Shopping is the Puerto Rican national sport. The post-Thanksgiving sales are televised, the shopping malls are the meeting grounds of the masses, and did I mention that we have the BIGGEST JC Penny in the world, with a cosmetic area that bears an uncomfortable likeness to Saks or Neimans? Unfortunately, most Puerto Ricans suffer from window-shop syndrome where they will copy from top to bottom whatever they see displayed in store windows, no matter how unflattering, ridiculous or meant just for the brave, and not the crass. As an ashamed, and somewhat reformed, candy-raver mallrat from the nineties, let me say that there is life beyond the mall. San Juan offers many adorable little shops where you can find from custom-made clothes and cute accessories, plus great librerías and amazing cheap vintage shops.
Calle Valdes, Old San Juan
154 Barbosa St. next to La Plaza, Cataño
Monday – Saturday 8AM-3:30 PM
Who needs Resurrection or Beacon’s (well I do love Beacons Closet…) when you can get a vintage Valentino skirt for $4 or a Chanel bag for $1? The real shopping gems are the Salvation Army stores in Cataño, Old San Juan and Caguas, closely guarded by true fashionistas and hipsters of San Juan who find hidden treasures and leave with bags fulls of vintage designer clothes for ridiculous prices. It does take a lot of patience to scour through racks and racks of clothes, but the benefits are worth it: Tops, whether they are from The Gap, Members Only or Christian Dior, are $3 and Vintage Fur Coats are under $25. Because you need a fur coat in the Caribbean.
348 Roosevelt Ave., Hato Rey
Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney, Lanvin, D&G, Anna Sui and Chloé are just a handful of the designers you may find at Oui Boutique, located next to the delicious Swiss pastry shop, La Suizería at Roosevelt Avenue. This shopping mecca for local “celebrities”, bored housewives and debutants offers all the latest prêt-a-porter plus a great selection of shoes, handbags, sunglasses and accessories. Prices are jacked up quite a bit compared to Bendel’s or Jeffrey’s, but for that extra post-break-up retail therapy, the place is worth it. If you don’t feel like giving your credit card a coronary, Oui has it’s Apotheka, (la apoteca es donde venden los productos para el cuerpo y eso…) where you can find Diptique candles, plus, Bliss, Fresh, Bond no.9 and other little decadent toiletries and knick-knacks.
Librería La Tertulia
1002 Ponce de León Ave., Río Piedras
Monday- Saturday 8AM-7PM
O’Donnell St. until July, then moving to 305 Recinto Sur , Old San Juan.
Librería La Tertulia is my personal favorite bookstore to go hunting for more books that I will never read and to mingle with fellow UPR students and professors. Going in for just a Nutella-flavored mocha coffee and a quick lunch is not enough. The place is a nerd’s trap where you will find an extensive selection of books en español, plus local art, architecture and literature magazines like Conboca, Faden and PROT[O]TIPO. If you feel overwhelmed by the selection of books, the staff will help you at the drop of a hat and without the Strand’s usual bitchiness.
202 Tanca St., Old San Juan
AMA M1, B21 to Old San Juan
One of the latest stores to pop-up in Old San Juan, B.A.D SPACE features custom made shirts, jewelry and other accessories by local designers, Acido Domingo, Títere Wear, Stain Design, Pink Milk, La Ele, Noma and Watdafk. Most of the stuff in this store is one of a kind; while remezclando for this piece I came out of the store wearing a bad-ass unique trucker hat by B.A.D SPACE’s owner Angel Cardona’s Watdafk line that amazingly fit my oversized head. FYI-Some of the stuff in the store is in limited quantities and if you ask, some of the designs can be re-printed in less than 30 minutes.
NOLA Ropa Urbana
109 Ave. Universidad, Río Piedras
Tren Urbano to Universidad Station
After going through constant re-locations and vintage mood swings, NOLA Ropa Urbana has found its niche in Santa Rita, Río Piedras down and dirty, fun, neighborhood. The store offers funky Cali anorexic chic wear, LeSportsac bags and rad vintage rags like the sailor print shirt I found remezclando at affordable prices. If you drop by, you’ll probably run into Nani, Nola’s resident Barbie doll and one of my biggest fans. Don’t forget to tell her I sent you there, she will probably roll her eyes.