[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1998

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Shoptopia

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Click on this close-up to view the entire Takeshi Tadatsu illustration (132k).

[Goods & Services]

There was once a land where the determined bargain-hunter, the shamelessly acquisitive and the merely bored mingled happily in a marketplace full of goods. A place where shops, department stores and boutiques catering to a wildly varied population crowded the streets, and anything under the sun could be had in dozens of colors and sizes. There were specialty stores for the surgical-strike-style shopper and antique alleys for people who were just looking, thanks. It was a time of joy and plenty ... and it's with us again. Here's our guide to this wondrous place where the imagination can run wild with only the pocketbook to rein it in.


Best Haven for Hobby Nerds
One aisle of D&J Hobby bulges with boxes of intricate, pre-computer-era war games in which ogres from Saddam Hussein to the Hittites are refought with cardboard markers and multi-sided dice. Another aisle overflows with tiny brooms and baskets and dried flowers; still another is hung like some mad modeler's abattoir with the nude bodies of dolls. There's no "O"-gauge railroad tootling around a front-counter countryside of plaster Matterhorns and lichen-topped forests, alas, as there is at a worthy rival across town, and now and then a supercilious counter-jockey checks a would-be patron with a withering blast of sarcasm. But most of the help is friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable (and how!). Merchandise ranges from pewter figurines for role-playing games; Japanese models of obscure WWII-era warships; handsome miniature railroad cars and the startlingly expensive engines to drive them; how-to books for the most obscure interest; and a generous collection of doll-house rubber duckies, iced cakes and handfuls of dinky "eeek! mice 25¢." D&J isn't the only game in town, or even the largest, but it is the most complete.
96 San Tomas Aquino Road, Campbell, 408/379-1696

Best Junk Labyrinth
Wandering through Jerry's Apropos Shoppe is like having lunch with a friend with a split personality. The front of the shop is presentable--the expected overpriced knickknacks, cut glass, bad paintings and musty oriental rugs. But once an antique hunter picks a passageway and follows it to the end, more often than not she ends up at a 10-foot-high mound of rusting farm implements covered by a torn blue tarp. This is the back side of Jerry McManus' retirement business. The aisles between piles of chairs and stacks of bottles and records are not even shoulder wide, and the piles tower high above the head. And in this treacherous canyon of leftovers, everything is negotiable. McManus says his place is the biggest junk shop in California: a full acre of hand-me-downs and dead-end inventions, including such gems as hand-crank gas pumps, Westinghouse's early attempts at the self-contained electric roaster, and even a 20-foot RV.
13305 Monterey Highway, San Martin, 408/683-4111

Best Rack
The porn selection of the Murphy Street Smoke Shop is a well-documented find of rarities. Connoisseurs of stroke mags know they can find every fetish from hide to hair in these plentiful racks, and that's a fine thing. But what separates this shop from other porno pit stops are the hundreds of other magazines on the shelves. Simply put, Murphy Street Smoke Shop is the Fort Knox of periodicals. The service is always helpful when trying to find that obscure start-up mag published out of Portland. As long as readers move around and don't bend the bindings, all are welcome to peruse before they purchase. And best of all, there are no hasty signs that read, "This is not a library" (even in the skin section). If customers can refrain from pitching a tent on the premises, then the Murphy Street Smoke Shop will continue to be the best place to find what you can't get.
114 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408/735-9127

Cupertino Animal Hospital Puppy Love: Who could resist a face like Doogan's? The good people at the Cupertino Animal Hospital specialize in matchmaking between pets and potential owners.

Christopher Gardner



Best Place to Fall In Love
Some say the best place to fall head over heels is over a candlelit dinner or a walk on the beach at sunset, but the crew at Cupertino Animal Hospital knows that finding that perfect animal companion is the way to true love. Many a hospital worker here has been known to take injured kittens home for round-the-clock care, and everyone from veterinarians to cage cleaners and receptionists share a genuine adoration of their furry four-pawed guests. Some animal hospitals may be likened to prisons, but Cupertino Animal Hospital is more of an exclusive dating service. Workers screen potential human partners for exactly how they touch, handle and interact with their potential animal partners. It's all about chemistry. And unlike more irresponsible singles scenes, shots and neutering or spaying is required.
10026 Peninsula Blvd., Cupertino, 408/252-6380

Most Improved Parallel Universes
Some nostalgic West Valleyites were nervous when Westgate and El Paseo de Saratoga shopping malls, two longtime pillars of the shopping community, decided to undergo complete makeovers. Westgate, perhaps feeling overlooked as Valley Fair's country-cousin, went in for dramatic facades and new faux-marble trimmings, while El Paseo, perhaps feeling overlooked as Westgate's low-rent neighbor, leveled its tile-roofed faux-adobe buildings and was rebuilt from the ground up. As the dust settles on the finishing touches at Westgate, the results look promising. Yes, both malls now appear somewhat stark and garish, but they have attracted a good variety of vendors. From Noah's and Peet's to Le Boulanger and Willow Street Pizza, and from Any Mountain to REI to Nordstrom's Rack to the AMC stadium theaters, it's now possible to buy every necessity and pleasure of life, including food and entertainment, simply by walking back and forth across Campbell Avenue. Once the newly planted trees in the parking lots build up some foliage in their canopies, this corner could become more hospitable than Biosphere 2.
Corner of Campbell and Saratoga avenues

Best Teen Skate Shop
On a hot day along the Castro Street strip, Mike Elias and Victor Pardis are holding down the fort at Eternal Sports. Mercifully, it's air-conditioned. And on a hot summer day it's one of the few places in downtown Mountain View where the skating youth is welcome. Elias and Pardis, both 19, entertain a few friends as they stop in to cool down. "It's definitely a social place," Pardis says. But talk's not everything. Besides being social, the Eternal staff know two things--skating and snowboarding--and they know them well. "This isn't any kind of poser situation," Elias assures me. Eternal's clientele ages a decade and moves up several income brackets when the resorts open and snowboarding season begins, but Messrs. Elias and Pardis treat both skating youth and boarding grayhairs with respect. Elias says the summer skaters "pretty much know what they want," while a snowboarding newbie may need more hand-holding. "That's what I'm here for," Pardis says. "I'm here to help everyone."
793 Castro St., Mountain View, 650/967-4673

Best Clothing Store to Fall Out of The Gap
In a wealthy region dominated by corporate fashion behemoths like Nordstrom, Macy's and The Gap, a hip secondhand store's hard to find. Denim Depot is worth a look. There's always ample parking for car-addicted shoppers around the store, which is located in Campbell's deserted historic downtown. This place has the best selection of used Levi's jeans and jackets, plus a few vintage Hawaiian prints, T-shirts and tank-tops, though the Depot's specialty remains all things Levi's. It may not be as cheap as Goodwill, but then again the Depot has more than just ripped, size 48 jeans from which to select.
287-B E. Campbell Ave., Campbell, 408/364-2124

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Urban Survival Tips #2

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Best Place to Browse and Not Get a Parking Ticket
Sometimes it seems there's little more to Gilroy than the massive outlet mall, a few restaurants and some gas stations. But Gilroy's downtown area is lined with funky antique shops along Monterey Street that make it positively ideal for a leisurely afternoon of browsing and treasure hunting. Each store has its own style and focus, ranging from the pricey holdings of the serious antique dealer to the more, ah, whimsical jumble that stocks the shelves of goodie mongers. Shoppers can find furniture, dishes, jewelry, art, glassware and vanity products, as well as old toys, dolls, metal lunchboxes, Pez dispensers, baseball cards and kitsch items including Betty Boop, Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Marilyn Monroe paraphernalia. Whether shoppers are looking to make a serious purchase or just trolling for trinkets, it's an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. In most cases the prices are reasonable, and one of the nicest aspects of Gilroy's antique row is its mellow atmosphere, light traffic and blissful lack of parking meters. A perfect place to browse to your heart's content--without thoughts of Lovely Rita ever entering the brain pan.
Antique shops on Monterey Street, Gilroy

Best Place to Wax Your Stick
Since 1965, California Surfer has been one of the only places this side of the hill to whet a surfer's appetite. Owner of four years Pauline Lam says it's "really weird" owning a shop she used to hang out in while growing up here. "But now I get paid for it," she says, adding that the hot days of summer bring in the most customers. Valley natives might know about all the surf shops that have come and gone, or at least have changed with the times, offering newfangled items like in-line skates. But at California Surfer, surfing remains king. The sport is more popular than ever, and not just with the kids, Lam says. Nowadays, more and more families are getting geared up to get wet. As long as we Valleys head over the hill to mix it up with the beach town punks at the lineup, California Surfer will be there to make sure we at least look the part.
1043 S. De Anza Blvd., San Jose, 408/257-2280

Ken's Hubb Barbershop Look Sharp: Ken Parker of Ken's Hubb Barbershop knows his way around the business end of a pair of scissors. For 20 years the downtown barber has kept San Joseans looking good.

Christopher Gardner



Best Haircut Like Elvis Used to Get
Ken Parker of Ken's Hubb Barbershop has been snipping at the same funky location just off the SJSU campus for 20 years. A transistor radio plays full-time oldies, photos from stock-car racing mags hang Scotch-taped to the walls, and there's a stack of Playboys sitting on the coffee table. Parker sings along with the radio, slightly out of tune, paying more attention to getting his client's head straight than to hitting the right notes. After he's finished with the clippers and scissors, and the hot-lather and straight razor, he fires up an old electric shoulder-massager to relieve the stress of having to sit still for the 20 minutes it takes him to create a sharp look. Instead of spending $35 at a chichi salon for a '50s retro rocker 'do, spend $8 and get a haircut by a barber in a barbershop. It'll make anyone feel like a better man.
318 S. 10th St., San Jose, 408/279-9955

Best Place for Noncommittal Adoptions
Afraid to get a pet--much less have a kid--because you can't even keep those drought-resistant house plants alive? Never fear, the realists at Happy Hollow Zoo know that some proud parents are better at arm's length from their adoptees. That's why the zoo's Animal Adoption Program offers a variety of adoption packages to fit any parental instinct. Be it boa constrictor, dwarf zebu or majestic meerkat that strikes the maternal chord, the zoo offers to feed, bathe, change diapers and do any other dirty work. Adoptive parents just get that sense of tax-deductible pride and all the goodies that accompany a one-year adoption. A package includes adoption certificate, fact sheets, discounted admission to the park and breakfast with the adopted wild child. Some packages even come with a stuffed-animal replica. Not the same as having your own wild thing at home, but at least they live longer and happier lives at Happy Hollow.
1300 Senter Road, San Jose, 408/295-8383

Best Place to Channel Roy Rogers
The singing cowboy is gone, but he's definitely not forgotten. It's hard to see how he cleaned up the Wild West without ever getting a hitch in his gittalong, but that was the King of the Cowboys: pure style. His white hat was never askew, his duds never wrinkled, boots always polished. The aroma of fine, well-oiled saddle leather that permeates the interior of Christensen's Saddlery calls up memories of the denizens of the ol' Double "R" Bar Ranch sitting around polishing their spurs in between chasing outlaws. Christensen's could have covered all Roy and Dale's shopping needs; from tack and riding apparel to bridles, breeches and bits--they also carry those fancy Ariat paddock shoes that (annoyingly) even non-equestrians are starting to wear. If they had been available in her day, Dale would surely have owned a pair in every color.
1471 S. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino, 800/767-1980

Best Service at a Computer Store
Anyone who has shopped at enough South Bay computer stores may suspect that the concepts "customer service" and "computer store" are mutually exclusive. Enter Micro Center into the fray. This store doesn't carry big-screen TVs and gummy bears--all the merchandise here is directly related to computers. But what they lack in range of products, they more than make up for in customer service. Looking for an ergonomic computer desk? Someone can show you every model and even help you carry it to your car. Need a cable or adapter? The staff can show you where to find it without hesitation. And should you have to return an item, you won't suffer the third degree.
3255 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara, 408/919-5400

Best Place to Rent Porn and Disney Movies
The front area of Bradley Video resembles practically every other video store with its tsunami of new Hollywood releases, overpriced sodas and sour balls, and post-pubescent teenagers operating the Merlin scanner. But tucked away in the corner, behind the popcorn machine and beyond the swinging shingled doors, resides a world devoted to vice and fetish. Hundreds of titles like "Hannah Does Her Sisters" and "Butts of Steel" are available to rent or buy. To protect the innocent, Bradley thoughtfully provides black plastic bags to carry porno purchases to the register. Unfortunately, this alerts everyone in the store that you're buying stroke material, since no one with a PG-rated video is toting a bag. Nevertheless, the prices are low enough to justify the humiliation.
501 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell, 408/379-4999

Best Place to Spot a Man in Bruno Maglis Without Socks
At the Stanford Shopping Center, what sets this tony totem to consumerism apart is the many perches from which to sip something and watch the people and shopping bags parade by. Not a bad place for a voyeur to buy a $3 latte and a paper, find a table in the shade and spend the afternoon. At noon, the mall is filled with young mothers and small children. Later in the day, the primped teenagers invade, some to shop, others to work behind this counter or that. One kiddo is contemplating a nap as his mother implores, "Please, Andrew, just one more place." You know he's heard that one before. With the likes of Bloomies, The Gap, J. Crew, Bebe, Macy's and Tiffany's all vying for Mommy's attention, can there really be "just one more"?
180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650/617-8585

The Best Way to Go South of the Border By Heading East
While the Mexican Cultural Heritage Gardens and Plaza is still in the building stage on the corner of Alum Rock and Story in San Jose, the real East Side center of Mexican culture is a few blocks away in the Newberry Shopping Center at the corner of King and Story. This is no tourist attraction. This is the real deal, and they mostly hablan español alli. Shop for cabezas de borrego (sheep heads) in the meat department at Tropicana Foods, or find religious candles and Spanish-language magazines at De La Rosa's. The San Jose Men's Wear shop has those cool Stetson vaquero hats and a saddle shop with a big yellow plastic horse. Elsa's offers amulets of great spiritual power as well as pagers for those who wish to keep in touch with the other powers in their lives. Want to get closer to Mexico than the East Side? Three or four travel agencies specialize in flights across the big river.
1690 Story Road (at King Road), San Jose

Best (Human) Body Shop
The Sharks and The Clash look somewhat better than merely "healthy" when slamming pucks and soccer balls around their respective playing fields. But professional athletes have bad days, too, and the players' home away from home when their bodies have taken a beating is Santa Clara's T.E.A.M. Clinic Sports Medical Group. Andre Chevalier, co-founder and director of the clinic, played hockey and skied competitively in his native Canada, which gave him firsthand experience with sports-related injuries. His 4,000-square-foot facility offers professional and recreational athletes services tailored to the specific needs of each patient. Hey, if Chevalier can keep a hockey player in one piece, imagine what he can do for a gym jockey.
1265 El Camino Real, Suite 100, Santa Clara, 408/241-TEAM

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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