Noe Valley Voice May 2002

Looking Good but Spending Less in Noe Valley

By Heidi Anderson

What's that you say, Noe Valley? Economy still got you a little nervous? Spending less this year on clothes, are you?

Well all right, but you don't have to start looking dowdy. Several secondhand clothing stores in Noe Valley are packed with both up-to-the-now and classic styles for women and kids. It'll take a bigger chunk out of your Saturday to get the shopping done, but you'll spend a lot less and still look good.

Baby Needs a Jacket

Peek-a-Bootique, a secondhand children's clothing, toys, and furnishings store on Castro near 24th Street, is full of baby bargains. Owner Paul Morgan says business is a little slower this year, but the used (some of it never worn) clothes, sizes preemie to 10 years, are still rolling in. He says the shy buyer should just take a deep breath and jump in. "Buying used, when you're used to buying retail, takes a sort of leap," he says.

You'll find it's pretty easy to pay $5.50 for a toddler-sized Old Navy jeans jacket when you know darn well it sells for $12 new. Sure, you have to dig around a little, but what if you also found a perfectly new poplin floral-print dress for your 8-year-old, which would guarantee she'd look like a million bucks, for just $13.95? Baby Gap T-shirts always come in handy, and Morgan has several for about $4.

If you're in the market for a car seat, Peek-a-Bootique has plenty, all still within U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission codes, for about $35. That's half the price you'll find for most seats in retail stores.

You can also peruse the toy section to find a slightly used toy or two -- hey, it's new to your kid -- for about $5. Nobody gets out of Toys R Us for five bucks.

Linen and Cashmere

Flush with new consumer savvy, you could head two doors down to Mary's Exchange, also on Castro near 24th, and pick up a little something there for yourself.

Wendy Frank has a store packed to the brim lately. She's been running the business for 12 years.

"I can't stand to hang up clothes anymore!" she laughs.

Lucky for you, Frank employs a helpful staff to hang everything up so you can browse through the neat racks, arranged mostly by color.

Frank stocks contemporary clothing. She says she keeps an eye on trends in magazines and the retail stores she frequents. So rest assured you won't walk out with a getup that is so, well, '80s or something.

"Except for the vintage items we have, nothing here is more than three years old," she says. "Most of my customers want something for half price, but they want it to look new."

"We carry some great designers," adds Frank, rattling off names like Issey Miyake, Chanel, J. Crew, North Beach Leather, and Karl Lagerfeld.

Mary's Exchange carries a large selection of up-to-the-now tops, pants, and skirts. Shirts and pants, sizes 2 to 14, sell for $12 to $24. There's also a plus-size section that's full of tops, suits, pants, and skirts, selling for the same prices.

Frank adds that she always has loads of linen items available in the spring, and in the fall you'll find a large stock of cashmere sweaters.

Visit Cece's Shoe Room

Okay, you got the kid a jacket and a pair of jeans, and you scored a great Nicole Miller number for yourself, but now you need a little something to wear to work. Assuming you have work. Or perhaps you need something nice to wear while looking for work.

Cece's Closet deserves a look-see. Down at the end of Church Street near 30th, across the street from Church Produce, sits a quiet little store packed with some classic styles and a stunning bunch of shoes.

"We have clothes for the everyday, but also a lot of things that would be good for the office," says store owner Cece Salas. "We're not, you know, very high-high designer," she says. Still, there's no shortage of fine labels, like Liz Claiborne, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and Jones NY.

Dresses are priced at around $20, pants at about $10 to $15, and tops start at $7 or so. Let's face it, you're not going to find those prices at Nordstrom's.

Suits, tops, and pants come in sizes 2 to 14, and Cece's keeps a full rack of plus sizes as well. All clothes are pressed and neatly arranged by color and style.

Don't forget to check out the back room at Cece's, where you'll find dozens of shoes on display, sizes 5 to 10. You'll find heels, clogs, loafers, all in almost-new condition, and name brands such as Bruno Magli, Nine West, and Joan & David. Shoe prices average $15.

The Mother Lode of Secondhand Shopping

Still have some energy? Feeling lucky? Then you're ready to REALLY save some money. Head down to the corner of Valencia and Cesar Chavez to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. There's gold in them there racks.

Forget anything you might've thought about thrift-store shopping--except, well, it does take a lot of time to work your way through all the aisles.

Store manager John Boatman says S.A. specializes in volume. "Sometimes when we get the clothes from the Sorting Center, I wonder how we're going to fit it all in!"

But they manage. And they pack in some surprisingly nice stuff. One recent dig through the yards of racks in the clothing department uncovered a boys' Gap sweatshirt ($1.25), men's Pendleton wool field jacket ($3.75), a pair of flare-leg Levi's, size 12 ($1.75), and a Point of View (Nordstrom store brand) women's turtleneck ($2.25).

The toy department, squeezed in between the children's and women's, is a big joyful tumble of pre-owned toys in various condition, from Tonka trucks to kitchen sets, all for under $5.

By now maybe you are tired. And perhaps it's getting dark outside and you need to go home. Consider it a good day's work: you kept the local economy moving, did your part to recycle, plus you and a few loved ones will look hecka cool next week. Way to shop!

So go home and get some rest. Don't forget, tomorrow there are about 12 garage sales to hit. Seems everybody's in a hurry to leave town. Who knows? If you have a couple of bucks left, you might be able to make the deal of a lifetime.

Heidi's Favorite Hangouts for Hand-Me-Downs


1306 Castro Street


Mon. -- Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun., noon to 5 p.m.

Mary's Exchange

1302 Castro Street


Mon. -- Sat., noon to 7 p.m.; Sun., noon to 6 p.m.

Cece's Closet

1781 Church Street


Mon. -- Sat., 11:30 a.m. -- 6:30 p.m.; closed Sundays.

Salvation Army Thrift Store

1509 Valencia Street


Mon. -- Sat., 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Closed Sundays.