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Triumphs and tragedies of a Downtown shopaholic

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Zen and the art of shopping: Sue Conway of Conway Creations features her “Enlightenment Jewelry” at First Friday.
Photo: Bill Hughes
Molly O’Donnell

As David Sedaris observed, “It’s the things you don’t buy that stay with you the longest.” A few months ago, thumbing through prints at the Box Office (1129 S. Casino Center Blvd.; 388-1515), I found what would come to haunt me: a still image of tiny Lego storm troopers surrounding an animal cracker. It was brilliant on so many levels. The cracker was one of those old-school ones that’s kind of the shape of an elephant, but you can never quite be sure. It was about twice the size of the storm troopers. This gave the animal a pathetic, gentle-giant aesthetic. Sure, it was bigger, but like King Kong when he’s finally defeated, you feel sorry for the cracker.

You have to admit that—for $5 or $10—only a fool would pass up such a find. I walked away thinking I would buy it on my way out if I still wanted it. Big mistake. Of course I still wanted it, and of course it wasn’t there. Some far-wiser person had snatched it up. I guess my point is that you know when you’ve found something perfect, but sometimes you still fight with yourself about it.

While shopaholic has many negative connotations, especially in a declining consumerist society, there’s something to be said for not missing that Zen shopping moment. If you only shop in places where you could easily find that item the next day because there are a hundred just like it, then I’m begging you to consider the alternative.

These days, I seem to have more kismet-ridden shopping experiences Downtown, where Zen and the art of shopping recently came together in the form of some unique jewelry. During a Preview Thursday (the little-known precursor to First Friday) I came across Sue Conway and her handmade wearable art. Seated at a table in the Arts Factory, Conway is an adorable brunette whose taste in the more demure side of retro is complemented by her jewelry. “I never wear anything but my own work,” she says, which is part of what makes her stuff irresistible. Yet her creations are mutable enough to look good on most people. While Buddha figures prominently in a lot of her pieces, others reflect the tranquility of a woman who can fold herself into a pretzel but doesn’t brag about it at parties. Her work is priced between $20 and $120, making the buy a totally reasonable proposition.

"Women Shopping" by Jason Watson

The other obvious thing to shop for in the arts district is art—and there’s plenty of affordable stuff. Much of it is quirky and weird (the kind of thing you could imagine Sedaris giving someone), but even more is just good. Such as the work of Joseph Watson, on the second floor of the Arts Factory, whose depictions of urban life are both somber and whimsical (see “Women Shopping,” a lively mix of urban dwellers walking down a sidewalk). Some of his coolest prints are modestly priced at around $20, a feat considering his clients are as diverse as the Erotic Heritage Museum and the Cirque du Soleil Collection of Contemporary Art. Like most artists Downtown, he’s very down to earth. While art can be a matter of taste, I’ve found getting to know artists and talking to them about their work adds to the shopping experience.

Cindy Funkhouser

Cindy Funkhouser

I also like to shop down the street, at places like the Funk House (1228 S. Casino Center Blvd.; thefunkhouselasvegas.com). Here curiosities mix with dusty antiques, and you can find finds, from throwaway buttons to mint-condition Fiestaware. Stepping off the street into J.J.C. Clocks & Antiques (1310 S. Main St.; jjcclocks.com) is like walking in Geppetto’s shop. Every surface seems to tick or gong with the wooden timekeeping creations.

Gaia (4 E. Charleston Blvd.; gaiaflowers.com) is a simple space that only sells locally made goods; the Creamsicle-scented Vanilla Orange lotion is my favorite. It’s hard to top something that instantly reminds you of childhood, makes you hungry and attracts like-minded people.

Gaia

If you can fit into anything at the Gypsy Den (213 E. Colorado Ave.; 684-1628), it’s probably a fabulous find. My only problem seems to be that humans have grown in the decades since these clothes became vintage.

Durette Studio (1007 S. Main St.; durettecanditodesign.com) can take you a bit by surprise, particularly since its nearest neighbor is A-Action X-Rated. Owner Durette Candito admits, “I have no foot traffic per se, mostly because I’m one of the few businesses in the arts district that actually keeps regular business hours.”

Despite this, the chic, red-headed Candito likes her location. “I have clients from all over the Valley. I found that most people from Henderson don’t go to Summerlin and vice versa. I’m in the middle, so it’s easier.” In its sixth year, Candito’s showroom sells what she describes as “accessories to feather your nest,” or high-end hardware like cabinet and door handles, some of it very affordable. Things that caught my eye: a set of three glazed ceramic birds for $28.50, and some abstract prints mounted on reclaimed slate from post-Katrina NOLA for $72.50. At Durette, I learned that artificial lemons have the power to vanquish winter gloom when positioned just so and lit correctly.

Shopping is about getting things you need and want. But if you can do it with panache and get a residual feeling of good, it’s worth the extra time perusing the few shops Downtown whose signs don’t read “$10 tattoos.” Sure, it’s possible to find great stuff online, but it’s so much cooler to meet the people who make the stuff you buy. Even if what you pick up is a designer doorknob, at least you get to know a person stylish enough to think it’s something the arts district needs. Or it could just make you happy to know that you got “Stormtroopers Defeat Cookie.” Lucky jerk!

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