It's the 11th hour and you still have a few gifts to buy. You probably would like to stay out of heavy traffic and the chaos of department stores, and you surely would like to save money. This store meets those requirements.
One of my favorite sources for "gifts for under $20" is in a small industrial complex in Venice: It's easy on the nerves and very kind to your budget. Athena International is a wholesale distributor of European gift items located in a warehouse where the staff fills orders to retailers across the country, including some pricey boutiques in Southern California.
A corner of the warehouse is devoted to inventory surplus items, which are priced at wholesale and below.
Check out the Venetian bead and Austrian crystal necklaces in a flattering "Y" shape that retail in several stores around town for $38 to $50, but here are $12.50 to $17. A card with three pairs of crystal earrings in blue, amethyst and opalescent carries a price you won't believe, $6 for all three pairs.
And I have never seen such a charming collection of umbrellas--florals, angels, dancers--for $30 to $35. Or how about a carved wood pen in a lovely matching box for $15 instead of $30? Don't finish decorating your tree until you see their faceted crystal drops for $3 instead of the retail of $12; buy 12 and get the 13th one free.
There are deals on paperweights and glass oil lamps and more, and they even have refreshments to make this shopping excursion more satisfying. Athena International, 606A Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 578-7312. Hours through Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Weekend Super Sales
* When a wholesaler is liquidating stock, run--don't walk. A Beverly Hills manufacturer of top-quality handbags is closing its showroom and liquidating some lovely merchandise. Figure reductions of 50% and more off handbags and belts. The Italian Handbag Showroom, 493 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 271-8591.
* Cotton USA is holding a sale at its factory store, where the prices are already wholesale. Buy one and you get a second item of equal or lesser value for free. Cotton USA Outlet, 22559 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 225-8725.
* Great timing at Surfas, "a chef's paradise," where a sale continues until Dec. 28 on specialty/gourmet foods and restaurant cookware for 15% to 25% off discounted prices. Surfas, 8825 National Blvd., Culver City. (310) 559-4770.