Best Of :: Shopping & Services
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?
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.
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.
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.