White Elephant Sale (Oakland, CA)

On any given President’s Day weekend, you can find your “Set of Drifters” en route to the Bay Area.  Though the weather in February leaves a lot to be desired, the quick visit is one of our favorite traditions, and perhaps, it can be one of yours as well.

Aside from usual friend and family reunions, our primary reason for making the trip is Oakland’s “White Elephant Sale,” a gigantic rummage utopia held annually inside a warehouse near the wharf.  All proceeds from the two-day sale support the art and natural history Oakland Museum of California, and with profits from 2013 exceeding $1.8 million, it appears OMCA’s concept is working!

From vintage kitchenware, furniture, artwork, electronics, books, records and stationary to glassware, clothing, jewelry, toys and sporting goods - you name it, the White Elephant’s got it.  And what makes this ultimate thrift experience especially enjoyable is that each and every item is well-organized into 17 different departments, and priced well below what you might expect. 

Volunteers from the OMCA’s Women’s Board spend an entire year preparing for March’s public sale, first collecting donations, then testing every single electronic device or pairing each vintage greeting card with its original vintage envelope.  Even the pillowcases are washed, rolled and stored in tight little bundles secured with a rubber band.  Now that’s what we call efficiency!

Now in its 55th year, the White Elephant Sale attracts thousands of bargain-hunters from locations both near and far, many of them carrying iPhone bar scanners to search for that next great deal.  Our advice?  Try to maneuver your way into the January/ February previews.  Otherwise, you might find yourself with only scary old dolls to choose from.  (Trust us, they are in abundance here!)

We suppose if we had one gripe about the sale it would be the Women’s Board’s naive system of collecting purchases for payment.  Since each department does not have its own register, volunteers count items and then place them into a bag that they staple shut to prevent further thieving of extra items not yet tallied.  To lessen the nuisance, you may place your bags near the front entrance in a cubby hole to collect later at checkout.  (Set of Drifters tip:  If you’re anything like us, you’ll probably end up finding way too many things that you won’t be able to carry.  We advise finding that stash area on your way in!)  The final cash point works surprisingly well, and with about 15 different stations, moves really quick.  (And yes, they do accept plastic!)

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Truly “time-travel shopping,” featuring toys, electronics, furniture and clothes perfect for that next period-piece photo shoot, the 2014 White Elephant Sale is scheduled for March 1-2, with a preview on January 26th for those who have donated items throughout the year.

Set of Drifters tip:  Dress in layers, as the temperature inside is erratic to say the least.  And don’t expect much from the surrounding neighborhood in terms of sustenance, coffee or restrooms.  Plan to grab some breakfast beforehand, and if you’re feeling exhausted after the marathon trek around the warehouse, why not head over to La Penca Azul in nearby Alameda.  Featuring an abundant menu of lunch and breakfast options, this Mexican restaurant is always hopping.  We like the Chorizo Burrito and the Yahualica Sandwich composed of grilled chicken, onions and jalapeños!  Coupled with a Corona, or better yet, a margarita, it’s the perfect way to review your best finds of the day!

White Elephant Sale - 333 Lancaster Street, Oakland, CA  94601, (510) 536-6800, http://www.whiteelephantsale.org/

La Penca Azul - 1440 Park Street, Alameda, CA  94501, (510) 769-9110, http://www.lapencaazulalameda.com/

shopping the Haight

Let’s face it; “Upper Haight” (designated as the portion from Stanyan to Masonic) is an alternative shopper’s paradise, with more vintage threadshops and used record outlets than you can shake a daisy chain at!  Would the “love generation” hippies have approved?  Probably not... though on second thought, we’ll bet there were plenty of greedy merchants back in the 60s looking to take their money as well!  Those day-glo flower stickers and smiley face pins had to start somewhere!

Set of Drifter Brady has fond memories of hitting up Haight for vintage duds back in the mid-90s.  Sadly, recent trips to the Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, and the SF contingent of Wasteland proved nowhere near as inspiring as they were back in the day.  Instead, we suggest checking out La Rosa Vintage (for their impeccable candy-colored treasures or yore) and Cicely Hansen’s Decades of Fashion.  Complete with mannequins displaying garments better suited for the stage or silver screen, the latter serves almost as a sartorial museum of eras long gone.  And the best part?  Decades of Fashion is organized both by gender and (you guessed it) by decade.  It’s the perfect place to find duds for the annual Art Deco Preservation Ball, held recently at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.  (For even more second-hand SF surprises, see “thrifting in San FranDisco!” below.)

Another of our favorite must-shops in Upper Haight is Amoeba Music.  Sure, we have one right here in good ol’ Los Angeles, but for some reason, it’s the outpost on Haight that draws us in more often.  This virtual wormhole has a bad habit of sucking music (and film) lovers in for hours at a time, only to spit them out hundreds of $$$ poorer!  Good luck.

Of course, it’s not all about used clothing and music on Haight.  Your Set of Drifters are also fond of a handful of, how shall we put it, “specialty boutiques” that are certainly worth a look - even if you aren’t in the market for dead birds, chartreuse lace hooker gloves or large scale retro action figures from Star Wars.  Loved To Death is perhaps the most unusual of the lot.  Within its elegant, yet macabre, setting, taxidermied rodents share wall and shelf space with full cat skeletons, Victorian-era Masonic jewelry and plaster cast fetal skulls!  (Don’t forget to visit the "Articulated Gallery" upstairs, that is if can stomach the associated oddities and abnormalities.)

On the complete other end of the shopping spectrum, the legendary Piedmont Boutique located across the street is your one-stop shop for all things sequin and feather.  Quite frankly, this is the place where San Francisco drag queens buy their wigs, lashes and things of that nature.  And in the late 90s, it was where Set of Drifters Brady indulged his Madonna “Ray of Light” bindi fantasies.  If you are having a glum day, Piedmont Boutique the perfect antidote; there is so much color, glitter and mohair in this joint, you’ll likely be pulling it out of your hair for days.  Can’t find it?  Oh silly... look closer.  Seemingly in homage to New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street, Piedmont Boutique features a pair of women’s legs sticking out of the window above its front entrance!

Finally, no trek up Haight can be complete without a swing by Super 7 Retail Store.  This sparse kitsch mecca is perfect for those addicted to all things anime, or as it seems, Star Wars.  Featuring exclusive T-shirts paying homage to the sci-fi saga, Super 7 impresses well beyond Japanese-vibed glad rags with an almost museum-quality vintage and retro-inspired toy collection.  Just try not to salivate.

Set of Drifters tip:
  The “Lower Haight,” found between Masonic and Octavia, is another interesting, and certainly less corporate, alternative to Upper Haight (though nearby Hayes Valley’s resurgence is somewhat changing that).  Either way, make sure you take a shopping stroll along Haight at some point in your, ahem, “trip” to ingest that true essence of bohemian San Francisco!  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Goodwill - 1700 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 738-5606, http://www.goodwill.org/

Buffalo Exchange - 1555 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 431-7733, http://buffaloexchange.com

Wasteland - 1660 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 863-3150, https://www.shopwasteland.com/

LaRosa Vintage - 1711 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 668-3744, http://www.vintagefashiondirectory.com/shop/la-rosa-vintage

Decades of Fashion - 1653 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 551-1653, http://decadesoffashionsf.com/info.html

Art Deco Society of California - http://www.artdecosociety.org/decoball/

Amoeba Music - 1855 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 831-1200, http://www.amoeba.com/store-locations/berkeley.html#san-francisco

Loved To Death - 1681 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 551-1036, http://www.lovedtodeath.net/

Piedmont Boutique - 1452 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94117, (415) 864-8075, http://www.piedmontboutique.com/

Super 7 Retail Store - 1427 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA  94115, http://www.super7store.com

it’s your “Mission” to shop

With the economy suffering so many ups and downs as of late, it’s difficult for anyone of us to imagine visiting a city solely for the purpose of “shopping,” and yet San Francisco has long been one of the country’s best bets for just that.  An afternoon hobnobbing around Union Square will likely have your credit card looking for a corner man, that is, if you like that “brand name” sorta thing.  As an alternative, may we suggest Valencia Street in the Mission (see “murals” in “sights” for more information).  In addition to a handful of wonderful thrift and vintage clothing stores (see below), the street offers a plethora of other fun ‘n funky boutiques and shops that will send any hipster’s head-a-spinnin’!

Our favorite stops along Valencia include:

Harrington’s:  Wow!  This place is cool.  Somewhat of a warehouse of rare oddities, shoppers here will have to come back often to recapture the best of the best.  And according to their website, they have been doing so for more than 40 years!  (Set of Drifters tip:  Join their website for some cool tips to make the most out of available space in your abode.)  From cast-off furniture that has been refurbished, repainted or resurfaced to homemade pillows and seemingly one-of-a-kind antiques, this place will keep your eyes busy for at least a half an hour.  The prices aren’t bad either, depending on what you are looking for.  We scored a groovy Danish modern appetizer tray from the 1960’s for only $3 USD!  Woo-hoo!

Harrington’s - 599 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 861-7300, http://www.harringtongalleries.com/

Therapy:  Part of a larger chain of Bay Area design stores, Therapy immediately reminded us of one of our favorite shops in Buenos Aires called Calma Chica!  The vibe here is a clever mixture of one-of-a-kind funky art objects and antiques with completely user-friendly mass-produced items for the home - or body!  Throw in an oddball mannequin head here, perhaps an esoteric incense holder there, and maybe even an old-fashioned vintage pachinko game from Japan.  Chances are you’ll find something worthy of purchase here to satisfy your weekly retail... uh, therapy.  There are multiple locations on Valencia, one for cards, clothes ‘n such, and another for furniture, lighting, pillows and one-of-a-kind oddities.

Therapy - 545 Valencia Street, San Francisco,  CA  94110, (415) 865-0981 and Therapy (furniture) - 541 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 865-9758, http://www.shopattherapy.com/Home_Page.html

Monument:  If you are on a budget like us, Monument is definitely more of a window-shopping endeavor than anything else.  And yet, what a display case this spot offers!  Monument boasts some of the best examples of Mid-century Modern furniture and retro decorative pieces we have seen yet.  Their impressive goblet collection will make your jaw drop, and yet, there’s so much more to ogle than just robin-egg blue milk glass!  Need a special clock or lamp to complete your groover’s den, Monument promises to solve your dilemma!  Set of Drifters tip:  For even rarer (and more expensive) finds, walk across the street to Monument’s showroom, though you’ll need to make an appointment first.

Monument - 573 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110 and Monument (showroom) - 572 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 861-9800, http://monument.1stdibs.com/

Aldea Home:  This little joint just moved around the corner to Valencia Street from 17th and is packed floor to ceiling with inventive home decor items that are as quirky as they are chic.  Whoever is stocking this place has got a great pair of peepers, and seems to favor barely known artisans and designers over more popular brand names.  We were particularly smitten with the “Stuf” line of pirate bird mini-pillows, and may return once our pennies are saved up for the “Owl and Pussycat” throw cushion.

Perhaps geared a bit more to those of the female persuasion, Aldea Home is the perfect place to tweak your home decor with creative doses of color, or to buy presents for loved ones that they will dare not re-gift due to their uniqueness. 

Aldea Home - 890 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 865-9807, http://aldeahome.com/

thrifting in San FranDisco!

San Francisco is, and hopefully always will be, a vintage lover’s paradise.  Like in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, it is not uncommon to see more than 50% of the city’s youth walking around in second-hand duds of yore.  To discover these rare finds, SF hipsters and visitors alike do have a wide variety of options at their fingertips.  While many center their vintage shopping excursion on Haight Street (see above), your Set of Drifters prefer the Mission District as a more affordable alternative.

We started hitting up Mission Street’s giant Thrift Town back in the 1990’s when Brady was living in San Francisco (as a poor art student) and Doug would fly in from London in search of retro 1970’s mint-green leisure suits that Ralph Furley would have killed for!  Thrift Town really is the place that time forgot.  Having been in business since 1972, the two-story mecca is filled with all sorts of goodies cast-off from San Francisco’s elite!  Now, you can spend endless hours here looking through their motherlode so make sure you leave yourself ample time for this one!  (You also may want to use the loo before hand since we seem to remember there being no public toilet!) 

If Thrift Town is sounding too daunting, there are plenty of other surrounding thrift shops and antique stores that have opened up over on Valencia.  (See "it's your Mission" above for a number of great, more up-market spots.)  For fun stuff on the cheap, we love Community Thrift and Clothes Contact.  The former is a wonderful place to find cheap media, furniture and cool lighting fixtures (if you time it right) while the latter is like walking into a Hollywood studio wardrobe department.  They have every era and occasion covered in a setting that is surprisingly well-organized!  So, if you are in the mood to buy some great vintage gear or furniture, grab that cash from the ATM and head on down to the Mission in search of your next dream souvenir from San FranDisco! 

Thrift Town - 2101 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 861-1132, http://www.thrifttown.com/

Community Thrift - 623 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94110, (415) 861-4910, http://www.communitythriftsf.org/

Clothes Contact - 473 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA  94103, (415) 621-3212