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Bargain shopping in San Francisco's garment district.

Bargain shopping in San Francisco's garment district Ramshackle warehouse, rumbling delivery trucks, and cramped loading docks bristling with racks of colorful clothing give San Francisco's garment district a certain raffish glamour. The business has grown to $5 billion wholesale annually, making it the city's number one manufacturing industry--and the district continues to draw savvy shoppers for bargains of 20 to 75 percent off retail.

Most of the hundred or so factories are between 2nd and 11th streets in the South of Market (SoMa) area. We asked industry insiders for SoMa's top choices--considering the prices, size of selection, and variety, and focusing just on the manufacturers' own outlets (as opposed to "off-price" stores, which sell goods from many manufacturers, usually at slightly higher prices). We list them alphabetically. For more discount houses, refer to the guidebooks and pamphlets listed on page 24.

March is a good month to shop. The stores burst with three seasons of clothing--current spring wear already returned by department stores, and fashions from last winter and fall. Here's what to know before you go.

Garment district savvy

Don't expect amenities--you're more likely to find communal dressing rooms, jammed racks, poor lighting. Why the bargains? Some are discontinued lines, liquidated stock, product overruns, or odd lots (the small amount of merchandise left after orders are filled). On items marked as irregulars, check for minor flaws> on seconds, check closely for major flaws.

When to go: avoid Saturdays if possible> otherwise, shop early. Most stores get new merchandise on Fridays.

Respect "no parking" signs> a standard ticket can cost $20. We talked to one parking officer who issues up to 50 tickets a day just in the alley outside Gunne Sax. We list parking suggestions for each outlet but, if you're coming from the South Bay, consider taking Caltrain. ACA JOE, Gunne Sax, and Eileen West outlets are within five blocks of the Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets> for a schedule, call (415) 557-8661. Most outlets accept cash, check, or credit cards. All sales are final.

Six outlets--men's casual wear

to prom growns

ACA JOE, 148 Townsend> 10 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays. Back on its feet after financial trouble, ACA JOE has a plain (and chilly) outlet that's worth a visit. Save 25 to 75 percent on casual menswear (but women buy here too)-- jackets, shirts, pants, sweats. Don't miss the "defectives" section at the rear of the store--belts for $4, shorts for $5--and flawless sample-design tops for $22. Use the pay parking lot ($3.50 all day) on Brannan one block east of Stanford Alley.

Eileen West, 39 Bluxome Street (between Fourth and Fifth streets)> 9:30 to 5 Saturdays. Save discounts up to 75 percent off retail on home products like soaps and stationery, as well as dresses and sleep-wear (including Eileen West and the Queen Anne's Lace line). There's no dressing room here. Street parking is available on Bluxome on Saturdays.

Esprit Outlet, 499 Illinois at 16th Street> 10 to 8 weekdays, 10 to 7 Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. Few insiders listed this outlet, assuming everybody already knew about it. But it's the biggest, with a warehouse-size store full of casual wear reduced 30 to 70 percent. The adjacent Caffe Esprit offers small pizzas, eclectic salads, and more, 11:30 to 2:30 Mondays through Saturdays. Parking is free. If you need a midday break to picnic or to let the youngsters roam between shopping forays, visit the Esprit Park and Sculpture Garden about 1/4 mile away at Minnesota and 18th streets--with nine massive works by such artists as Henry Moore, Manuel Neri, and Mark di Suvero.

Gunne Sax, 35 Stanford Alley (between Brannan and Townsend, and Second and Third streets)> 10 to 5 weekdays, 9 to 5 Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. No secret to city shoppers, Gunne Sax offers 27,000 garments (up to 70 percent off retail) on the floor above its fabric store. Prom dresses are the major draw in spring from the Gunne Sax line ($60 to $100) and the Jessica McClintock line (up to $150). Head toward the rear of the store for best bargains ($8 dresses, $5 blouses). For parking, see listing for ACA JOE.

Jeanne Marcdowns, at Third and Bryant streets> 11 to 4 Tuesdays through Saturdays. New location offers the amenities of a retail shop, including carpeting and nice lighting. You'll find colorful, exotic-patterned cotton dresses and pants outfits, including resort and cruise wear with hand-finishing details that make them look like designer originals. Prices are about 60 percent below retail. Pay parking lot ($3.50 all day) at Second and Bryant.

San Francisco City Lights Factory Outlet, 333 Ninth between Harrison and Folsom streets> 10 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays. Here's the place to pick up active wear--leotards, body suits, leggings. We saw T-shirts for $5, leotards and cotton sundresses for $8, thick terry robes for $39. Pay parking lot ($3.50 a day) at 10th and Harrison.

Helpful pamphlets, guidebooks

The definite guide is still Sally Socolich's newly updated Bargain Hunting in the Bay Area (Wingbow Press, Berkeley, 1990> $8.95), available at bookstores. To subscribe to her newsletter ($18/nine issues yearly), write to Bargain Hunting, Box 144, Moraga, Calif. 94556.

The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau publishes a partial listing of outlets in The San Francisco Book, available free at hotels and at the visitor information center in the plaza at Market and Powell streets (open 9 to 5:30 weekdays, 9 to 3 Saturdays, 10 to 2 Sundays). At some outlet stores, you'll find a $2 pamphlet called San Francisco's Factory Outlet Shopping Guide, with coupons and restaurant suggestions.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1991
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