Seattle is truly blessed with fashionable shops and boutiques
Many gay 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.
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 knives.
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.