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Saucy, wiggy, `Mandy' and truly surreal

Shoppers find the weird and the wonderful -- bird feathers and pasties, Liberace and Manilow. It's all here.

March 25, 2007|Shermakaye Bass | Special to The Times

SHOPPING for that perfect G-string? Seeking the definitive NBA tipsheet -- or a zebra-striped chaise longue shaped like a platform shoe? Maybe so, maybe not. But isn't it great to know there is a town where all these things can be found at the drop of a feather boa?

Ditto for the shopper whose tastes run toward the more conservative. Say you're in the market for his-and-her four-wheelers with attached gun racks, or a personal recording of Barry Manilow cover tunes featuring ... you. Or perhaps you need a high-quality Willie Nelson wig from the largest wig showroom in the world.

In this city of kitsch purchases and haute-couture sport shopping, where a diamond necklace can cost as much as a small house in Schenectady, N.Y., another retail realm exists: a surreal, alluring, gritty world where all but local shoppers and adventurous out-of-towners fear to (or don't know to) tread.

You know it's out there, though. The city's gamers, bookies, chorus girls and good-ol'-boys have to get their stuff somewhere.

On a recent visit, I decided I had to know where. Forgoing the more mainstream options, I set out on a mission, my equally curious mom, Sherman Ann McDaniels, in tow. We quickly learned that whatever is "made" in Las Vegas, or largely for Las Vegas, does not have to stay in Vegas. With the proper motivation (and ideally a rental car), sleuth shoppers can uncover an array of stores.

Gambler's Book Shop

This has to be one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, and it's certainly a household name among serious gamblers. In fact, two of Vegas' best-known bookies called the day I stopped by.

"We're mentioned in over 125 books, have helped more than 200 authors write or research books on gambling and published 134 books through our GBC Press [publishing company]. And we're known in over 100 countries," says owner Howard Schwartz.

The store remains a dingy little den tucked off 11th Street and Charleston Boulevard (east of downtown), where you can find an astonishing variety of how-to, odds, percentages and betting-line books; videos; cassettes; computer simulation programs; and laminated "cheat-sheets" cards; as well as daily and weekly tipsheets. The store even has a selection of gambler greeting cards, medical humor books, coffee-table tomes and general-interest books about Vegas, boxing, horse racing, crime bosses, the mob, casino history, casino management, you name it. What really surprised me was the selection of serious literature, including Dostoevsky's "The Gambler" and Hemingway's "The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio." (Its selection of books is available online.)

Schwartz has put the shop up for sale because of ill health, but he hopes the buyer will continue its long tradition. "We have about 60,000 regular customers," Schwartz says, adding wryly that the world has an estimated 60 million gamblers. Not a bad percentage, considering that the masses would never in a million years find the little place.

The Attic

This place is so hip that you have to pay a one-time membership fee just to go in and browse ($1), but it's easily worth the buck. For vintage clothing, obscure furnishings and oddball collectibles, the Attic is a must, especially if you're a connoisseur of high-quality kitsch. Enter that zebra-print platform chaise. Enter amazing 1920s, '30s and '40s kitchen appliances, including a pristine GE icebox, circa the mid-'30s. Enter rare and vintage movie posters, early model cameras, radios, toys, trinkets and a boatload of fabulous '60s to '80s clothing. Don't forget to duck upstairs, where there's even more stuff.

The Attic calls itself the largest vintage clothing wholesaler-exporter-retailer in the world. Whether that's true, it is certainly a world apart.

Rainbow Feather Dyeing Co.

I initially thought the Rainbow feather company made headdresses and such; actually, it dyes the feathers for headdresses and such (fans, boas and other tickly accoutrements).

But I was not disappointed when I walked through the door of this barebones showroom and attached dyeing facility, which has been in the Girard-Favazzo family for 40 years. Rainbow Feather does the deed for a variety of folks, including Folies Bergere and Miss World Nude, and it will import, dye and wholesale virtually any type of bird feather -- any legal feather, that is.

Its showroom, while not much on ambience, is chock-a-block with ostrich, rooster tail, goose, white marabou, peacock, guinea hen and other exotic feathers, many of which are in stock and can be dyed to order. Shoppers can find standard and superplush boas in the store, however, as well as giant feather fans.

Liberace Museum Gift Shop

Granted, the Liberace museum duplex is on every serious kitsch tourist's list. But many don't realize that rummaging through the gift shop is almost as much fun as gawking at the 200-pound gem-studded capes, Baroque costumes and fabulously gaudy cars on display.

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