As anyone who motors the increasingly crowded streets of Santa Monica can attest, traffic’s a tad congested. (Which is like saying Shaq is a tad tall.) Whereas I used to zip to Downtown Santa Monica, now I do everything I can to avoid it. In fact, in the 37-plus years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen it this bad. They say our population is the same as it was 20 years ago, to which I say drive Interstate 10 east at rush hour and you’ll see a parking lot masquerading as a freeway.
I know what you’re probably asking yourself right about now. “Why is Jack rambling on about the terrible traffic with a photo of an English bulldog (Alice) below the headline?” Hopefully I’ll tie it all together, but in the meantime, take another look at Alice. As the late Lenny Bruce used to say, “Is that a punim or what?” (For the Yiddish-challenged, Google “punim.”)
One upside of our horrific traffic is that it may be contributing to residents shopping in their own neighborhood rather than battling the bumper to bumper to get to Santa Monica Place mall. This trend has spawned the “locavore” and “buy local” movements.
A locavore is a person, a restaurateur, a chef or a diner who’s interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market, which is infinitely more “green,” not to mention fresher. The buy local movement documents that a higher percent of money spent in local stores, as opposed to chains, stays in the community rather than winding up in China or the Cayman Islands. (My apologies if you rely on Cayman Islands income.)
Among the local neighborhoods having a resurgence is Sunset Park. I might not have noticed were I not driving on Ocean Park Boulevard and 17th Street a few weeks back and seen Alice standing proudly in the doorway of an intriguing, functional-decorative art and jewelry shop aptly named Artful. I couldn’t tell if Alice was real or just a remarkable life-like figurine. I turned around to check. Let me assure you, Alice, the shop’s “official greeter,” is definitely real and, as it happens, plays a determined game of tug of war. (Suffice it to say, she has yet to lose.)
Actually Alice belongs to the brother of Nancy Lombardi, Artful’s owner and proprietor for the past eight years. Alice gets to hang out with Nancy all day socializing with customers (and an occasional tug of war) and then returns to Nancy’s brother at night for dinner, a walk and then calls it a day. (If that’s a dog’s life, where do I sign up?)
Nancy’s charming shop is one of the few in Santa Monica that carries only American handcrafted items. (No mass-produced imports.) Artful features unique and interesting jewelry by local designers from Santa Monica and Venice as well as glass-blown art, ceramic tile, dancing lady paper maches and beautiful wood clocks.
There are also cool wall vases, picture frames, baby items, candles, bookmarks and the list of inspired artisan wares is endless. One customer I talked to had purchased an amazing set of earrings made out of typewriter keys with her initials on them.
If you can’t find that “special gift” at Artful, it may not exist. And it would seem now is the ideal time to visit as it’s the last two days of Artful’s annual sale.
There are actually many cool shops and restaurants in Sunset Park. The parade includes: 1716 Ocean Park, a new and vintage clothing store that also carries jewelry and gifts; the Bolivar Café and Gallery, featuring delicious Latin American food; Shaka Shack Burger, a burger lounge with a tiki-surf vibe; Hairbrains Art — Hair Salon, owned by Mercedes Garcia, who decorates her shop with a lifelong passion — her paintings; and Bob’s Market, family owned since 1965, which is so old-school friendly I swear it feels like you’re in Mayberry.
So if you’re close to Sunset Park, check out all the stores above and others, including Evett’s Model Shop (between Bob’s Market and Thyme Café), a mom-and-pop hobby shop, which just celebrated its 65th anniversary! Actually, there are so many interesting shops on the street it’s kind of fascinating and I’m not one who likes shopping.
Or you could always battle the traffic and crowds at the chain stores at the mall and when you get home have a drink (or three) to recover. Personally, I’d prefer buying my gifts at Artful and at the same time sneek in a little tug of war with Alice.