At first glance, the shopping in Old San Juan is not unlike the experience in NYC’s Time Square….there are tons of stores featuring cheap souvenirs (most of which are emblazoned with the name of the area). There are shot glasses, key chains, and “common name” NYC license plates galore. In Puerto Rico, the items feature a Coqui, a miniature frog native to the area, rather than a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Other than that, most of the types of knick-knacks sold in PR are the same as the ones available in NYC – all of the kind of stuff that just eventually gets lost in a box somewhere at the bottom of your closet.
If you look past all the merchants who cater solely to tourists, you can find some shopping places in Old San Juan that are a truly delightful, especially for the “diggers and scroungers” of the fashion world. The following spots are “musts” if you ever get the chance to visit “La Isla del Encanto”.
This store is overflowing with stuff, so neat-freaks: Beware. The larger, furniture items are clustered near the entrance of the shop, and most of the items had large sold tags hanging from them. Although it is doubtful that all of the items were truly “sold”, the use of the signs was an effective technique to lure me into the store.
Upon entrance of this sweet little joint, it was easy to see the owner is a hoarder. Boxes were piled on top of one another, and to maneuver around in the store, you really had to squeeze down the aisles. There were vintage action figures galore, old costume and children’s jewelry, and vintage perfume and cosmetic cases (some still with product in them, ew)! There is an EXTENSIVE record collection in the room hidden all the way in the back, and there were so many records to look through that one would have to sift through them for multiple hours a day per week to see them all. Heads up to artists like DJ Shadow, Kanye, Diplo, and all those D.I.T.C people……this room is an untapped resource of discontinued records representing a myriad of musical genres. There might even be a potential Grammy sample in there! Since I am not a record collector, I ended up picking up some old Spanish comic books from the early 80’s with names like “Fuego”, and “Dinastia” – all of which seemed to feature themes of interracial love – with taglines like “El, holandes. Ella, africana….Y la selve, marco natural y exotico de su peligroso romance”. This LOOSELY translates into “A Dutch man, an African woman….And the forest, the natural and exotic setting of their dangerous romance.” Sexy!
There was no AC in the place, and it was musty and dusty, but for all the garage sale junkies out there, this place is a dream come true. It is these kinds of places where “those who flea” will find inspiration.
Pitipua, which means “pea”, is a sweet little thang. My friend recommended it to me, and although the place was supposedly open from 12-6, when I tried to go in at 3 PM there was no one in the store. It was really cute inside, and from what I could peep in the window, it was set up as a series of three different closets. The pieces for sale were displayed in such a way that they contributed to the store’s décor, as if the store were one big “closet collage.”
Pitipua, founded by Christina Agostini Fitch at the green age of 19, was modeled after the vintage stores of NYC. The store stocks clothing from the 50’s through the 70’s, like many vintage joints, but Ms. Fitch isn’t hocking the typical “Women’s Service League” bell bottoms with broken zippers and inner-thigh lint balls. The store takes particular pride in their men’s vintage section, for as Ms. Fitch adeptly points out, men usually wear their clothes until the pieces become completely worn-out and tattered. Thus, it is difficult to find clothing for men that is both vintage AND in decent shape.
The entrepreneurial Ms. Fitch repairs all items, tailors the silhouettes, and alters the lengths and sleeves of many of the clothes to make them practical for the island climate of Puerto Rico. The tweaking of the collection means that the garb can retain a vintage feel but can still address the needs of the modern woman.
So, maybe the ladies in Puerto Rico will never be able to wear vintage Shetland sweater – but with Pitipua, at least they can wear polyester blends without looking like….well, a tourist.
Bang-On isn’t vintage like the other finds, but it is a great concept store. Rather than scooping up gifts for your family at the last minute airport-style, instead, you can make a totally customizable gifts for them at Bang-On.
Bang-On started in 1999 in Vancouver and features custom t-shirts, which are made for you while you wait. You can choose iron-on transfers with witty sayings coined by the store (favorite tee read: “I Blog to Differ”), or with original sayings or nicknames that you make up yourself. I was on the verge of creating my own shirt, which I decided would say “K.I.M. – Keep It Movin’”. Then once I got back to NYC, I could just point to the shirt if someone were to stand on the left side of the escalator or be excessively chatty at the post office when they have a line behind them. Just sayin’! Check out the online store for Bang-On
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