San Antonio Shopping Guide

The Alamo City offers some of the best crafts, food and merchandise in America. Here's how to find them.

GET YOUR BEST FRIEND, GO to the west side of downtown San Antonio where you’ll find the Public Market located on a street named Produce Row. Buy yourselves a shopping bag—not a paper one, but one made of woven hemp. They sell for about a dollar and you ask for a morral de malba; if they don’t understand you, ask for a shopping bag outlining an appropriate size with your hands. In this bag you will be able to tote all your treasures from a varied and interesting shopping trek in this colorful bi-cultural community called San Antonio. While you are in the Market, take advantage of the fruit and vegetables, all fresh daily, that you can purchase from individual farmers at wholesale prices. You can buy your produce in the block-long, sky-lighted, stuccoed building called “The Farmer’s Market.” Then wander across the street into the large tin-shedded structure, where vendors in stalls offer an array of clay pots, piñatas, and border-quality Mexican craft work.

Across Produce Row from the Market is Mi Tierra, a Mexican restaurant and panaderia (bakery) that never closes its doors. Everything is baked daily on the premises, and they feature a rich assortment of Mexican breads, rolls and pastries, with delightful names such as campechenas, cuernos de mantaquilla, pan de huevo or pano, or their specialty, semirtas de nuez.

At the opposite end of the block from Mi Tierra visit Los Cocos for an aromatic and visual treat. This small shop carries an endless variety of spices from around the world. To please the nose, the eye, the taste, there are literally barrels of everyday spices such as lavender, sweet basil, oregano, and borage. They also market their own chili powder (Mole Poblano), their own chocolate (Cercaled), along with jellies from Cuba, fresh cod from Canada, and Jamaican drinks.

Within walking distance from the Market district or a short ride on the Shopper’s Special bus, you’ll find one of the most environmentally unique places in this country. For shopping, dining, and entertainment, it’s a pleasure. It’s the area called Paseo del Rio (The Riverwalk) and La Villita (The Little Village), with nearby HemisFair Plaza thrown in as a bonus. The heart of the Riverwalk area (between Commerce and Crockett Sts.) is the best place to start. Located here is a building complex called River Square. There are two restaurants on the river level of the building with the large Mexican brick columns. But on the second level, (Presa Street level) there is an outstanding shop called La Sirena (the Mermaid).

The proprietor of this shop is Allen Stehling, who personally buys all the merchandise sold in his store. This merchandise is international in scope, but featured are many of the finest folk art and crafts of Mexico, Middle and South America. Weavings and fabrics from Oaxaca, native dresses of Guatemala and Tehuantepec, ceramic masterpieces from Peru, antique Mexican jewelry, lacquer wear of Olinalá and Theodora Blanco dolls are but a few of the quality items available here, all selected with a knowledgeable and discerning eye. Except for some of the larger or more intricate items, prices are generally moderate. This is the best shop of its kind in the United States, so don’t miss it.

Next door is a recent addition for pure fun and enjoyment dining or shopping. It is called The Greenhouse, a combination antique shop, plant shop and natural food restaurant. If you like the table and chair you are using while having your meal, then you can buy them; likewise for all the hanging plants and potted succulents that justify the establishment’s name. In case the diversity of merchandise is insufficient, there are also available some genuine World War I recruiting posters, all framed, wired and ready to hang. Right prices–and have a smoothie while you look around.

In the same building, but facing Presa Street instead of the River, is The Spanish Door. This small shop is the major local retail outlet for Kerrville’s James Avery jewelry, both silver and gold. Mr. Avery’s work is exceptional and is available in a wide range of prices. As you leave the Spanish Door look to your left: on the ground floor of the large building diagonally across Commerce Street is Viva. Owners Mona and Gene Fogt operate this contemporary religious art store in the original home of one of San Antonio’s major banks. Now instead of money in the bank, they feature the “Gallery-In-The-Vault,” which contains changing exhibits of contemporary religious sculpture, painting, or prints. The old banking room walls now host a myriad of religious posters, serigraphs, and prints, and where the banking platform used to be their gift cards are located.

Now, just in case you are in the market for an Oriental rug or two, you happen to be close to two places that have the best selections in town.

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