn't dream of a shopping-mall address. The two-block area looks like any other low-key neighborhood shopping strip, so common in Southern California that you might drive by and never know of the treasures inside.

Over the last five years, more small businesses with big, bold tastes have come to this neighborhood. The result is an eclectic mix of shops that offer mostly quality vintage clothes, furniture and bric-a-brac. There are no big chains here, not even a Starbucks.

The neighborhood feel is very much like Silver Lake before it was discovered--cool but without many poseurs. The attitude is L.A. hip without the usual pretentiousness. Good grief, these shops are across the street from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, and it's hard to be self-important while watching little children on the playground.

The rules of bargain hunters don't necessarily apply here: Don't arrive at the crack of dawn because these shopkeepers open their doors at the civilized hour of 11 a.m., or even noon.

Prices are lower than at upscale vintage shopping areas like La Brea Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. We bought a black beaded evening top for $65 and a man's bowler hat for $32.

Fourth Street is just one of Long Beach's nonmall shopping pockets, which include Pine Avenue, Belmont Shore, which we'll visit on another occasion, and the East Village antiques area.

The Route

Starting at the corner of 4th Street and Junipero Avenue, most stores are on the south side of 4th Street.

* Portfolio Cafe & Gallery, 2300 E. 4th St., (562) 434-2486. Victorian shabby chic meets industrial warehouse concrete and tin at this neighborhood hangout. Serves brunch and lunch, or have a snack--a tall nonfat latte and biscotti. Grab a book from the shelves, play a game of chess or rent one of the two computers and e-mail a friend. Next door in the same building is Atlantic Studio, a full-service beauty salon where it looks like it might be fun to get a make-over.

* Siren, 2240 E. 4th St., (562) 439-3449. This gallery and gift shop anchors the street. Everything from reproduction vintage lunch boxes (for an ironic-comic purse) to Mexican artifacts and artworks. It offers cards, candles and soap too.

* Chach Kass, 2238 E. 4th St., (562) 432-2002. Chach Kass as in "tchotchkes." Thrift store furniture and accessories. One of us found a great set of orange enamel kitchen canisters.

* Artscape Gallery, 2226 E. 4th St., (562) 434-3224. You don't have to wait for seasonal art fairs to find handcrafted fine jewelry, housewares, ceramics and clothing. For that Stevie Nicks gypsy-woman look, try the sumptuous hand-dyed cut velvet skirts and tops by Topanga's Two Heads collection. The back-room gallery has a rotating display of affordable art by California artists.

* La Bomba, 2222 E. 4th St., (562) 433-9112. Owner Jorge Avalos is a tailor and makes custom clothes for a distinct clientele that includes Latino and swing artists, including "Mambo No. 5's" Lou Bega, the Royal Crown Review and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The resale stuff is also really fun. Esther Williams would be proud of the vintage swimsuits (pre-Lycra) that hang on the well-edited racks here, along with choice bowling shirts, '50s dresses and nice hats to go with the great new and vintage guayaberas.

* Starlite Room, 2220 E. 4th St., (562) 434-3726. Work your way through the vintage furniture, 1940s through 1970s, and you'll find an occasional treasure such as a classic '50s chrome dinette set. Some Hawaii-inspired barware, chrome kitchen tables and '50s sectional couches.

* Meow, 2210 E. 4th St., (562) 438-8990. You'll be purring at the selection of vintage and unused (they call it deadstock) clothing at this sprawling shop, which has anchored the street for more than 14 years. Stock up on fedoras and bowlers (about $30), kooky purses (like one braided from Salem cigarette packs) and a rich supply of beaded sweaters ($58 and $68), vintage denim and even sewing patterns from the 1940s. The key look? Let's just say that the Austin Powers movies could have been outfitted here.

* Elan Collection, 2218 E. 4th St., (562) 434-1895. Vintage furniture and a small collection of clothes. But this store also updates furniture by offering upholstery services. A few great '60s lawn chairs were updated with pink leopard (fake!) fabric.

* Mad Rags, 2146 E. 4th St., (562) 438-6078. Pick through the racks and racks of vintage clothing for men and women. Funky purses in leopard print for $12 and cool jewelry. The hand-painted mannequins (not for sale) are to die for.

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