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Downtown Holiday Shopping: Olvera Street

By Paige Osburn
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011, at 08:54AM
Paige Osburn/KPCC

Tiny pots and skeletons can be purchased for as little at 35 cents at Myrosa/ E-14 Olvera St.



Ah, last minute shopping. A time to bust out that emergency sick day, slip on some sneakers, and refill last year’s pepper spray. Only one day to hit the streets and churn out a 10 x 8 x 6" corrugated box of goodies for the half-nieces you completely forgot you had? Say no more, my friends. That’s what downtown—and blogdowntown—is for. Let’s pound a Red Bull and get crackin’..

First up, Olvera Street. You pop out of Union Station from whatever lesser neighborhood you are unfortunate enough to reside in and are presented with the wonder that is Olvera and the wafting scent of $2 taquitos (cheap has a smell, and it is glorious). Cross the plaza (and whatever mariachi band and/or high school choir happens to be singing there), duck into La Luz del Dia for a styrofoam cup of champurrado (only available in winter), and we’ll hit the street.

Customizable leather cuff with snaps: Armando Murillo of Murillo’s Leathers is one of only three craftsmen in "en la plazita Olvera” to still create his products on site, and the work shows. Leather belts, cuffs, bags, wallets and even sombreros deck the walls of the multi-generational shop. Belts and bracelets are cut to fit at the counter, with most orders filled in front of you for around 15 minutes. Better yet, belts and cuffs are customizable with names, designs, terms of endearment all meticulously engraved (but keep it PG—this is a classy establishment). $10 (bracelets) or $45 (belts)/ Murillo’s Leathers/ W-6 Olvera St.

Lycra luchador masks: Few Mexican staples are more prevalent than that of lucha libre and its practitioners the luchadores, masked wrestlers in bright colors that are the closest we will ever get to Transformers in human form. These masks come in literally hundreds of color and design combinations— some echoing the chosen patterns of already-famous luchadores, others made up purely for posterity. Bust one of these out for little Jane and you’ll have her hitting a 619 on her brother in no time. $5-15 / multiple stalls (inc. Ma Iscar) / C-anything Olvera St.

Rubber coasters with local designs: When you think of dia de los Muertos do you think of samurai skeletons wailing on a Fender Stratocaster as they tango into the sunset? No? Well, at least one Angelino does, because that design—along with dozens of others—can be found on these impressively inexpensive yet delightfully deviant coasters (we will also accept the terms “cup-chairs” or “glass-huggers”). They’re tucked deep in the bowels of the shop, past literal piles of skeleton figurines, Spanish prayer cards, confetti eggs (two for $1!), and paper mache hearts, but they’re well worth excavating. $2.50/ Myrosa/ E-14 Olvera St.

Tierra y Fuego talavera tiles: Aside from the one ancient (and massive) 80-year-old hunk of wax that you first notice walking in, the second thing you notice is that Olvera Candle Shop sure doesn’t have a lot of candles in it. But what it lacks in eponymous merch it more than makes up in bizarre folk art, day of the dead gear (skull cufflinks for $5) and a marvelous collection of talavera. Sizes range from 2 x 4 to 6 x 6 and have designs (and colors) that sprint the spectrum of taste. $10 (4 x 4) to $20 (6 x 6)/ Olvera Candle Shop/ W-3 Olvera St.

Dia de los Muertos Batman shoulder bag: So you’ve run the gambit of Olvera Street and find that no matter how many jelly-filled churros you down this whole “old world charm imported straight from China” flare is cramping your style. Well, Mister Too-Cool-For-School, take a pit stop in Guadalajara Novelties and Curios and get a quick (but potent) hit of pop before wading back out into the great Calexican weird. From Batman with a sugar skull head to the Virgin of Guadalupe re-imagined as Princess Leia with a fallen C3PO, Guadalajara has everything to sate your pop culture needs (with a Mexican twist, because we’re still in Olvera Street). $12/ Guadalajara Novelties and Curios/E-19 Olvera St.

Elvis arched tin nicho: But maybe your pop culture needs tilt a bit to the old world Hollywood side of the scale. Or maybe they just can’t be sated by 1980s sci fi or 1990s geekery. Combining two impossible L.A. fixtures into one glorious object, the Hollywood icon tin nichos at Mexico Shop #3 (yes, really ) are quite possibly the quintessential Los Angeles gift. The fact that they’re sold by a white-haired man in a sombrero who never smiles only makes them more so. $30/Mexico Shop #3/C-21 Olvera St.

What other great selections can be found in Olvera Street that readers should know about?

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