Offbeat Shopping Streets
Eclectic Boutiques Abound
Rodeo Drive. Worth Avenue. Oxford St. The Champs-Elysees.
Brimming with luxury items that lure the well-heeled into their upper echelon retail realms, the high streets of the shopping world make no secret of their purchasing priorities: Luxury goods destined for A-listers and moneyed mavens and misters with a preference for big-name brands pulled straight from celebrity backs and glossy magazines.
If your shopping tastes tend more to the one-off and eclectic end of the spectrum (not to mention the affordable), give the high streets a miss and make tracks for the offbeat shopping locales instead, where the emphasis is on styles with organic and local inspiration.
Have faith, shoppers -- not everything has gone mass market! Here are 4 offbeat shopping streets, sourced from around the planet, where you can set your sights on retail therapy of the non-chain genre.
Upper King Street -- Charleston, South Carolina
Inject some Southern style into your wardrobe with a visit to King Street -- but be sure you have your bearings right if it's edgy you're after. The lower end of King Street (handily called Lower King) offers little out of the ordinary -- chain retailers found in most major American malls abound, with a crowd mostly of the Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap variety. But the farther you venture along, the edgier the shops and the shoppers get. Upper King Street is flat-out funky. From independent jewelry ateliers to hat boutiques like Magar Hatworks -- where the head-candy is folded like so much velvet origami and embellished with peacock and pheasant feathers -- it's a meeting of design-oriented minds. Get lost in a world of boho-chic and ultra-femme women's threads at B'zar, a fashion boutique that also sells quirky gifts in the form of vinyl toys from Japan and unusual books.
North Orange Avenue -- Orlando, Florida
The city of myriad outlet malls and endless theme-park diversions is the last place most plastic-pushing patrons think to exercise their freedom to charge. But what the European tourists who descend in droves on the upscale Mall at Millenia miss is one of Orlando's little known zany shopping streets close to downtown on North Orange Avenue. Don't let the string of antique shops make you think it's all fuddy-duddy here. Dotted between those dusty denizens are unique boutiques such as Deja Vu Vintage (no website), a tiny shop that looks like an overstuffed closet accessed by time travel. The proprietress, a lanky redhead who goes by the name Red Robin ("I'm not sitting here making it," she'll laugh, if you ask where she finds all her stuff), is your guide as you rifle through racks to find that perfect vintage kimono, antique hatpin or '70s party getup. A few doors down at Boom-Art (no website), a husband and wife team who were once circus clowns breathe new life into vintage furnishings and decor items by livening them up with comic-strip art. For exotic home furnishings, cross the street to Living Morocco, where camel-leather lamps painted with henna and elaborate mosaic tables are sourced during the owner's buying trips to Marrakech and Fes.
Josefstrasse -- Zurich, Switzerland
It's amazing the difference a 180-degree turn can make in Switzerland's banking capital. Head south out of the main train station in Zurich, and you'll find yourself in the uber-chichi shopping zone of the Bahnhofstrasse, home to Prada, Gucci, Bulgari and all their big-name cousins. But set your sights north of the Hauptbahnhof, to the neighborhood of Zurich West, and surprise yourself with Zurich's hottest fledgling design scene instead. Knitwear gets the X-factor at Beige Swiss Styling, a women's fashion boutique where the highlights are skirts and dresses in luscious merino wool rendered with eye-popping retro patterns. A few doors down, at Swallow-d, designer Tamara Rist creates colorful handbags and wallets from deck-chair canvas and vinyl. And for Swiss-chic home decor, hit Einzigart, with its curious range of haute-design lighting fixtures and furnishings and out-there gag gifts such as whoopee cushions.
Ponsonby Road -- Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand's biggest city may be overshadowed on the fashion front by its brassy and beachy trans-Tasman cousin, Sydney, but Auckland's burgeoning design scene is nothing to scoff at, with talented antipodean designers cropping up faster than a New Zealand minute (but slower than a New York one) in the hip downtown hood of Ponsonby. If you can tear yourself away from the cozy cafes serving killer coffee (speak like a Kiwi and order a "flat white" if a latte is your usual preference) along Ponsonby Road, the retail therapy will not disappoint. Super feminine dresses in light-as-air fabrics and vintage jewelry star at women's clothing shop Widdess, home to Auckland designer Yvonna Vanhulzen's designs. And for one-of-a-kind handmade shell jewelry wrought from New Zealand's impossibly beautiful blue and green paua shells, hit Shell Shock, a few doors down.