When I announced plans to spend an afternoon in uptown Whittier with a 16-year-old friend, an office mate who lives in the city was shocked. “Whittier?” she said with disgust. “Tell your editors they made a mistake. There’s nothing to do in Whittier.”
Well, in fact, there’s lots to do in uptown Whittier, an area about 20 minutes from northern Orange County that suffered extensive damage in the earthquake of 1987. Six years of renovation have bestowed on it excellent shopping, quality restaurants and--informed sources say--an exciting night life.
Kate, who, like most teen-agers, does most of her shopping within the homogenized confines of her local mall, was, like my office mate, dubious about Whittier’s commercial merits. By the end of the day, she was making plans to return.
“A nice place to take a group of friends,” she announced, as I attempted to steer her in the direction of my car. “Don’t you think you should go into at least one more shop?”
11 to 11:20 a.m.: M&M; Sportscards Plus carries new and used baseball, basketball, football and hockey cards, as well as those tied to such popular sci-fi fare as “Star Wars” and “X-Men.”
Cards range from 50 cents to $100, although store manager Carlos Lopez says he sold a $1,600 card a few months ago. Lopez said card trading has exploded in the past five years. Hot: Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, basketball rookie Chris Webber and hockey player Wayne Gretzky.
The store also recently began to carry a small selection of new comic books. Kate, an ardent science-fiction and comic-book fan, bought five packs of “Star Wars” cards and announced herself satisfied.
11:20 to noon: If you prefer your grunge paraphernalia new, Sub-Culture is the place for you. This small store is decorated with Central American Indian masks, lava lamps and small trinkets, and the newest alternative music is playing over its sound system.
“Oh, man, where to begin?” Kate asked as she attacked the racks of flowing dresses, T-shirts, Doc Marten shoes and jewelry.
While prices range from 50 cents to $125, the vast majority of items fall into the $40 to $50 range. Labels carried include the trendy Twenty-Four Seven and Bomb Factory. Store clerk Mike Kachoeff said popular sellers are shirts modeled on 1950s bowling togs. The store is comfortable, with a futon in the back if you just want to enjoy the music. Kate limited herself to a bit of incense but added she would have bought everything if she could.
Noon to 1 p.m.: Thai food is easy to find in the Southland, but Burmese food can be a little harder to come across. Golden Triangle Restaurant, in the heart of Whittier’s uptown, serves both cuisines. The menu comes with a delicious-looking photograph album containing pictures of the unfamiliar entrees.
We ordered samusa, a traditional Burmese pastry filled with potatoes, peas, onions and herbs and spices, as an appetizer and cashew chicken for the main course. Lunch specials range from $3.95 to $6.95.
1 to 1:30: I thought I slipped into a time warp and landed in my mother’s closet circa 1975 when I walked through the door of Alter Ego, a shop specializing in clothes of the 1970s. Platform shoes, peasant skirts, jumpsuits, polyester pants and housedresses dominate the small shop.
“I sell things I like,” said owner Heidi Johnson. “I go to garage sales, warehouses, people’s closets to find things.”
Johnson said anything polyester is really hot but flared polyester pants are particular favorites. Clothes range from $4 to $60, and almost everything is in excellent condition.
Kate picked up a polyester men’s suit jacket for $10. I looked longingly at a pair of brown go-go boots that could have doubled for the ones I wore for my first-grade class picture, but, alas, they were several sizes too big.
1:30 to 2 p.m.: The Little Old Bookshop announces proudly that it is the home of the Siesta Museum.
The museum is a showcase of about 50 artists’ renditions of napping Mexicans with sombreros covering their faces. The store’s owner, Charles Philip Jimenez Elias, who collects the figurines and has written a book on their history, says they depict the resistance of Mexican culture to European invasion.
But the collection is not the only reason to make a stop in this shop, which contains about 100,000 books. There’s a large collection of first editions; a German first edition of Stephen King’s “It” retails for $1,000.
Kate pronounced herself most impressed with what she deemed an excellent science-fiction section, where she found a “Star Wars” read-along book that was missing its cassette tape but cost a mere 25 cents.
1. M&M; Sportscards Plus: 13102 Philadelphia St.; Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (310) 698-6397.
2. Sub-Culture: 6751 Greenleaf Ave.; Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. (310) 907-7737.
3. Golden Triangle Restaurant: 7011 Greenleaf Ave.; Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays till 9 p.m. (310) 945-6778.
4. Alter Ego: 7044-A Greenleaf Avel; Open Monday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.; open sporadically on Sunday. (310) 696-8448.
5. The Little Old Bookshop: 6546 Greenleaf Ave.; Open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (310) 698-1934.
PARKING: Free, on-street parking and in lots behind the shops.
BUSES: OCTA bus 41 to Beach and Whittier boulevards in La Habra, then RTD bus 470 west to Greenleaf and Philadelphia.