New York has its Soho, Tribeca and Nolita, L.A. has its WeHo, and now Pasadena has its very own NoCo, as in North of Colorado. Often overlooked but never boring, the Old Town streets north of Colorado — Union, Holly and Fair Oaks – are home to great stores (including a couple of brand-new ones), interesting restaurants, a fine chocolate shop, a cupcake bakery and a dessert and Champagne bar. It’s a great place to spend a few hours wandering, just around the corner from the mall stores and yet a world away.
Here are our favorite one-of-a-kind NoCo shops, in rough order of newest to longest-established:
Maude Woods, 55 E. Holly St., 626.577.3400, maudewoods.com
Upscale home furnishings, furniture and unique gifts fill this brand-new store, which owner Carrie Davich says has a “westside/Santa Barbara vibe without the westside prices.” Light and airy, full of vibrant colors, it feels like a French country house with all the trimmings. Davich, who used to be a clothing designer, named the store Maude Woods for her artist great-grandmother. She’s stocked lots of great gift lines, such as SALT, a fine silver collection inspired by yesterday’s decorative arts, featuring gleaming serving spoons and knives with wood-like handles; Roost’s succulent candles, mango wood bowls and desk lamps; and whimsical painted French ceramic bowls and plates from SUD and Co. The collection also includes linens from Alexandre Turpault and John Robshaw and the softest of hand-loomed Peruvian cotton blankets from the Marcel Miller PUR collection. Finally, you’ll find antique and custom furniture – the coffee table made from a bowling-alley lane (which Davich says can be also made into a dining table) is a real standout.
Beyond the Olive, 10 N. Raymond Ave., 626.844.3866, beyondtheolive.com
Looking for all the world like a wine bar, this place turns out to be not about drinking at all. Beyond the Olive (tagline: Celebrating Food and Living Well) is an olive oil and balsamic vinegar store that also stocks some other foods (olives, dips, tapenades, crackers) and gift items, such as bowls (for olive oil, of course), decanters and cookbooks. When I walked in, I ran into a friend, city planner Laura Dahl, who was buying one of the most popular items in the store (according to owner Crystal Reibel), a peach balsamic vinegar, aged for 18 years. “I could drink it as an aperitif, it’s so good,” said Dahl. I tried it, and she’s right. All the oils and vinegars can be tasted in little cups with bread for dipping, and many are poured from big vats. “You fill your reusable bottle and don’t pay for the packaging or the cork,” says Reibel, who is a walking oil-and-vinegar encyclopedia; she says that unlike Europe, the U.S. does not regulate the quality of oils, so you may not be getting the quality you think you are. All the oils here are from California, and the balsamic vinegars are from Italy.
Gold Bug, 22 E. Union St., 626.744.9963, goldbugpasadena.com
No Halloween or holiday season is complete without a visit to Gold Bug, an always-intriguing, sometimes-macabre collection of art, artifacts, jewelry, decorative objects and more, all with a natural-history or Victoriana bent. Just in time for the store’s second anniversary and Halloween is “Death by Cat,” a show by Bruce Wolf of photographs of “surprises” his 33 stray cats have brought him. Inspired by the Victorian fetish of preserving the memory of the recently deceased, the animals or parts of animals – a bat, a blue jay wing, a flying squirrel – are depicted in lifelike poses and lit with haunting artistry. Another standout in the gift shop are pieces of art made from old books by English artist Alexander Korzer-Robinson. “Altered books are a huge movement in England, and this artist just had a show at a London museum, so he is really hot right now,” says Goldbug co-owner Stacey Colemen. Korzer-Robsinson makes his art from hollowed-out dictionaries from the 1800s; the diorama-like pieces have such names such as “Humanity,” “Where the Revolution was Fought” and “What Gods Might Come.”
The Majestical Roof, 88 N. Fair Oaks Ave., 626.844.8886, myspace.com/majesticalroof
Tucked into a courtyard off the street, the Majestical Roof never fails to surprise. With wares like hand-painted shoes from Claudia Arandia, a large collection of dream catchers from the Chactou nation, and a new line of soaps, scrubs and bath oils – all vegan and made without glycerin – by a woman who works at the Container Store across the street, this is the place in town to see the offerings of local artists and craftspeople. It stocks a well-edited collection of clothing – vintage and new – as well as jewelry, paintings, photographs, an expanding children’s section and more. In the back are changing art shows, and creative director Lynn Groves says the upcoming group show in November is not to be missed. It will showcase the work of ceramics artists, including Poly student Todd Barry, whose totems and bowls are quirky, engaging and filled with whimsical characters; James McCue, who makes earthy, classic pots, bowls and other pieces in natural hues; and David Gilbaugh, whose work explores a tree theme and who recently won a prestigious award at the American Ceramics Museum. Look for his ceramic tree mug, which he custom makes to fit the customer’s hand.
Lula Mae, 100 N. Fair Oaks Ave., 626.304.9996, lulumae.com
All decked out for Halloween and Thanksgiving, Lula Mae is a treat for the senses. With everything from cards – including new ones by letterpress printers and local artists – to jewelry, stationery, baby clothes and soaps, this store is crowded with gift ideas.
“We get new stuff every day,” says owner Marci Toombs. “Right now the humor section is our best-selling category. Everyone needs to laugh.” The humor section includes bacon soap, cupcake band-aids and a cat lady play set. On the more sentimental than humorous front, Toombs suggests that Make-a-Wish necklaces by Dogeared are great gifts for anyone: “someone you’re in love with, your best friend or even a coworker you hardly know.” You put the necklace on, and when the string wears off, your wish comes true. And finally, a hot-selling item – and the cutest thing ever – are the Squeak Me Shoes for babies. The line includes red Mary Janes with flowers, traditional brown oxfords and a sporty number in navy blue and white.
Clothes Heaven, 111 E. Union St., 626.440.0929, clothesheaven.com
Chanel mania has taken over Clothes Heaven, Pasadena’s premier upscale designer resale store. Says owner Larayne Brannon, “It’s the line that talks to people right now. It’s a cross-generational phenomenon, popular with everyone from teenagers to grandmothers.” The store carries an amazing collection of Chanel shoes, bags, jewelry and all types of clothing, some items with the price tags still on. Handbags are also hot right now, says Brannon, and she carries every brand-name bag there is: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Judith Leiber, Bottega Veneta, Tod’s and more. The rest of the collection, from jeans to high fashion, includes clothing and accessories from Prada, Escada, Marc Jacobs, St. John’s, Jil Sander and lots more.