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December 27, 2006

Big night out: Eden Prairie Center

Okay, I'm convinced: There are like 50, maybe 52 products that come in three colors each and are available at every mainstream store in America. The Michael Kors suede boots I paused over at Pumpz & Co. yesterday were on the floor of the clearance room at Von Maur at Eden Prairie Center today. The super comfortable and yet refined Sofft boots I saw at Macy's were also at Von Maur, still full price. But then I wandered into Scheels, and there they were marked down not once -- but twice. Almost nothing is exclusive and that means it all gets discounted -- usually sooner, rather than later.

So what is Scheels, anyway? A bizarre new specialty retailer that isn't clear on its specialty. Its bread and butter is outerwear -- jackets, boots and snow gear from Columbia and Patagonia. But next to the classic Woolrich sweaters you'll find Free People, Kenzie and Lucky denim. And all of it is on sale, because the girls who wear that trendy stuff aren't shopping at a store that has ski clothes in the display windows!

But let's get to the real question: What was I doing at Eden Prairie Center at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday? Out with my guys -- the toddler and his daddy. Our nights on the town now revolve around family friendly bathrooms and places where running is not frowned upon. Knowing there's an Old Navy in the vicinity is also a comfort. EPC has it all: an indoor playground, amazing bathrooms (they even have toddler seats inside the women's stalls so your kid can't escape. Genius!), a Thomas train table at Von Maur and a Target actually connected to the mall. Plus, the food court has a fireplace, and these days, that counts as atmosphere.

December 26, 2006

Who shops at 6 a.m.?

Post-Christmas sale shoppers are a calmer, quieter bunch than the crowd that hits the malls on Black Friday. These folks live by a simple credo: gift wrap and holiday decor should never be purchased for less than 50 percent off. I joined the diehards before sunrise the day after Christmas at Kohl's, Herberger's, JC Penney and Macy's. Herberger's at Rosedale was by far the busiest  (my, those Herberger's shoppers are devoted) - thanks to coupons in the paper and some 60 to 70 percent off deals. Now, we're talking. But overall, the line at Caribou Coffee was longer than at any store. There definitely are deals to be had right now -- especially if you could use a sweater or some boots (no, not the Uggs -- those are still full price). Just don't expect the discounts to be a whole lot better than they were before Christmas. And if you thought you could sleep in and still score some cheap gift wrap, you're probably right. But you might have to settle for that unfortunate gold.

December 20, 2006

Charmed, for sure

When it comes to the Mall of America, it's tough to stump the shopping columnist. I'm like a walking directory of that place (should I be admitting this?). I know what's coming and going; the elevator no one uses; the best bathrooms; the locally owned stores.

So when the staff of Local Charm contacted me to request a mention on AliShops, I explained that I am familiar with the store -- and aware that it is one of the few at the mall that is locally owned -- but I'm not including bead stores on my website at this time.

Thank you, they replied, with a polite correction: Local Charm is not a bead store.

Well what do you know. I've walked by a thousand times, but I finally went in for a serious look the other day. The shop is bigger than I realized and extremely inviting with plenty of seating, cool ambiance and jewelry cases that are open to the public. A novel idea!

Those cases contain affordable jewelry -- mostly silver and stone -- created by artisans from Minnesota and beyond. Simple stuff, for the most part, but the kind of necklaces and earrings you might wear every day.

When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Local Charm has been added to AliShops.

December 14, 2006

Never pay full price at Gap

Stopped by BabyGap yesterday hoping to find a handsome sweater for my little guy to wear for his holiday concert next week (the kid's got to look good on stage, right?). There were a couple of decent options, but both were full price -- around $30, which isn't crazy, by any means, but it seems a silly amount to pay since I'll probably only be able to wrangle the garment over his head twice before he grows out of it. I left the sweaters and bought a cute long sleeve t-shirt instead -- not for the concert, but just because it was marked down to $6.99. At the register, I asked the salesperson if she thought the sweaters might go on sale anytime soon. "Tomorrow," she said. And that's why you never pay full price at the Gap.

December 10, 2006

Be a little less Free, People

Certain shopping moments stand out. I remember discovering a brand called Free People at the Urban Outfitters on State Street in Madison, Wis. back -- way back -- when I was a college student. There was a black and white zip up sweater I really, really wanted, but couldn't afford. But that was the exception. Back then, Free People was juniors stuff -- basics, mostly.

The line reentered my shopping consciousness a few years ago when it showed up at Marshall Field's -- looking fresh and more sophisticated (I like to think we grew up together. I'm entitled to think that. Okay?). I started buying the free-flowing tops and sun dresses. So did my mother!

Now, I can't get away from the line. It's everywhere I shop, from better department stores to Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, which are part of the same company that owns Free People, to boutiques. Like, every boutique. There's a definite trend right now of gift stores dipping a toe into women's apparel -- most seem to cultivate a bohemian-chic type look and virtually every one of them is selling Free People.

Time to show some restraint, Free People. I like your clothes. The prices are decent. The look is distinct. But it won't be for long.


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