Perfect Day: Seeking Retail Therapy

And there's plenty to be had from the East Bay's bric-a-brac-mongers and hidden hamlets.

The morning has broken and the sun is out. It’s the weekend and you’ve already scoped out the paper and slurped down your tall low-fat latte. Now, with the basics out of the way, your mind can turn to that most wonderful guilty pleasure: retail therapy. It being the post-dot-com era, you don’t exactly have a wad of greenbacks burning a hole in your pocket, so you’d better think low-budget. Sure, there’s always IKEA or the outlet malls along I-880, but being the rebel you are, you want the road less traveled. That’s not too difficult in the East Bay, where all variety of wacky and wonderful bargains are tucked into towns from Oakland to Rodeo.

So you might as well start at the Berkeley/Oakland border, where, around the corner from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse (6713 San Pablo Avenue, 510-547-6470) — a good source of raw crafts-project materials for grade-school teachers, where dolls’ heads, bits of fabric, old maps, and cast-off gewgaws of all varieties spill out into the narrow aisles — you’ll find UC Excess and Salvage (1000 Folger Avenue, 642-1186), a purgatory of sorts for Cal’s unwanted furniture. They’ve got large-scale bric-a-brac ranging from industrial metal desks to solid oak card catalogs, from still-functioning computers by the dozen to huge metal shelving units. All things of this ilk await you there, hungry for a lift to your living room paradise. The price tag on that wooden cabinet: $30. You talk ’em down to twenty and the sweet man who works there even helps you load the thing into your car.

Since you’re near Ashby Avenue, you can easily hop onto I-80 North and jump off at the Cummings Skyway, winding your way past cows and oil refineries to land in the quiet downtown of Rodeo. Hand-painted signs and dusty windows are the norm on this little town’s main strip, but amid the grime is a treasure: Vintage Silhouettes (190 Parker Street, 510-245-2443). This is hands-down the best vintage clothing store that ever existed. Walk in through the glass doors of the unassuming storefront and you’re overwhelmed by a wonderland of authentically vintage clothes. No overpriced, sweat-stained ’70s disasters here, just sartorial perfection from the 1850s to the 1960s for both the male and female persuasions. It’s this place you can thank for making Titanic at all bearable: Silhouettes supplied beautiful costumes to the big-budget weeper. In fact, the store has provided costuming for more than one hundred films, including The Age of Innocence and the upcoming Seabiscuit. Ask to see the secret front room, where hundreds of authentic Victorian frocks in almost perfect condition line rack after rack. And after you recover from your finery-induced coma, you’ll likely snag yourself a $40 cocktail dress and a custom-made Panama hat.

After stashing your finds in your car, continue along the Carquinez Strait, driving beneath the under-construction Al Zampa Memorial Bridge — the first large suspension bridge to be built in the United States since the Verrazano Narrows went up between Brooklyn and Staten Island — and through the C&H Sugar company town, Crockett. Here you can catch the meandering road to Port Costa, a tiny hamlet that was once a thriving port and still holds onto its rough-and-tumble past in the form of the Warehouse Cafe (5 Canyon Lake Drive, 510-787-1827), the most mellow biker bar you’ll ever visit. You’re about to step into the bar to order a Pilsner Urquell, then sit outside and watch the boats zip by, but a window display up the street catches your eye. Is it an art gallery? A shop? A theater? Theatre of Dreams (11 Canyon Lake Drive, 510-787-2164) is a little of all three — a workshop where Wendy Addison makes exquisite trinkets and ornaments out of authentic Victorian paper dolls, other antique items, sheet music, birds’ nests, glitter, and more. Some of the objects are quite pricey, but others are within reach. They’re only available, though, when the shop has its open houses: June 6 and 7 will be your next chance.

After your eyes have a chance to adjust to the modern world on stepping out of Addison’s workshop, you decide you will have that beer at the Warehouse. After all, there are over four hundred varieties to choose from, all well within your budget. And anyone you bring along may need a few to recover from your perfect shopping adventure.

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