One of my favorite learning curves in a new city is finding places to shop. It’s a necessity and a treat—everyone needs both staples and sprees. But, while retail-friendly developments will catch your eye, it can be tough to discern if they indeed hold what you’re looking for. Here’s central SA’s three main shopping locales, each with something different to offer.
The Pearl Brewery’s retail collection might not be as well-known as its restaurants or Saturday farmer’s market, but it is the place to go downtown for a solid concentration of unique gifts and special treats. If you really want to wow an out-of-town guest with a special taste of San Antonio, consider a custom-made guayabera from Dos Carolinas, a local author’s latest work at the Twig bookstore or perhaps a tortilla press or talavera ware from Melissa Guerra’s cook shop. Alamo Heights exports Adelante Boutique and LeeLee shoes offer high-quality fashion you won’t see on every other person at the office, and Leighelena’s jewelry is unusual and fun.
My holiday shopping was saved by a recent trip to the Pearl with a big stop at the new fair trade shop Ten Thousand Villages. Full of responsibly made home décor, jewelry and other small gifts, I was able to pick up several nice and affordable pieces for a wide variety of friends. I rewarded myself for finishing my list next door at The Tiny Finch, a Brooklyn-style boutique filled with luxuriant, eclectic goods.
Verdict: Best for window shopping, gifts and small splurges, especially when framed by a few cocktails at Blue Box or Nao. The Pearl is also experimenting with pop-up stores, so keep checking in.
North Star Mall
North Star Mall, at the intersection of San Pedro and Loop 410, enjoyed several decades as San Antonio’s premier shopping destination, eventually eroding support for Downtown’s retail center (thanks a lot). However, indoor malls are now relegated to the same antique status as glass-roofed gallerias and open-air agoras. North Star has undergone some major renovation in the last few years and the upgrade is welcomed. Yet, it continues to be high on nostalgia—the only place for miles where you’ll find a FootLocker, a Spencer’s Gifts or an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
But what malls still hold the corner on are department stores, and for some shopping dilemmas, those are the only solutions. North Star Mall has Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s and a very nice, old-school Saks Fifth Avenue. As part of my (and many women’s) new year cleanse, I purge my unmentionables drawer and buy all new underthings. Ladies, forget that Victoria’s Secret silliness (although they have a huge store at North Star Mall)—a traditional lingerie department is your best friend for a non-commission based bra fitting, a wide variety of panties and shape wear, and a few new sets of fancy, old-fashioned pjs.
Verdict: Best for annual basics, perfume for grandma, reliving your glory days. Alamo Drafthouse Park North is around the corner for a prime shopping-and-a-movie combination.
So where are you realistically going to find yourself every Saturday from here to eternity? The Quarry. Originally the Alamo Cement Plant, Alamo Quarry Market includes mega chains like the Gap and Ann Taylor, a movie theatre, an Office Max, a Whole Foods, a Michael’s, a Woodhouse Day Spa, a Restoration Hardware, two Starbucks, a Sunday farmer’s market and basically everything else you might ever need in one fairly navigable place. As it continues to spill over Basse and Jones Maltsberger roads and add more eating and retail establishments, such as the I-can’t-believe-I-ever-lived-without-it Trader Joe’s, the Quarry only becomes more useful.
Despite its comprehensive scope, I regularly find myself at a handful of stores (other than the ones listed above). Francesca’s, a Houston-based boutique gone national, has an eclectic and affordable selection of clothes, jewelry and accessories. Quarry Nails is my monthly pedicure fix–there always seems to be an empty chair even at the busiest times. Nordstrom Rack can be chaotic, but if you’re patient, it holds plenty of good surprises, especially in the shoe department.
Verdict: Printer paper? Organic apples? Birthday cards? A new outfit for work? Guest bed linens? Yoga pants? You name it, the Quarry’s got it.