[Metro Best of the Valley]

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Goods & Services

Western Wear
Booting Up: Campbell's Silver Buckle Western Wear offers the Best Place to Emulate George Strait and Shania Twain.

Best Building Supplies for
the Three Little Pigs
Iron Works
The Village Ironworks,
1201 W. San Carlos St, San Jose 408/293-7080
J&M Artistic Iron Works
1189 W. San Carlos St., San Jose 408/279-8475
Professional Iron Works
1153 W. San Carlos St., San Jose 408/286-5411

Much safer than the dwellings of the three little pigs, this trio of wrought-iron wranglers stand shoulder-to-shoulder along West San Carlos just above Race Street. The Village Iron Works is particularly attractive, with its open-air alcove of lacy ironwork and cast-iron gewgaws, featuring grape-arbor motifs, delicate fleurs-de-lis and anything else the ironmaster's heart might devise, all manufactured on the premises. If they had gotten their gates, trellises and anti-big-bad-wolf window bars here, all of the little pigs might have saved their own bacon.
Broos Campbell

Best Place to Get Organized
The Studio
N. Santa Cruz and Main streets,
Los Gatos

What well-appointed and ecologically sound Silicon Valley office would be complete without a recycled circuit board binder or clipboard? What mouse exists that wouldn't perform better atop a Georgia O'Keeffe or Edvard Munch mouse pad? What manager could possibly hope to survive corporate restructuring without a soothing desktop Zen rock garden? The Studio makes setting up an office so fun that workers will beg to stay late just so they can admire their sleek black disk holders, in-baskets and memo stands. The name of the game here is distinctive--distinctively made, distinctively priced. The Studio carries beautiful pens (including one that even does double duty as a tape recorder), rich leather appointment books and lustrous office furniture. And, of course, all these accessories optimize work performance, except for maybe the silver brandy flask.
Traci Hukill

Going Ape: Los Gatos' Gorilla Orchids takes exotic flora to more than metaphorical heights.

Best Greenhouse Effects
Gorilla Orchid Garden
45 E. Main St., Los Gatos

Who'd ever think of opening a store specializing in orchids? Well, it turns out someone in Cupertino did (what do you suppose the odds of that are?), but no one can match Gorilla Orchid Garden's theme or slavish commitment to quality. These exotic plants boast Hawaiian pedigrees, which makes them the best orchids available anywhere.

The botanical wonders never stop at this enchanting shop, which features, in addition to a fine collection of stuffed gorillas, an array of Martian-like blossoms bobbing on the ends of graceful stems like tiny gargoyles. It's like wandering through a botanical museum without the boring part--it's even educational. For instance, did you know that orchids are epiphytic, not terrestrial? They grow on rocks or other plants instead of in the soil, and make their own food through photosynthesis. They take seven years to mature and blossom, which explains the ever-so-slightly high price for each delicate flower. A preoccupation with the bizarre may well be the sign of a culture in decline, but what a sweet and aesthetically pleasing decline it will be!
Traci Hukill

Best Home Specialty Shop
Restoration Hardware
281 University Ave., Palo Alto

Where can you find an ergonomic cast-aluminum ice cream scoop just next to the superabsorbent Wonder Sponge? At an unusual store called Restoration Hardware. The large, graciously appointed showroom on University Avenue carries everything from ostrich-feather dusters and burnished copper weather vanes to the heftiest two-toned hammer available outside of a chain gang. Among its large selection of home fittings, furnishings, tools and accessories are brass and ceramic knobs and drawer pulls along with tiny German oil lamps, floral prints, shower curtains and patio furniture. Owner and founder Stephen Gordon writes descriptions for every item, explaining why this metal lunch box or this faded, floral love seat is tops in its class. Gordon and two other buyers choose only exceedingly tasteful and practical items. "It clearly is a point-of-view store," Gordon explains. "We buy things we think are intriguing or whimsical and in good taste. Most of the buying is an intuitive thing."
Ami Chen Mills

Best Discount Store
MacFrugal Bargain Close-Outs
1460 Fruitdale Ave., San Jose
Five other locations valleywide

Potential shoppers, beware! Pay close attention to what your mother says! Shop MacFrugal's. You'll save money and meet interesting people. A relatively tidier Woolworth's, MacFrugal's has been around for something like four years and carries a little of everything. Some of everything being women's apparel, party paraphernalia, bathroom and kitchen items, and such culinary delights as fat-free potato chips. Much of what's on Mac's shelves are discontinued items that would normally cost an arm and perhaps another limb to purchase, but can now be yours for the low, low price of 99 cents. Or whatever. Upon spotting a Metro reporter, one smart but dazed-looking shopper was unable to contain herself. "Write this down," she demanded. "Everyone ought to shop here! There's no other choice if you want to save! Did you get that?" Got it, lady.
Nicky Baxter

Best Place to Ring Up Bells
Denim Depot
287-B E. Campbell Ave., Campbell

Is no style sacred? The fall fashion police predicted a rage for velour and corduroy, and fancy boutiques like the Limited and Compagnie Express quickly jumped on the bandwagon, draping storefront mannequins in thick, crinkly fabric. Campbell's Denim Depot traffics in the genuine article--Levi's Big Bell corduroy jeans in a variety of vintage styles and sizes at a fraction of the price of the mall shops. The store also specializes in used denim, but as any fashion plate knows, coolness--and fashion sense--expands with every washing.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Alternative to
Crummy Thrift Stores
428 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell

Some vintage stores never rotate their stock, and before long, the stuff goes through two stylistic life cycles. Then, as the fashion trends eat each other, the garment loses zest--the collar gets all stretchy, and the yellow discoloration isn't confined to the underarms. Pandemonium's stock is so fresh, it hurts. Polyester for days with some of the funkiest designs to roll through since Nixon was in office. A staggering array of fishnets and tights. And clean, too! Pandemonium is a boutique, a vintage clothing store at its highest and holiest.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Fast-Moving Green Spot
Bay Area Action
715 Colorado Ave., #1, Palo Alto

The hip, professional activists at Bay Area Action have added one more enterprise to their busy list of things to do, after saving the Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County, stopping the proposed Ward Valley dump, restoring local creek beds, planting oaks in the Arastradero Preserve and generally rescuing the planet without much help from the rest of us. Their latest endeavor can be found behind BAA digs in Palo Alto's Midtown, a normally sleepy stretch of Middlefield Road, where they are growing a communal, organic garden. Plots are available for willing volunteers (and in the East Palo Alto garden as well). With snazzy newsletters, e-mail and a stylish home page at www.impactonline.org/baa/, BAA has inspired all types, from Palo Alto homemakers to Sunnyvale engineers, to do their part for the other greening of the planet. "I think people feel alienated by the culture in Silicon Valley--it's so money-oriented. Community is very important for them," explains Drekmeier of the group's popularity. Through BAA, volunteers teach green ethics at schools and journey to rallies at Livermore Labs--and as far away as Mexico. "We have a very active membership," notes Drekmeier--with satisfaction--in this bright green spot in the valley.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Place to Keep a Cigar
John Stewart's Humidor
425 1/2 South Second St., San Jose

In an unassuming workshop in downtown San Jose, artisan John Stewart--and family--create woodwork. Besides crafting magnificent bars and fixtures for taverns like Katie Bloom's and the British Bankers Club, Stewart's company, Stewart-Beckwith, builds cigar humidors from mahogany and Spanish cedar--ranging from the small "Stogie Express" to the grand "El Presidente." Stewart-Beckwith receives up to 40 humidor inquiries a day, and Stewart believes his company may be the largest commercial producer in the country. A good humidor, Stewart says, has a snug fit to maintain humidity at preferred percentages--between 68 and 74. As for Stewart, "I personally like 72 percent," he says. "I like my cigars with a little give." His favorite stogie? He isn't naming names, but the man recalls enjoying a recent smoke of Cuban-seed filler with a Connecticut-Valley Shade wrapper.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Way to Learn
Which Fork Is for Salad
The Workshoppe
14419 Big Basin Way, Saratoga

Have the kids become an embarrassment, slurping spaghetti or blowing bubbles in their beverages with a straw? Education is the only solution. Thankfully, the Workshoppe of Saratoga offers a dining workshop for teens and preteens, where students are taught the proper way to invite guests, eat "difficult foods" and operate dining utensils. General social etiquette classes (manners and dating) and a grooming and modeling workshop (makeup application and model emulation) are also available. Adults are welcome to join the Workshoppe in their makeup and adult dining classes or for image consultation.
Bernice Yeung

Best Place to Re-tile
Your Bathroom
Stonelight Tile
1651 Pomona Ave., San Jose
609 S. First St., San Jose

Where do Barbra Streisand and the King of Saudi Arabia go when they want to spruce up the old commode abode? Stonelight Tile in San Jose. Add on Macy's stores, William Randolph Hearst's home in San Simeon, San Jose State University and even the YMCA, and it's clear that Stonelight Tile is a corner-cut above. Tradition and reputation may be part of it: The company's origins can be traced to Albert L. Solon, who not only revolutionized California tile manufacturing in the 1920s, but injected imagination and style. Solon's creations characteristically involved floral designs, plant scrolls and geometric forms, which Stonelight replicates today. In constructing a four-block walk honoring Ernesto Galarza, a scholar at SJSU in the late '60s, only Stonelight was trusted with the intricate design. For the less ambitious, Stonelight offers a "bone yard" of leftovers to the public on Saturdays, 9am­5pm.
Bernice Yeung

Best Place to Buy
Animal-Print Activewear
140 Gilman Ave., Campbell

For years, gymnasts, divers, swimmers, water polo players, weight lifters and just about anyone who needs "an item of clothing that stretches" have thanked the fashion coordinators in the sky for Illusions, where they can get their skivvies custom-made. From leopard-print leotards to velvet swimsuits, the company stocks more than 600 fabrics (also camouflage, gold metallic and bandanna print), so the finished product will not only fit, but make a fashion statement. In fact, local gymnastics hero Amy Chow's favorite leotard is none other than an Illusions product. The company started out 15 years ago in the Saratoga home of Margie Dalton, who began making workout gear for her daughter, a gymnast and diver. Dalton teamed up with Maxine Cohn in 1995 and moved the company to Campbell, where they sell more than 1,200 suits and leotards a month.
Bernice Yeung

Best Place to Shoe a Bigfoot
Ross Stores, Inc.
various locations valleywide

"Ya know what they say, Pee-Wee: big feet, big ... boots"--drawled Cowboy Curtis (Larry Fishburne), circa 1988, on Pee-wee Herman's kids' TV program. Normally, size 13W dogs can only be accommodated by totally unfashionable plastic sandals or fake-out Birkenstocks, or perhaps monsieur would prefer $20 rubberized slave-labor-built "running shoes" with nylon laces that never stay tied, and a foot-embalming design built to last four months and then be buried like a dead skunk. So imagine the surprise upon discovering at this outlet the rather remarkable (in the sense that there were more than a few pairs) selection of sturdily built shoes in sizes 13, 14 and even 15, discounted to the same price I would have paid at Payless for a pair of the aforementioned plastic running jobs. Since Ross is a discount store, it's never certain what they'll have at any given location, but two visits to the Bascom and Hamilton location disclosed a number of giant shoes on the cheap.
Richard von Busack

Best Place to Dredge
Up the Past
Antique Row
West San Carlos Street, San Jose

Some catastrophes still make the survivors shudder: platform shoes, polyester shirts with wing collars and powder-blue tuxedoes, for instance; or John Travolta, Jimmie "Dy-no-mite!" Walker and the entire Brady Bunch. But one generation's shame is another's comic relief, and sometimes old stuff is really bosso.

From Ancora Ancora, at the foot of the West San Carlos bridge, to Savers, plunked down in the middle of an otherwise dismal shopping center anchored by Midas Muffler, the Boulevard of Enterprise offers a plethora of previously-owned art and artifacts. If it used to belong to somebody else, it can be bought here--for cheap. Well, sometimes. Finds range from hardwood armoires at rock-bottom prices to heirloom fun jewelry of the '20s, '30s and '40s, and from the prime American kitsch of big-eyed puppy paintings to Occupied Japan cocktail paraphernalia.
Broos Campbell

Best Place to Frame
Your Cranes
Morita's Picture Framing
820 W. Hamilton Ave., Campbell

When blessed with weddings, 50th anniversaries and other social events, many Japanese-Americans take on the task of folding 1,001 origami cranes as a symbol of good luck. After hitting up friends and family for creasing duties and selecting the desired design (usually the family crest), another crisis arises: finding a good framer who is culturally sensitive and can handle such monstrosities. Morita's Picture Framing has soothed the feathers of many luck-craving artists at the end of their rope. Employees Rose and Ich talk customers through the process, while giving advice and cutting frames, glass and matte boards to size. They even know where to find a good crane arranger, but don't bother asking them to fold cranes; that's your job. With the beautifully framed project displayed at the gala event, kudos from guests and 1,001 years of good luck are assured.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Place to Buy
Advertising Memorabilia
98 W. Main St., Los Gatos

It's a blast from America's past. Advertising past, that is. Advertising memorabilia is extremely popular among antique collectors these days, and the Antiquarium provides the scratch for that collectibles itch. Meticulously placed clutter surrounds the curious customer venturing into this prime, yet tiny, Los Gatos location, where five people constitute a crowd. The avid collector need not look long before spotting a promotional treasure. Here, containers boasting to have once held goodies such as Bossie's Best Brand Butter; Prince Albert Tobacco, "The National Joy Smoke"; and Kums Popt Popcorn sit nestled among other historical items. Journey back to the days when advertising was considered right-eous, not aggravating, cigarettes were still thought to be glamorous and Popeye hawked spinach for a living. Those were the days.
Christina Malcolm

Best Place to Jump-start a Lemonade Stand
Fast Signs
581 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale

Presentation is everything--and here in Santa Clara County, Fast Signs will enhance the public facade of any business, no matter how small. Start squeezing the lemons on Monday, jet over to Fast Signs before 4pm and pick up the "Lemonade 10 Cents a Glass" sign the very next day for as little as $35. Fast Signs features a bunch of fonts and crazy colors, and can make the word "lemonade" look like the ultimate thirst quencher. Great, too, for those sudden changes in ownership, corporate takeovers and the ever-popular "Everything Must Go."
Shweta Govindarajan

Best Place to Emulate George Strait and Shania Twain
Silver Buckle Western Wear
275 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell

Tears belong in beers, not dropping on your favorite Saturday night dance shirt. Should the unfortunate teardrop fall--or a rapidly congealing drop of barbecue sauce, unctuous dab of axle grease or stray manure smudge--Silver Buckle is the place to suit up in virgin threads. A dazzling array of shirts, pants, boots, slickers, bolo ties, steamed-to-fit cowboy hats, women's wear, belt buckles and accessories hang from the stable-like walls. Silver Buckle also does Western-style apparel for weddings, buckaroo. Don't be shopping for country wear at the mall. Silver Buckle boasts the genuine articles.
Todd S. Inoue

Stitch Kitsch: When art imitates life, Starbucks will be there. The gift shop Expressions in Los Altos is happy to help.

Best Artistic Response to Chain-Store Conformity
Expressions, Inc.
252 Main St., Los Altos

Amid the stuffed kitties, wind chimes, greeting cards and other knickknacks in this one-stop gift shop hang the works of Alamo-based artist Nancy Freeman. Using embroidery and swatches of patterned cloth, Freeman re-creates scenes of daily life in Santa Clara, prominently featuring the storefronts of familiar franchise outlets. A group of shoppers strolls past Los Altos' Posh Bagel; a family lingers before a lovingly detailed Peet's Coffee; a few frolickers gather 'round the local Starbucks. Freeman's pieces fetch anywhere between $295 and $400. Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.
Rafer Guzman

Best Place to Buy a Child's Birthday Present
Hicklebee's Childrens Books
1378 Lincoln Ave., San Jose

Hicklebee's on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen can't be beat for the gift on the run, purchased for that special little someone who deserves more than mere Nickelodeon-based culture. With thousands of colorful books, from classics to the latest winner of the Caldecott Medal, Hicklebee's offers satisfying brain food for virtually any kid you might know. And from Margaret Wise Brown's Good Night Moon to Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, it covers all ages, from the first-book crowd to the young adult. If you feel like the fun police showing up at a birthday party with "just a book," they also have a trendy selection of stuffed animals, book-character dolls, science kits, art projects, music tapes and squishy kid things you can tack onto the top. Great selection of cards, too. And free gift wrap. Hicklebee's, tried-and-true for 17 years, won't let you down.
Corinne Asturias

Best Selection of
Girlie Magazines
Murphy Street Smoke Shop
114 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale

When my friend turned 18, he dashed to the nearest convenience market to buy a nudie mag. It didn't take him very long--he only had about three magazines to choose from. Murphy Street Smoke Shop, however, puts standard mini-mart fare to shame. Sure, they carry the standbys--Playboy, Penthouse, Penthouse Forum--for those who've already settled into a groove and don't like disruptions. For those who might like to expand their horizons, the Smoke Shop features stroke magazines from all over the world, in different languages, shapes and sizes. There are, of course, other magazines there, plus a selection of schmaltzy paperbacks. But the real fun lies inside the multitudes of, shall we say, illustrated magazines. It's a wonder we ever learned how to read.
Shweta Govindarajan

Best One-Stop Shopping
for New Dads
Pink Poodle
Bascom Bookcase
Babyland Furniture

S. Bascom Avenue and W. San Carlos Street, San Jose

The new dad doesn't even think about It. That's what he says, anyway, but that's just the sleep deprivation talking. What he means is, with a newborn in the house, there aren't enough hours in the day for romance. At the crossroads of the Burbank district, the Pink Poodle strip club and the Bascom Bookcase adult bookstore rub up against Babyland Furniture, home of cribs, commodes and barf blankets, providing a blessed time-saver for the neophyte pop-on-the-run (not to mention an unnecessary reminder of the laws of cause and effect). He slips in here for a little something that he can't get at home, and slips next door for--er, supplies for Mama and the little one.

He feels a tad guilty, yeah, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Which explains why, when his dearest darling gets a misty look in her eyes and a coo in her voice and asks how he'd feel about another baby, he can say, "Sure!" He knows it means he'll have sex again in this lifetime.
Broos Campbell

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the 1996 Best of the Valley issue of Metro, September 19-25

This page was designed and created by the Boulevards team.
Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing, Inc.