Quality at a cost

Shopping Fremont is not the same as shopping Kmart. Our stores don't feature the uniform, the standard or the basic, and sometimes we leave out the practical.

Instead, you'll find the colorful, the eclectic and the unconventional.

We have no mega-large, mass-produced, corporate conglomerates here, and unfortunately, prices here don't reflect machine-made, cookie-cutter, mass-produced discounts.

Higher-end shopping

I'm not a trend-setter, but I do know Bliss (the clothing store at the center of the Center of the Universe, at 3501 Fremont Ave. N.) and Dream (her sister store across the street, at 3427 Fremont Place N.) feature the hottest in jeans, with prices to match. Sevens, the brand currently all the rage among those who know, cost around $300 a pair.

Another brand featured artfully arranged rips, stains and shredded denim for $240 each, or $350 for a pair with an immense quantity of embroidered detail.

Such prices feel out-of-scale with our working-class neighborhood. Lola Pop, at 711 N. 35th St., sells skirts priced at $200 each.

Frankie, located within Burnt Sugar (601 N. 35th St.) and beneath the Rocket, sells shoes marked $150 to $200.

Istanbul Imports sells fine, authentic Turkish rugs that range up to $4,000.

A sofa at Capers Home will cost $2,500, but comes in your choice of 500 fabrics.

High-caliber items

At first, it might appear that locals must shop elsewhere. Not at all.

"I love Les Amis," Shoshanna Osterfeld told me about one of our most couture clothing stores. "I like it for sales. They have awesome sales!"

My sister-in-law and a Fremont local, Shoshanna has worked in clothing stores and owned her own gift shop.

"There aren't many shops in Seattle that have that caliber," she explained about Les Amis, 3420 Evanston Ave. N. She pointed to the store's fine fabrics, hand-beading and limited-run clothing lines. "They sell clothes you would find in Vogue."

All the stores offer incredible bargains. Bliss recently moved its 75-percent-off rack to just inside its door.

Plus, all the stores offer a range of items at a range of prices. Bellefleur Lingerie Boutique, 720 N. 35th St., features exquisite undergarments priced up to $130, as well as others marked $9.

The benefit to living close by is being able to check in regularly on sales.

Unique products

The stores offer style, taste and art of a kind. The practicality of a pillow, covered in raw silk and hand-embroidered decorations, might make it ineligible for a museum, but the beauty can't be denied.

Istanbul Imports, at 712 N. 34th St., sells handcrafted, handmade and one-of-a-kind items from all over the world and at all kinds of prices.

Capers Home, at 716 N. 34th St., features good quality and "a lot of products you don't find anywhere else," according to store owner Lisa Myers. "All the furniture is handmade - pieces that aren't homogenized," she explained, and most of it is made in the United States.

Lisa sees Capers as "the neighborhood store." Her store is "part of the circle," she said: Money spent here stays in our community rather than going to corporate offices in New York or California.

However, local influence and unique offerings cost a bit more than a generic $20 molded, plastic chair imported from China.

Getting what you paid for

Such prices aren't a new thing.

In the 1970s, Mike's Old Clothes sold, well, old clothes here in Fremont.

In the 1980s, Charlotte Buchanan blew into town, and in Mike's newly vacated space, she opened GlamO-rama. She offered kitsch items, clever greeting cards, plus a wedding chapel, as well as fashionable, unique, high-quality clothes that cost.

I bought a dress there for $200 (more than I've ever paid before or since) and a skirt off the sale rack for $11. Ten years later, I still wear both regularly.

"There is a lot of quality," Sho-shanna explained about the stores here. "It is good-quality, well-made stuff. I think you have to pay for that."

From the Brazilian imports at Tininha's to the high-quality soaps and lotions at Essenza (615 N. 35th St.), Fremont shops offer the unconventional an opportunity to dress and decorate their world their own way.

Gone but not forgotten

Then again, Fremont shoppers do have reason for grief these days.

Jinya's Treasures, one of our more charming import gift shops, has closed at 3412 Evanston Ave. N. Owner Virginia Merrill will be missed not just for the creative items she offered customers but for her enthusiastic involvement in the community.

Rumors, based on occupation of the small space by another tenant so quickly, have caused speculation that hopefully, a lucrative offer to vacate convinced her to close, but that hasn't been confirmed.

We've also lost Touchstone Bakery, at 501 N. 36th St. As of press time, I couldn't find reliable information on why this incredible, artisan bakery shut down without notice.

Run as a cooperative, the owners (sometimes as many as five) had to come to agreement on the least of any decisions. While their exit appears hasty, I am at least a little consoled to think all the owners agreed closure would be for the best.

Such departures never make anyone happy, but I can take some measure of comfort in the large numbers of stores, galleries and restaurants that still remain. Our rare, original and interesting spectrum of small businesses always makes a shopping trip to Fremont far beyond the ordinary.

Kirby Lindsay, lives, works and shops in Fremont whenever possible. She invites your comments at fremont@oz.net.

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