Stepping out of my car and into the crowded street, I felt as if I walked right into another country. Santee Alley, in the heart of Los Angeles' Fashion District, exudes the feel of a Mexican marketplace, with the shoppers and retailers haggling, heckling and bargaining along the jam-packed street.
The broken English of a shopkeeper bellows out into the crowd: “Cheap goods! Best deal in L.A.!”
He's right. If you can brave the swarms of people, sticky weather and dirty streets, the Fashion District on a Saturday morning is sure to yield the best bargain shopping north of the border.
Spanning 90 blocks just east of downtown L.A., the Fashion District is brimming with discounted merchandise. You can find anything from clothing to accessories to DVDs to pets (rabbits, birds and mini turtles) here, at over 50 percent off the retail price.
Now, if you're used to paying top dollar for a pair of designer sunglasses, this may not be the place for you. But if you've been eyeing that new Gucci bag, but just can't scrape together enough cash, the Fashion District is just the solution.
The area is a haven for designer-lovers who can't always afford to buy the real thing. Most famous for its hoards of “designer-inspired” goods, the Fashion District is the perfect place to pick up some knockoffs.
If you're not looking for something in particular, the Fashion District can be a little overwhelming. There are more than 1,000 shops in the vicinity, all boasting the “best deals” or “exclusive merchandise.” Located within the district are discount retail stores, wholesale warehouses and L.A.'s famed Flower Market.
On most days, the wholesale outlets are open to certified buyers only, but on some weekends they open their doors to the general public and these can be a great place to find fabrics, fancy dresses or even a new suit.
If you're a casual shopper looking for some great bargains, you're best bet is probably Santee Alley. The narrow street is lined with stores and makeshift stands, all with aggressive employees pushing their goods. Before you delve into the craziness of the alley, there are a few important facts you should know.
First, it's OK to bargain! Haggling over the cost is expected, so shopkeepers often jack up the prices when you first express some interest. Feel free to suggest a cheaper price than they're asking and see how low you can get them to go. An extra tip: If you speak Spanish, use it! You're more likely to get a better bargain if you break out those Español skills.
Most shops in the Fashion District only accept cash, and ATMs in the area are limited, so be sure to bring along some money if you plan to make any purchases. You need to make sure you like what you're buying because most sales in the area are final – no returns or exchanges. But on the other hand, if you see something you like, go ahead and snatch it up because merchandise varies from day to day and it might not be there later on.
Hunting for bargains and that perfect faux-designer item takes energy and stamina, so if you get hungry, feeling daring and not counting your calories, stop by one of the food carts in the area and order a bacon-wrapped hot dog. They are heaven in a bun!
For more information on L.A.'s Fashion District, call ( 213) 488-1153 or visit www.fashiondistrict.org .