Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shopping on Hawthorne.


Let me start by saying I am not one of those people who hate malls and believe they are the symbol of our vapid soul-sucking suburban American culture. Granted, I normally can generally understand what these people are saying, but the reality is that I like the mall. Especially at Christmas. Maybe because it's how I was raised--going to the Viewmont or the Steamtown Mall in Scranton was what you did when you had to go shopping, or just what you did when you had nothing else to do--but seeing the mall all decked out in gold and silver and red and green and busting out Christmas songs makes me feel happy.

However, yesterday Kathy & I chose to accomplish almost all of our Christmas shopping on Hawthorne, a nearby street in Southeast Portland. Hawthorne is a notoriously "hip" place (although its popularity has increased rents and probably made it un-hip to many actually hip people, and there are many other streets around the East Side which are now much hipper), but for good reason: there's good places to shop, good places to eat, good places to see movies and hang out. We go there a lot, but rarely do we have a day like we did yesterday where we meander down the street and go into almost every store and really appreciate it. There are multiple reasons why this is better than the mall for Christmas shopping:

1) Although not everything in every store is locally made, a lot of it is. Or, even more so than made locally, made by a small-ish independent company somewhere, and you are buying it from a unique, independent business. The most corporate stores on the block are Powells, which is still a Portland company, American Apparel, which sells American-made clothes (sold to you by a hipster at really expensive prices with somewhat sketchy advertising adorning the walls, but, still), and the Buffalo Exchange (sells a lot of second-hand clothes).
2) It just feels good to feel more connected to your community, to people-watch everyone on the sidewalks, riding their kooky bikes, walking their dogs, waiting for the bus.
3) This is the main thing: THERE IS SO MUCH MORE COOL STUFF. Things I can get at the mall: Gap sweaters, jewelry from Claire's. Stuff I can get at Hawthorne: funky handmade hats and scarves, really cool Christmas ornaments and random knick-knacks, cool food and kitchenware, ironic art, funny stuff, vases and clothes and all kinds of things from different cultures/countries.

These are my favorite spots on Hawthorne where we grabbed good things:
- Powells Home & Garden Store: I always want to buy absolutely everything in this place. While it is chockful of books on gardening and cooking, both of which I like, I am always way more distracted by all the other stuff in here. I can't even quite describe what this stuff is. Housewares, really cool ornaments during the holidays, fun stuff for kids, cool magnets and posters, scarves and jewelry. Stuff. Good stuff! And if you want some actual just books, Powells on Hawthorne is just a few stores down.
- Pastaworks: I have just recently discovered how neat this place is. Has a variety of imported fine foods, lots from Italy of course, but from other areas of the world as well. Also has a variety of other local delicacies, and although I haven't tried them myself, I hear they make a mean sandwich at their deli using local and imported meats and cheeses.
- Presents of Mind: Super neat-o place; has a variety of handmade snarky-slogo-d t-shirts; a bunch of somewhat immature and useless but funny gifts; a huge selection of cards, unique wrapping paper and stationary; baby stuff; and some really great jewelry which is always a little too expensive for me but super awesome looking anyway.
- Beads Forever: If you're one of those crafty types who make their own jewelry, this place would be heaven for you. I mainly like to go in just to enjoy the world of color inside, and to look at all the pretty things, and daydream about how I would like to be one of those crafty types who make their own jewelry.
- The Monkey King: A store full of Asian goods such as bags, teapots and ceramics, boxes, toys, and so on. All of the stuff in here is super cool and remarkably cheap, meaning, it's probably (or, definitely) not the highest quality stuff, but it is authentic, and cool, nonetheless.
- The House of Vintage: Mega, mega treasure trove of vintage goods. Holy crap this place is fun.

To top it all off, when you need a break from shopping, you can stop and get a beer at McMenamin's Bagdad Pub, or the Bridgeport Ale House. Or, you know, you can just eat at one of the other gazillion eateries on the street or in the neighborhood in general.

After saying all that--the reason we went Christmas shopping on Hawthorne was because we could. Many places do not have Hawthornes, and so the mall is their only option. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'll say again, I like the mall. But if there is someplace--and there might not be an entire street of awesomeness, but maybe there is a pocket of awesomeness tucked somewhere in your town, even just one store--you should probably stop there first.

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