Best Of :: Shopping & Services
All too often, when looking through stores claiming to sell genuine surplus items, today's military-minded consumer is met with disorganized dusty shelves featuring a few packages of rancid MREs and a cardboard box of mismatched World War II leggings. Worse yet is walking into a store claiming to sell military surplus goods and being greeted by racks of pristine flannel and Vestal watches. All American Military Surplus in Fullerton feels your pain and has set up a shop to nurture your inner warrior. In its cavernous space, All American houses a massive selection of government-issued and brand-name items, including bedrolls, 25-square-foot heavy-duty tarps, row upon row of ammo cans, insulated camouflage food containers and, perhaps most bizarrely, a large selection of military-issued immersion heaters. These gas-operated contraptions are designed to attach to the side of a water-filled trash can, which is then heated for dish washing or bathing. In an age when Halliburton can't be trusted to make effective body armor, why trust the government to produce quality camouflage garments? All American has plenty of camo-yarn for you do-it-yourself types at $14.99 per pound. It also has a wide assortment of stun guns ranging from $49 generic models to $399 Taser products. There are tactical manuals on countering guerrilla warfare and a nice selection of bayonets, both vintage and reproduction, not to mention daggers you can attach to your feet (not recommended for wear while playing soccer or kickball). Strike up a conversation with the staff, and you might find yourself in a discussion about how the Germans were the first to use night-vision equipment on their tanks in WWII. But heads-up: All American Surplus is located in a building that is as nondescript as they come, so you could easily miss it. Something tells us that's just the way they like it.
Cats are the perfect pet. You leave them alone; they leave you alone. Unless they are hungry, in which case, yours will glide between your ankles, purring that gentle "Feed me now or I'll swallow your breath as you sleep" type of purr. But a pet store? A neighbor's litter? That's promoting overpopulation, buddy. Instead, adopt the perfect pet relinquished by a previous owner to this nonprofit, "no-kill" shelter that was founded in 1968. Legend has it future humane officer C. Richard Calore was hunkered down in a foxhole in France during World War II when a kitty ambled up and helped to keep him warm overnight. (He knew it was a cat and not a fox because it gently purred, "Feed me now or I'll swallow your breath as you sleep.") Calore vowed thereafter to help cats the rest of his days, and his widow, Gerri, carries on as vice president of public relations.
Have you ever gotten the feeling as you walk into a thrift store that the value implied by the sale of secondhand products just isn't there? Have you ever spent $17 on a pre-owned printed T-shirt? If yes, you got hosed, and the fat-cat store owner is chuckling smugly. But hark, on the horizon, striding atop a white horse, comes the Assistance League. The nationwide charitable organization operates several secondhand thrift stores—including a facility in Costa Mesa—that sell used clothing at honest prices. A pair of slacks might set you back $5, a new parka $20. But the reason the league makes our list isn't the prices, but rather its dedication to local underprivileged schoolchildren. With the money earned at its stores, the Assistance League funds a program providing basic dental services to kids who can't afford them. Among the several other services it offers is a program called Operation School Bell, which provides clothing to needy children.
You know the feeling of finding something you never knew you wanted, but once you see it, you realize you can't live without it? Stray Cat Vintage & Costumes is full of knickknacks like that. It's a regular-sized store in downtown Fullerton filled with everything from bootleg records to jewelry, wigs, Santa Claus outfits, stickers and DVDs. Of course, there's also vintage clothing, organized by era—from as far back as the 1800s to the 1980s. The space also houses a music store called Black Hole, smack-dab in the middle of Stray Cat so that effluvium of beloved '80s icons (Morrissey DVDs, Madonna headbands, vinyl signed by the Misfits) spills over into clothing racks. Crammed with everything you could ever want (or not), this space is probably ideal for getting shopper's fatigue—who wants to buy everything in sight, even if you could?
Despite the untimely death of well-loved owner Pete Toulios earlier this year, one of Long Beach's favorite boutiques remains open for business. If you're looking for rock & roll gear for your 3-year-old—take your pick from the Sublime, Kiss and Grateful Dead onesies (these will set you back around $20 or so) or the Bob Marley "One Love" T-shirts (also about $20)—this is the place for you. There's a large collection of devil-themed bric-a-brac, including rubber ducks, and some decidedly non-satanic vintage-era toys and retro clothing for those leery of paying sartorial homage to Beelzebub. About the size of a barbershop, the storefront is conveniently located next to a pair of über-hip Vintage Row clothiers for mom and dad. The eclectic selection will keep your toddler looking cool all year. You fucking hipster.
Staffers at Dee Lux are choosy about which used designer threads they buy. They get their denim from such labels as Hudson Jeans, Seven for All Mankind and J Brand, and they specialize in straight- to skinny-leg jeans in dark and light washes, distressed, and work-wear trousers. Discerning shoppers know they're getting high style in the $20 to $80 price range. You can find both current and vintage dresses, blouses, shoes and T-shirts from bands such as the Doors, the Beatles and the Smiths. There are fashionista-friendly bargains on everything from jewelry and other accessories to all-season outerwear. The attentive employees organize the goods and cater to the hip bargain hunter's every need. Ladies aren't the only ones to benefit from the spacious store's fab inventory, either. Up front, men can shop for their favorite flannel button-down or American Apparel T-shirt. You can trade your extra clothing for 35 percent cash or 50 percent store credit. It's definitely great bang for your buck.
What do you look for in a used bookstore? Clean, well-dusted books; a literate staff; and a humongous, well-organized selection? Bookman fulfills all those requirements, and it buys books you're done with and want to share with the world. If you want to go old-school and browse through the single-story, midcentury building that houses more than 8,000 square feet of tomes, hey, knock yourself out. But you can also use technology to your advantage: If you're looking for a particular title, you can go online and check Bookman's website first to see if it's in stock. There are supposedly more than half a million books for sale (not that we counted), including everything from out-of-print cookbooks, children's books you grew up with, rare first editions, inexpensive art books and more.
This 22-year-old comics shop has been tucked in its current location, a Tustin strip mall just over the Santa Ana city line, for the past 16 years. That long a stint in the comics biz means Comics Toons & Toys has found some kind of magic formula for selling all manner of illustrated goodness that's sweeter than Betty, more tempting than Veronica and just as draining on your wallet as the two ladies are to Archie's funds. (Or, were. He should have married Betty, and we all know it.) The shop is two storefronts wide, with an expanded manga collection along one entire wall, a slew of designer toys and a small rack of comics-inspired T-shirts. They have every graphic novel you could ask for, including an entire section that seems to be dedicated to Neil Gaiman. The place is sprawling, but not messy. Its nooks and crannies hide long-forgotten treasures such as those yellowed Star Trek novels that have been waiting for you to discover them. If you're not sure what you want, just stick to the wall closest to the front door. The week's new offerings are clearly labeled and arranged there, staff picks included. You will walk out feeling lighter either because you're flying high in the mist of comics ecstasy or because you spent your weekly paycheck.
We assume this strip-mall book nook comes stocked with all the AP Lit classics you need, but that's not what brings you back to Mathom. Rather, it's for the store's wealth of paperbacks from the golden age of popular reading that was the '80s and '90s. The best part: A side room stocked solely with fantasy and sci-fi titles from a time when Star Wars' expanded universe dwarfed Twilight's pull. The room is conveniently secluded, so there's little chance you'll be interrupted while thumbing through all those Tolkien-imitating Del Rey titles you threw out three moving-van-inspired life-simplification efforts ago. With Mathom's full-time buy-two-paperbacks-get-one-free deal, you might just end up rebuilding that old nerd library of yours.
If you're a local Japanophile, you've probably been to Book Off. This little slice of California strip mall (oddly enough, it looks like a supermarket) feels like heaven. The store sells used English- and Japanese-language books (from manga to Sarah Palin's biography), CDs, reference items and magazines—and buys books and music, as well. Cheap, cultural and close to the Japanese supermarket, here you can find manga selling for $3, a huge anime DVD collection, cutesy trinkets and albums by popular Japanese bands. If you read Japanese, you're in luck: Many novels are sold for only $1 because even nerds who love anime don't buy them. If you're selling your books, though, Book Off won't pay you much—especially if your items aren't in good condition. But hey, that means everything they sell is in fine shape.
For more than 20 years, Pepperland Music has specialized in Beatles albums and related merchandise. As the Fab Four have morphed from radio stars to Rock Band gods, some display shelves have a museum-exhibit feel to them. Serious collectors should know their pockets had better be filled—or, better yet, their charge cards had better have mucho room—if they want to actually leave with something. A set of mop-topped dolls inspired by the famous Ed Sullivan Show appearance costs a cool $400. Collectible vinyl records (remember those?) mostly hover around $50, which is also the sticker price on an old Saturday Evening Post with Liverpool's favorite sons on the cover. And new and used CDs (remember those?) of artists from the Birth of Cool through American Idolatry range from a few bucks to around $20. There's also a bin of scratchy old records that sell for a buck each if you're looking for really big coasters. The other half of the store is dedicated to the business of making music, with sheet music and musical instruments for sale. Cool guitars and accordions line the walls, as do framed photos driving home the message that the walrus really was Paul.
The final scene in Saving Private Ryan can be a bit misleading. As the intrepid Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) bleeds out near a French canal and a German Tiger tank bears down on him, he reaches for the only weapon at his disposal, his trusty M1911 .45-caliber pistol. As he fires at the mechanized behemoth, the handgun looks like a peashooter. Don't be fooled. The slow-moving bullet of a .45 has the power to knock a grown man off his feet. The U.S. Army switched to the .45 as its standard-issue sidearm prior to World War I, favoring it over the impotent .38. The weapon subsequently saw service through all American wars up through Vietnam. And while there are plenty of places in gun-friendly Orange County to purchase the firearm of your choice, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place better than Fowler Gun Room in Orange. As for .45s, they have them in spades. With a friendly staff who won't hesitate to chitchat about the specifics of various firearms new or old, it's no wonder Fowler has been around for 45 years. But as long as we're talking about vintage .45s, we might as well mention that the Fowler collection includes a few 1911s from the World War II era, including Colt and Remington Rands. These weapons are composed of original hardware—as opposed to "Frankensteins" cobbled together from surplus parts. Fowler staff will gladly let you examine these specimens of American ingenuity, with their wood-checkered handgrips and the words "United States Property" stamped onto the slide. As with all things rare and desirable, such a firearm won't come cheap and can cost upward of $2,500. Of course, Fowler offers a 90-day layaway program with a one-third-the-cost deposit. Haven't received your handgun-safety certificate yet? Fowler offers the state-mandated test daily for a fee of $25 cash. And for you those of you aficionados who appreciate a .45 of an earlier vintage, the Stockade (8061 Westminster Ave., Westminster, 714-894-0584), owned by the same folks at Fowler Gun Room, has a nice collection of pristine, older .45-caliber revolvers.