A Seattle Shopping Spree
people relate to television's Frasier because of the show's witty
characters, some of them portrayed by sexually ambiguous or - in the cases
of Dan Butler and Edward Hibbert - openly gay actors. But let's face it,
for many of us, the show's real draw is that fabulous set with those
perfectly chosen furnishings. Is real-life Seattle truly blessed with the
kind of fashionable shops and boutiques that could keep Niles and Frasier
Crane dressing and living so stylishly? The answer is a resounding yes.
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Finicky men with snobby tastes, however, are hardly Seattle's key
demographic. True, this is the city that gave us such bastions of
yuppiedom as Starbucks, Eddie Bauer, Microsoft, and Nordstrom. But it also
gave us grunge. And the demand for eco-friendly products, second-hand
clothing, retro furnishings, and left-wing literature is strong here,
especially in queer-popular neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Fremont.
Seattle also has one of North America's most dynamic Asian communities,
the International District, which is an exceptional source for fashion,
household items, and gourmet goodies from that continent.
Capitol Hill is a great neighborhood for window- shopping. Much of the
retail here tends to be edgy and exciting, catering heavily to students
and younger types who don't necessarily have big bucks to burn. Kick
things off at the Broadway Market (Update: This is now a QFC food
store and many of the stores are gone), which was known for years as Seattle's
unofficial gay shopping mall. Gradually, as the neighborhood has become
more varied, so too have the mall's tenants. But you're still sure to see
plenty of queers sauntering through this three-story hub of typical chain
shops like Gap and Urban Outfitters, plus some unusual independent ones.
Broadway Market Video offers an astounding selection of flicks with gay
interest, while Bulldog News is your one- stop for queer papers and mags.
You can pick up your very own "Slut" or "Bitch" T-shirt at Rockin'
Betty's, an irreverent and inexpensive purveyor of gaudy club wear. Yadzi
imports Asian women's wear made of breezy batiks, silks, and other
striking materials. This trendy mall also makes a good break for a snack -
it's home to a few hip eateries, including Gravity Bar (fresh-squeezed
juices and healthful snacks) and B&O Espresso.
There's plenty more shopping along Broadway, as well as on the
neighborhood's other main commercial drags, Pike and Pine streets. Let
your inner child burst free at Vintage Voola, a way-retro survey of
furnishings, music, and clothing from the Gilded Age through the Age of
Disco. Been searching for a 78 rpm single of Dinah Shore singing "Mood
Indigo"? Look no further. And pick up a rhinestone shoe clip or a Quiet
Riot wallet while you're at it. Nearby at Worldbeads you can not only
browse buckets of colorful and shiny beads, you can also sign up for one
of the regularly offered workshops on jewelry- making. The Capitol Hill
branch of the famous sporting goods store REI is where outdoorsy dykes and
fags arm themselves with tents, bikes, hiking boots, and Swiss Army
All the proceeds from sales at the Bra Show go to programs that promote
cancer awareness. Not a shop per se, this nonprofit organization regularly
holds fashion events where you can buy gorgeous bras created and donated
by Seattle artists. The cleverly named Toys in Babeland is practically a
Seattle institution. The women- staffed and -owned store offers classes
like "Lesbians Tell All: Sex Tips for Straight Guys" and "G-Spot and
Female Ejaculation." There's a fantastic array of toys, lingerie, and
safer-sex gadgets in all shapes, sizes, and colors, plus a helpful staff
that can guide you through the ins and outs of dildos, plugs, and
vibrators. There's a "toys for boys" section, too.
Seattleites cherish their bookstores, and even in the home port of
Amazon.com, independent shops hold up nicely. Beyond the Closet is a
handsome lesbian/gay bookstore with a helpful staff and an unusually vast
array of both porn and mainstream periodicals. It's also one of the city's
leading sources of feminist and lesbian titles, as is Capitol Hill's
long-running general-interest shop, Bailey-Coy Books.
A short drive north of Capitol Hill or Downtown, Seattle's funky Fremont
neighborhood is a neo-hippie enclave that remains happily off-kilter
despite a recent tidal wave of gentrification. Here you'll find quirky
home-furnishing and clothing shops galore. Notables include Enexile, which
carries Anna Sui, BCBG, and other haute fashion labels. Dandelion calls
itself "a natural apothecary" - the shelves are lined with bundles of sage
incense; little jars of birch bark oil, rhubarb root, and wild indigo; and
thousands of elixirs, lotions, and potions.
Check out Portage Bay Goods' environmentally friendly furnishings and
housewares, many of them fashioned out of recycled materials. And every
Sunday local vendors hawk crafts, antiques, and objets d'art at the
Fremont Market, a two-block plot of land just off Fremont Avenue. For
sustenance, stop by Simply Desserts, where confections such as chocolate
cognac torte await you.
There are both more and less exciting shopping districts in America, but
downtown Seattle does have one truly remarkable thing going for it: Pike
Place Market. To think that during the 1960s urban planners lobbied to
tear it down! Seattleites voted to protect it as a historic site, and so
today this sprawling 1907 market continues to buzz with fishmongers and
food stalls of every ilk. There's also an organic market held Wednesday
through Sunday from mid-June through October. Pike Place sort of tumbles
down a hillside toward Elliott Bay, and there's a fascinating assortment
of book, clothing, gift, crafts, and antiques shops occupying the lower
floors and adjacent buildings.
The hippest shopping center downtown is Pacific Place, where Stars Bar and
Dining (a branch of Jeremiah Towers' famed San Francisco restaurant)
competes with several other fine eateries. The shopping pedigree here is
impressive - Cartier, Tiffany, Nicole Miller, Coach, J. Jill, Pavo Real.
There's also an 11-screen cinema with those ever-trendy loveseats that are
such fun to curl up in. Among department stores, everybody in Seattle
adores Bon Marche. Known affectionately as "the Bon," this venerable
grande dame has been selling fine clothing and furnishings for a century.
If you're in town during one of the store's amazing one-day sales (up to
75 percent off), expect to battle some fierce crowds.
Finally, be sure to explore the neighborhoods fringing downtown, such as
Pioneer Square to the south and hip Belltown up north. With more than 60
dealers, the massive Pioneer Square Antiques Mall is one of that
neighborhood's shopping highlights. The nearby International District is
dominated by an immense Japanese department store, Uwajimaya, which is the
definitive shopping source for everything Asian - including foods from
Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines. There's also a huge
housewares section, a Hello Kitty shrine, and distinctive cosmetics,
clothing, and jewelry. In Belltown, anybody hoping to jazz things up in
the bedroom should check out Great Jones Home, which carries a fabulous
assortment of shabby-chic quilts, bed frames, cushions, and dressers -
plus lovely upholstered chairs and sofas, painted-wood tables, and more.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit this city that's rather
infamous for its gray and wet weather the rest of the year. But in the
sunny months you'll also pay dearly for a hotel and spend much of your
time jostling with fellow visitors. Instead, consider timing your retail
adventure in Seattle with the so-called rainy reason. From October 1
through April 14, the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsors a
terrific promotional package. Just book your room through
www.seattlesupersaver.com or call 206-461-5882 or 800-535-7071, and you'll
get up to 50 percent off the published rates at more than 30 downtown
hotels. With the $100 to $200 you're saving each night, you'll have your
home looking like Frasier Crane's in no time.