08/02/2011 10:38 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2011

Shop Talk

I love Union Square. It's only a handful blocks away from my tiny
Tenderloin apartment. So a few times a week I head down to the
center's public plaza. It has been dubbed the city's fashion district
for over 100 years. Whenever I travel I always like to see the
boutiques and stores that set a city's style. If you're in a town with
Wal-Mart as its only shopping Mecca -- I say don't pass it up. You'll
at least enjoy people watching.

Many stores have come and gone downtown. You can turn a corner and
fall into a new boutique or find out the one you loved has gone away.
San Francisco is a fickle fashion town. If you've got true San
Francisco style you know how to navigate yourself through different
parts of the city to pull your look together. I've always felt that
you need a piece from Union Square to bring it all into place. Years
ago there was a brilliant store called I. Magnins. I loved the makeup
counter there. They opened their high-end shop in 1948 on the corner
of Geary and Stockton in what is now the Louis Vuitton boutique.
Monsieur Dior once paid a visit and declared it "Magnifique". It was
considered to be one of the most elegant stores in the world. The
makeup counter was basically the entire main floor with its white
marble and gold fixtures. I wish they were still around, I miss
parading around with their logo bag in tow.

I am always in need of a big piece of chunky jewelry. And there are
plenty of shops to hit as you head downtown. If you haven't noticed I
like my jewelry with a statement. But, that doesn't mean I want to pay
a bazillion dollars for it. I don't mind buying stuff at Forever 21 --
four or five pairs of something instead of one -- stringing them all
together to create one big new piece. And the kids that work there are
pretty sweet -- even if they look like they haven't slept much the
night before. It's a rare occasion when I unfortunately come across a
shop girl that doesn't take me seriously when I show interest in
seeing a special piece of jewelry in the glass case. I've never been
someone who walks into a store and asks the clerk to show me something
if I can't afford it. I actually really loathe shopping when I don't
have any money. I've worked a retail job on commission enough times to
know what it's like to stand around all day waiting for someone to
come in and buy something. I also know what it's like to be under
pressure from your store manager to meet your daily goal. It sucks.
Forcing someone to purchase something to make my day was always my
least favorite thing to do. So if I ask you about a piece of jewelry
in the glass case, please don't nonchalantly act like I'm not going to
buy it and dust me off by saying, "It's expensive" and walk away. That
$18 candle in your hand doesn't need to get back on the shelf that
bad. My favorite response after it gets taken out of the case and
doesn't have a price tag is -- "I'll take it, here's my card". And,
let's put that big chunk around my neck and you can keep your little
paper bag.

Here is my top five Union Square things to-do to brighten your day:

1. Visit Laura at Marc Jacobs.

2. Eat the tri-tip sandwich at Mocca on Maiden Lane.

3. Purchase the ruby lip liner from Laura Mercier at Saks (it's always
out of stock).

4. Take a minute to sit in the square and people watch.

5. Walk through the women's shoe department at Nieman Marcus and flip
them over to see the price tags. You'll gag.

I've got a lot of friends that work in retail downtown. And, I always
appreciate their welcome smiles and generous offers to give me their
discount. But I like to walk out of the store with that thing that has
just been sparkling in my eyes -- fast secured in my hands. There is a
lot of history in Union Square that can easily be overlooked if your
eyes are focused on the ground. So keep your head up and buy yourself
a little something.

When the next big earthquake hits, I'll be waiting for you by the
towering monument of Victory at the Center of Union Square. Waiting to
see that you are safe.

Loads of Love,