DTLA: Cheap Sunglasses

Photos by Justin Jemerson

Photos by Justin Jemerson

I'm 7 years old and it's 8:00am on a Saturday morning. My brothers and I are packed in our family's 91' Ford Aerostar, barely awake, pulling into a parking garage as a man with a huge yellow flag instructs my mother where to park after he's collected $5 from her. As she pulls into the spot and applies the rest of her makeup, she turns to us in the back seat and gives us instructions that we've heard many times before, "Stay together. Ryan and Chris, make sure Josh doesn't run off. Don't ask for anything. You guys know why we're here. Let's go!" 

It was our annual trip to Santee Alley in Downtown Los Angeles. For those of you who aren't familiar, Santee Alley is an actual alley the size of a small street. It's lined with storefronts, street vendors and food carts. It has a festival-like atmosphere and you can buy everything including clothing, shoes, accessories, toys, cologne, wigs - you name it, they got it. 

At least once a year, my Mom would take us down to The Alley to buy our Easter suits. For about a 4 block radius, they have endless options of styles colors and sizes to choose from. As a kid, this place was more than intimidating. It was loud, smelly and crowded. Every direction you'd turn someone was aggressively trying to sell you gum or bootleg VHS tapes of the latest movies. There was even a resident showman who had elephantiasis and feet the size of pizza boxes who invoked a Kevin McCallister, Home Alone-like fear in me. In addition to all of this, I was forced to try on what seemed like a million and half uncomfortable suits for a sunrise Easter service I didn't want to attend in the first place. I hated it! 

But like most things from my childhood that I hated, I now appreciate that experience because it's contributed to my style philosophy. Santee Alley is still one of my go-to's for cheap apparel. Especially when it comes to sunglasses. I consider myself a responsible person, for some odd reason I cannot seem to keep up with a pair. I lose them constantly. After I lost a $200 pair of Tom Ford's ten years ago, The Alley became my primary and only source for them. In addition to suiting accessories and visiting my favorite tailor, I go at least quarterly to re-up on a batch of $5 sunglasses to replenish my last supply that I either inexplicably lost or were stolen by my sisters MoMo, Devin and Leslie.  You can't beat the price for the quality and options they carry. In most instances, if you patronize the younger vendors they'll even have a knock off version of the latest and greatest designer frames. Perfect for someone like me. 

As I type this I'm thinking I'm overdue for another trip.