Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Day In LA – a Survival Guide to the Fabric and Clothing District

This year in Middle School, the drama department is putting on a production of "Annie." Eden tried out and got the part of "Rooster", Mrs. Hannigan's shifty brother who pretends he is Annie's father so he can collect a reward from Daddy Warbucks. Well, this is a big deal at our house and we are very excited to see Eden is his first dramatic performance. This week, we are on a hunt for a costume, which necessitates a trip up to the heart of downtown LA. If you've never been there, you are missing out on a treasure trove of clothing, fabrics, jewelry, flowers… you name it, you can find it in the fabric, flower, jewelry and clothing disitricts in downtown LA. But downtown LA is not a journey for the faint of heart. Among other things, it's crowded, and there are no bathrooms. I give that warning first in case you are pondering a trip yourself. There is a method which must be followed if you want to survive. You think I'm joking ….. well I'm not. Just ask anyone about their first excursion.

First, you must leave early in the morning. Not too early or you will find yourself in the middle of stop and go traffic and it will take 3 hours just to get there (even if you live 10 miles away.) The shops open at 10:00 a.m. so plan your drive to arrive at that time. Parking is very limited and early birds get the spaces. Bring cash, the lots don't take credit cards. Once you exit the freeway you must find a fast food restaurant before you venture into the Districts. Stop and use the restroom, and get a beverage if you are thirsty. If you avoid this step, you will suffer. I'm not kidding. There are very few bathrooms in the Districts and they are all hidden. You have to know someone, who knows someone to gain entrance. I skipped this step once and was forced to ask a shop keeper if he had a bathroom he would be kind enough to let me use. Most often, the answer is "NO!" But this man was kind (I think it had something to do with the look of panic on my face and the fact that I was spending about $3,000.00 in his shop). He said "YES!" I entered a door at the back of the shop camouflaged by bolts of fabric. I found myself in a 3 foot x 3 foot bathroom/break room/lunch room/stock room that hadn't been cleaned for at least 5 years. Sitting next to the toilet was a microwave. Yes, a microwave! You could simultaneously sit on the toilet and microwave a sandwich… or help yourself to a bit of leftovers sitting on a stack of dirty plates. There is something just plain wrong about sitting a microwave next to a dirty toilet. Has this man not heard of the American tradition of a magazine rack!! I think not. He is from Turkey after all, and he's doing the best he can... he's very busy selling fabric, and microwaving pop corn when ever he takes a "break." I was so grossed out I started gagging out loud. I still haven't recovered. If I think about it too much (which I just did) I gag all over again. (In case you think I'm exaggerating (which I sometimes do) just ask my sewing buddie, Dana Rising. She witnessed the whole thing.)

In case you are wondering, my favorite "rest stop" is King Taco just off San Pedro and Third Street. It's safe... there are no microwaves anywhere in site. I sought it out for the bathrooms, but discovered the best street tacos in LA. It's now a tradition to eat at least two before embarking into the heart of the Districts.

Second, visiting the Districts is like visiting a foreign country. Make sure you travel with a buddy, and DO NOT take little children on this excursion! Besides the lack of bathrooms, the only food available is from street vendors. The streets are very crowded and it is difficult to maneuver a stroller or to keep track of little ones as you browse the shops. And believe me on this one... they shop owners get very, very annoyed when kids are running around touching fabric with greasy Cheeto fingers. (I'll let you figure this one out for yourself.)

Third, plan on leaving the Districts before 3:00 to avoid traffic. The shops close at 4:00 or 5:00, but if you wait until then, it gets pretty scary. There are a lot of street people in the area and many of them come out at dusk when the business district shuts down. Just ask my friend Stacy. We left late once and saw a woman crossing the street wearing nothing but a shirt. I'm not joking. We looked at each other and said "Is that what I think it is??? (Yup, it was... a bare bum.) Before getting on the freeway, head for the nearest fast food restaurant, eat and use the restroom. It never fails, even if you leave before 3:00…. you hit traffic on the way home.

Ok, now back to my story….


Eden, Claire and I made the journey together. Our mission – a Zoot Suit that we could alter and turn into a costume. However, Eden and Claire had plans of their own. They were both anxious to check out "the Alley" -- a 5 block strip within the clothing district off San Pedro and 9th Street. It's teenager shopping heaven. Within its walls you can find all sorts of treasures you didn't even know you needed, and everything is a bargain. Claire dreamed of Prom/Quince dresses….. while Eden searched for contact lenses that make your eyes look like an alien. We were not disappointed. We found that and more – "Gorilla Booger Hair Gel" 5 bottles for $10.00! Who doesn't need Gorilla Booger Hair Gel! We also found knock-off Ed Hardy t-shirts for $2.00 and adorable sandals for little girls. Alas, we have no little girls, so we passed on those. Too bad we didn't know the shoe sizes of our little friends Jayda and Wren. Next time!


It didn't take long to find what we came for…… a Zoot Suit, complete with shirt, suspenders, vest and a hat. The Alley never disappoints.


Next, we ventured over the to fabric district off of 11th street. If you are looking for Lycra, fleece, Indian-looking sari fabrics, or home decorator fabrics, this is the place for you! Quilters, you should stay home… there's nothing here for you, not even thread. We browsed a few shops and settled on some ribbon. Did I mention they also sell trim? They do! Lots of it. And we bought some tiaras. Did I mention they also have bridal stuff? They do! Lots of it. Ok Quilters…. You might want to come if you have a daughter getting married or something. But…. Be warned there is no cotton quilting fabric, or bathrooms for that matter.

Finally, we hit the jewelry district and stocked up on some rhinestones. I should mention that if you come to LA for rhinestones, you should try and hit these stores first. They are super crowded and in some cases you have to take a number in order to be served. It can take quite a while if you come in the afternoon. This trip, we waited over an hour, but it was necessary, so we waited. That being said, we got some beautiful rhinestones at half the cost of a retail bead shop.


Yes, it's quite tricky to take a trip to the Districts. But, once you know the ropes (and places to "P"), you can find some really great deals. Check it out the next time you need a prom dress, or for back-to-school shopping. You'll be glad you did.

Postscript: Quilters, I lied. My friend Eve, who's an AMAZING quilter reminded me that there's a great fabric shop on Maple called Michael Levine. It has just what you are looking for! , I don't remember the prices being super low, but they do have a great selection of thread, quilting fabric, trim.... and yarn. Lots and lots of yarn.

3 comments:

Eve said...

I've never ventured outside the fabric/ notions shops - I will need to go back and do more exploring (in a million years when I don't have little kids anymore). There is one awesome shop with all sorts of designer quilting fabrics - Michael Levine. I haven't been for a couple years, but I assume it's still there...

R Max said...

I probably would never do this! It sounds like hard work! And $3,000.00??? What on earth did you buy?

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