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Finding Bargains Amid the Red Rock of Sedona

Half-price Hathaway shirts are, perhaps, not reason enough to pack up and head for Sedona in the red-rock heart of Arizona.

But a bargain is a bargain, and as long as you’re there anyway. . . .

Which I was recently for four crisp days.

The Hathaway factory outlet on Highway 89-A also sells marked-down labels of Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren--from pleated tuxedo shirts to rugged denims and flannels. Each week has specials: silk ties for $6.99, long-sleeve polo shirts for $10--and not all of them had sleeves of a different stripe from the body.

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The hand-lettered sign on the Hathaway door brings smiles in a tourist-oriented community: “Yes, you are welcome to come in as you are; yes, you can use the restrooms; yes, you can have a drink of water.”

Sedona is a community in flux. Although founded in 1902, it was only incorporated in 1988 in order to control growth amid its rising popularity as a Southwest star. In every season, travelers are drawn to the high plateau where pinon pines and junipers soften hearth-red buttes. The wild landscape is parted by the waters of Oak Creek, which tumbles down a narrow canyon south of Flagstaff.

Uptown Sedona has its funky strip of old-time stores and businesses: the Pink Jeep tours; the Clay Pigeon pottery works; the Oak Creek Tavern, with pool table and big-screen TV, where the Cowboy Artists of America was born in the 1960s.

But these have been joined by stucco malls that are chockablock with galleries of mixed merit, windchime-and-kite shops, Western wear boutiques, silver-and-turquoise merchants and New Age bookstores that sell magic crystals and give directions to nearby vortices of reputed high cosmic energy, such as Boynton Canyon.

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The classic crafts village of Tlaquepaque, which rambles around tiled patios and bell towers in a grove of Arizona sycamores adjacent to Oak Creek, has been joined by a tiered cluster called the Hillside Courtyard and Marketplace. Art galleries and Southwestern shops rise in a pleasant jumble above Highway 179. Wide stairs lead to a central plaza, the site of the Sedona Sculpture Walk each autumn.

Buyers and browsers crowd there to see the range of work and talk to the artists, who may be chiseling away at alabaster or hanging a price tag of $24,000 on a bronze fountain. Fine food and a knockout view of the surrounding red monoliths--for my money the best sculptures in town--can be had at the Hillside Grill on the top level.

In the nearby village of Oak Creek--beyond the mighty outcropping of Bell Rock--I came upon a new collection of factory outlets as handsome as an urban mall. The goods were not damaged--part of the game at many New England outlets--nor piled on tables for clearance.

The brand names were familiar: Bass shoes, Maidenform lingerie, Anne Klein II sportswear, Adolfo II and Harve Bernard fashions and Jerzees sweats. An emporium called Perfumania was selling designer fragrances at prices that match airport duty-free shops.

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In past trips to Sedona, I have bought hand-tooled leather belts, a snappy suede hat, a couple of oil paintings, a Navajo saddle blanket, Zuni turquoise, an old Apache basket and letter openers of polished mountain mahogany and smooth aspen.

I have bought maps for hiking the forest trails, and a paperback of Zane Grey’s “Call of the Canyon,” which he wrote after seeing this stunning gash of red rock that cuts below the Mogollon Rim.

I have bought golden apples from Oak Creek orchards and fiery chile pepper strands called ristras . I have dabbled in trading beads, tree ornaments, carved candleholders, woven stoles and pottery bowls with lids marked “Salsa.”

Traveling by auto makes such shopping reasonable. Gifts for birthdays and other occasions come into focus when a mind is on holiday and a car trunk looms.

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Despite the temptations of Anne Klein and Christian Dior, my favorite purchase this trip was leather boot laces from the Ace Hardware store.

I had hobbled through its doors after a triumphant climb in Sterling Canyon, a day when sun slashed through ponderosa pines and bigtooth maples and sparkled on snow-crowned pinnacles. On the way down, a sleek, bushy-tailed wolf--the one, I believe, called lobo--had crossed the trail and paused at a pool below.

My boot lace broke soon after.

The hardware clerk listened patiently to my whole adventure before ringing up the $2 sale.

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