Jen­nifer Goes to Things & Does Stuff

Jen­nifer Levin checks out her op­tions at Santa Fe’s malls

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

De­pend­ing on how long you’ve lived in Santa Fe, you might re­mem­ber when Ba­nana Re­pub­lic, Ann Tay­lor, the Gap, and other chain ap­parel stores were steps from the Plaza. Their sale racks be­came a lunch­hour sta­ple of mine when I hit my twen­ties, start­ing when a co-worker in­tro­duced me to the CP Shades an­nual New Year’s sale in 1996. For just one week, ev­ery­thing in the store cost about $20, which brought on a won­der­ful mess of ex­cited women try­ing on ev­ery­thing in sight, the f loors heaped with piles of comfy silks and linens.

All of those stores are gone. Now, a cou­ple decades on, pricey bou­tiques and touristy T-shirt shops are plen­ti­ful, but there isn’t much else in the way of af­ford­able cloth­ing stores down­town. Of course I’ve heard the old re­frain about how Santa Fe is so unique, so spe­cial — why would we need chain stores here that would make us just like ev­ery­where else? It’s doubt­ful Santa Fe will ever re­ally be like any­where else, but we need th­ese stores be­cause most peo­ple who live here need clothes for work and ca­sual oc­ca­sions — and like ev­ery­where else, th­ese fash­ions tend to be found most in­ex­pen­sively in cor­po­rate chain stores. A mall that fea­tures such stores can solve a host of prob­lems for peo­ple who don’t en­joy shop­ping on­line — where fit and qual­ity are hit or miss — and who don’t think trav­el­ing to Al­bu­querque should be re­quired to find a de­cent pair of jeans.

The malls in Santa Fe have long strug­gled to of­fer us ad­e­quate shop­ping op­tions. Twenty years ago, Santa Fe Place (4250 Cer­ril­los Road) was called Villa Linda Mall. Villa Linda had a bustling food court with a dou­ble- decker carousel in the cen­ter. There was a video ar­cade and a Walden­books. The ma­jor chain stores weren’t plen­ti­ful, but there were choices. (My main­stay was New York & Com­pany, which closed years ago.) Some­where along the way, the carousel dis­ap­peared and the ar­cade closed, as did Or­ange Julius. Villa Linda be­came Santa Fe Place, though I’ve never met any­one who ac­tu­ally calls it that. The mall has un­der­gone some re­cent ren­o­va­tion, which has bright­ened it a bit, but nu­mer­ous empty stores make it feel like a mall in de­cline. The Gap closed sev­eral months ago, and the long-shut­tered Hol­lis­ter, with its built- out en­trance rem­i­nis­cent of a surf shack, beck­ons like a haunted house. The food court now has just a hand­ful of restau­rants. My visit turned sur­real when I re­al­ized there was a chil­dren’s trol­ley, mostly empty, zoom­ing through the mall, and a few kids rode minia­ture elec­tric horses dispirit­edly around the vast empty space near the food court. Stand­ing amid the un­likely traf­fic of this ghost trol­ley, the old carousel’s ab­sence was con­spic­u­ous and sad.

But Santa Fe Place is not with­out value. There are plenty of cloth­ing stores for teenagers, from ca­sual to for­mal, and sev­eral places to buy ath­letic shoes. You can get a hair­cut, a mani-pedi, visit a den­tist, go to the eye doc­tor, mail a pack­age at the U.S. Post Of­fice, and join the U.S. armed forces at a re­cruit­ing sta­tion. Boot Barn — for­merly Western Ware­house — has an ex­cel­lent stock of Carhartt pants and jack­ets, f lan­nel shirts, and work boots for men. There is a half­way- de­cent ar­ray of women’s cow­boy boots, but the women’s jeans come only in ju­nior sizes, and most had rhine­stones and other kinds of stitch­ing and ap­pliqué on the pock­ets — not ex­actly my style. I was look­ing for no-non­sense plain-pock­eted boot­cut jeans, like the kind in which I imag­ine a woman could ac­tu­ally ride a horse.

Sports Au­thor­ity car­ries a solid se­lec­tion of ex­er­cise equip­ment and work­out gear at rea­son­able prices. J.C. Pen­ney and Dil­lard’s have a wide va­ri­ety of styles in men’s and women’s ap­parel at a range of prices, in­clud­ing fre­quent and deep sales at Pen­ney’s. I bought the per­fect win­ter jacket at Pen­ney’s for 70 per­cent off, and I’m still think­ing about its dress sec­tion. But the stock in both stores is so crammed-in that it makes shop­ping there feel more like brav­ing the chaot­i­cally ar­ranged dis­count racks of Ross or T.J. Maxx than a depart­ment store, and the Dil­lard’s en­trance from the park­ing lot greeted me with bro­ken, dusty, and empty dis­play shelves left­over from the hol­i­day sea­son.

The DeVar­gas Cen­ter’s i nside mall (546 N. Guadalupe St.), once as empty as Santa Fe Place, is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­nais­sance due to the up­com­ing clos­ing of most of San­busco Mar­ket Cen­ter in the Rai­l­yard. Many of your fa­vorite San­busco stores are in the process of re­lo­cat­ing to DeVar­gas, and by late spring nearly ev­ery space in the mall will be oc­cu­pied. Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous pro­pri­etors, this hasn’t been the case in decades. Just as at Santa Fe Place, you

It’s doubt­ful Santa Fe will ever be like any­where else, but we need chain ap­parel stores be­cause most peo­ple who live here need clothes for work and ca­sual oc­ca­sions.

can get your hair cut, get glasses or a mani-pedi, and mail a pack­age at the U.S. Post Of­fice. You can also buy hand­made pa­per, fresh-squeezed juice, in­cense, clothes, and crafts from a va­ri­ety of cul­tures. You can pam­per your­self with a mas­sage at two dif­fer­ent spas, browse books to your heart’s con­tent at Op.Cit and Hast­ings, or com­mune with bugs at a spe­cial mu­seum. There are sev­eral restau­rants at DeVar­gas, as well as Las Cosas, a kitchen­ware store that of­fers cook­ing classes. The UA DeVar­gas movie the­ater, de­spite com­pe­ti­tion from young up­start Vi­o­let Crown, still at­tracts a crowd. And though DeVar­gas could stand a re­model, it’s clean and smells pleas­ant.

My fa­vorite DeVar­gas dis­cov­ery was Bless­ings, a Ti­betan-owned co­op­er­a­tive that sells the wares of 40 lo­cal ven­dors. Items range from lo­cally made beauty prod­ucts to silk ki­monos and fine art. There is a real com­mu­nity spirit at DeVar­gas that seems to be grow­ing as the mall fills, and I found things to buy that I didn’t know I was look­ing for, which seems key for a mall. Cus­tomers should be in­spired to browse and win­dow shop, not just run in and out for a pre- de­ter­mined er­rand.

I was un­suc­cess­ful in my search for jeans at the Fash­ion Out­lets of Santa Fe (8380 Cer­ril­los Road), de­spite the ex­is­tence of a Levi’s store there. A full range of men’s styles and sizes were avail­able, but the women’s side of the store of­fered sizes only through about an 8, with most op­tions sized for ju­niors and just one style that wasn’t “skinny.” (An in­quiry about this un­usu­ally nar­row siz­ing pol­icy left on Levi’s cor­po­rate Face­book page went unan­swered.) Guess and Tommy Hil­figer have stores there, as do Ann Tay­lor LOFT, Polo Ralph Lau­ren, and Ed­die Bauer, all places that sell jeans — but the de­signer stores are still ex­pen­sive, de­spite their lo­ca­tion at an out­let mall.

The Fash­ion Out­lets tend to con­tract and ex­pand ev­ery few years, and lately the num­ber of stores has been shrink­ing. Mer­rell, with its sturdy walk­ing shoes and boots, is well suited to Santa Fe, and if you re­ally need to get fancy for work, Brooks Brothers has you cov­ered. Women can find un­der­gar­ments ga­lore at the Hanes store, where there’s al­ways a sale. Un­der Armour seems like a good idea in the­ory, but the prices of its ex­er­cise clothes don’t dip far below full retail, and the mu­sic in there can be very loud. Sports Au­thor­ity at Santa Fe Place car­ries Un­der Armour and nu­mer­ous other brands, so it won hand­ily in my per­sonal com­par­i­son con­test for se­lec­tion, price, and over­all shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence.

There is one store that stands out from all the rest at the Fash­ion Out­lets: the Cos­tume Sa­lon. You may have seen the sign ad­ver­tis­ing “Steam­punk” in the en­trance and as­sumed the store was some out­let-mall ver­sion of Hot Topic. It’s not. Pro­pri­etor Julie An­der­son and artist Stan Solomon have run the Cos­tume Sa­lon for eight years. It’s part art gallery, part cos­tume shop, and part funky jew­elry store, among other things. The enor­mous se­lec­tion of up­cy­cled vin­tage paste pieces are all made by An­der­son, as are the del­i­cate masks, and artsy hand­bags. An­der­son is fas­ci­nat­ing, and I kept find­ing things to take my mind off my fruit­less quest for denim. En­ter­ing the Cos­tume Sa­lon is like walk­ing into an an­tique cu­rios store run by a good witch with a long his­tory in the the­ater and a thou­sand sto­ries to tell. If you haven’t been, you should go.

In a town this size, where stores and restau­rants open and close fairly quickly, there is more to shop­ping lo­cally than sup­port­ing small busi­nesses. Brick-and-mor­tar chain stores — not their on­line equiv­a­lents — pro­vide jobs for lo­cals and con­trib­ute to the econ­omy. Un­for­tu­nately, as we have seen in the case of the Gap, Old Navy, and other stores that are ubiq­ui­tous else­where and strug­gle here, such stores will close when their prof­its drop a few per­cent­age points, and then I’m stuck head­ing to Al­bu­querque for jeans again. I have an ide­al­is­tic the­ory that the more we shop at the lo­cal malls, the more they will thrive. If we em­brace our in­ner mall­rats and keep shop­ping there, the stores may just come to us.

Post-Christ­mas rush, 1948

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