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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Secret places to shop in the Bay Area

The Royal Bloom Boutique in Menlo Park

There are many off-the-beaten-track shops and boutiques owned by artists, designers and small business owners all around the Bay Area. They aren't in malls or downtown shopping districts so fewer people know about them. Because the gift giving holidays are upon us and it seems many people are turning away from big businesses and are embracing small businesses this seemed like a good time to introduce you to some of America's hidden small businesses.

Have you ever been to the Allied Arts Guild?  Many people don't realize it's just around the corner from Stanford Shopping Center. Just head to El Camino Real and turn left heading west. At the very next light you'll make a lefthand turn onto Cambridge Ave. Follow this street a few blocks until it literally ends in the Allied Arts Guild parking lot.

You'll immediately see a few small boutiques and galleries but the ones I want to recommend to you today are hidden away. You'll need to pass under this stucco arch. . .

You'll see The Artisan Shop to your left and Cafe Primevera to your right. . .

Continue on and walk down "Rose Allee" and at the very end of this walkway you'll spot two small shops.

Immediately to your left is Special Handling Pottery. Artist Joy Imai has been a potter in residence since 1986. I think I first discovered her shop in 1994.

Her soda glazed pottery is elegant with an organic appeal from the colors she uses to glaze her ceramics and the themes she uses in decorating them like leaf, grass and bird patterns and tiny ceramic sea shells. There is definitely an Asian aesthetic to many of her pieces because they are very simple and zen like. Know an ikebana enthusiast? Joy has a number of original  vases and containers perfect for creating floral arrangements.

Joy also carries other gift items along with her own work including Japanese chopstick rests called hashioki, small Buddha statues, prints and incense burners.

Walk out Joy's door and you'll spot a dining table, dressed for a party just across the walkway.

Royal Bloom Boutique is two shops in one: A gift and home decor shop and a wedding floral design boutique. The gift shop is irresistible to me. There are so many things I want there. It's a very small space brimming with many high quality products like copper cookie cutters, serving dishes & pedestals, candles, books, wreathes, chandeliers, candle holders and French soaps by La Lavande, my most favorite soap brand ever.

So, if you hate huge holiday crowds or the insane parking that occurs at malls during shopping season, or you're thinking you'd simply prefer to shop from a small business owner this year instead of a franchise, shopping at the Allied Arts Guild would be a slower paced respite than hitting a huge mega mall. And to top it off parking is free! What's not to love about that?

Allied Arts Guild
75 Arbor Road at Cambridge Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025

From the www.AlliedArtsGuild.org website:

"Owned and operated by the Allied Arts Guild Auxiliary, Allied Arts Guild is a beautiful and historic garden oasis, home to unique shops, artists' studios, and CafĂ© Primavera. Since 1929, Allied Arts Guild has provided an inspiring environment for working artists, beautiful gardens and shops for visitors, and support for critically ill children at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital."

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