Andaluz: finding the extraordinary in Columbia City

In this world there are people who live to shop in malls and those who prefer shopping in their own neighborhood. If you shop locally, the challenge is finding exactly what you need within close proximity to home whether that special something is clothing, a gift, kids gear, or menswear. If you really want something that is out of the ordinary, the challenge is doubly difficult. While Columbia City has blossomed in the restaurant/eatery trade, it's been slim pickings when it comes to meeting other consumer needs.

Enter Andaluz, an eclectic gift shop/clothing shop for women, children and yes, men, located in the heart of Columbia City. The shop opened in December 2004, at one point sharing the space with a watch repair business. Prior to Andaluz, the space was used as an appliance store and, in more recent years, Finders Keepers, a consignment store. The high ceiling, painted a vibrant spring green, with original transom windows encloses an old, wooden floor, which is graced with an eclectic mixture of goodies not found in the usual mall store.

Owner Karla Esquivel greets visitors walking in off the street. She seems to know everyone and they delight in seeing her and what they discover at Andaluz. Esquivel herself is a dynamo of style and energy. A former staff writer of the now defunct Seattle Star, she is a person who loves beautiful and unusual things. If you are looking for Mervyns, this definitely isn't the place. Customers are treated to a visual, olfactory and surround sound experience. Looking for a summer wedding outfit just a bit out of the ordinary? Esquivel features clothing by Kimmi a.k.a. Kim McCormick, among other lines. The clothing is handmade from vintage fabrics that Esquivel describes as "cool contemporary styles with funky vintage flair." McCormick lives in Columbia City, as do many other designers carried by the shop.

Looking around

Esquivel's eyes dart to a corner of the shop.

"Here's jewelry by Nikki Jacoby," Esquivel noted. "She's only 22 and she grew up here. It's just amazing that she makes such well designed and beautiful things."

Esquivel glides over to the front display case and shows off an exquisite collage of handmade, beaded jewelry by Regina Chang of Regina Chang Accessories, another Columbia City artist. Soon after Esquivel showed Chang's work, the artist wandered in with a friend.

"Andaluz is such a great addition to the neighborhood," Chang stated enthusiastically. "There are so many things here that are one-of-a-kind, or the only kind that you can't get anywhere else, beautiful, beautiful things."

Indeed Esquivel seems to have a knack for finding unique objects, many with humor attached.

"I try to go out of my way to find unusual, cool things - quirky stuff with a vintage flair. Often they're things you can't find anywhere else," Esquivel said. "I also try to carry things that are well made, that are made from good materials, and made by good, responsible companies."

Humor is a unique part of shopping at Andaluz, and the comedy in many of these items can be both subtle and obvious. For example, there are drink coasters sporting vintage photos with hilarious sayings on them. Customers can also purchase "The Male Mystique," a book featuring ads from the '60s and '70s, containing sexist language used during the time. Another humorous find is the instructive book, "How to Say Fabulous in 8 Different Languages."

Customers can purchase the collectable Ugly Dolls, Chronicle books, Pink Panther Fold 'N' Mail Stationery, home d√ącor items, and a delectable collection of bath/ personal body products of the Lepi de Provence line, imported from France. Other gift items include room diffusers, vintage matches, home furnishings, among others, all reasonably priced.

Building a business

For Esquivel, opening Andaluz was a pipe dream made reality. The writer and editor always loved clothing and beautiful knick-knacks, and she always thought it would be nice to open a boutique, someday. Over the past two years that someday quickly became a reality. Esquivel originally started the shop with her husband, a watchmaker, who shared the space in the back of the store. At the same time Esquivel operated the boutique while also working as staff writer for the Southeast Seattle weekly newspaper the Seattle Star as well as other publications. Then the newspaper folded, her husband became head watchmaker at a leading jeweler, and suddenly Esquivel found herself running the shop on a fulltime basis.

"I'd never thought I'd run a store," she confided. "I don't have any retail background. My background is in writing and the arts. But the one thing I have always loved is shopping. I love to shop and surround myself with cute, beautiful things. This place gives me this, and being here in Columbia City is wonderful. I live here. My kid goes to Orca Elementary School. I have lived in other neighborhoods in Seattle, but never in one where I had such a sense of community."

Andaluz is open seven days a week. It is located at 4908 Rainier Ave. S. Give Esquivel a call at 760-1900, or visit her store online at www.andaluzseattle.com.

South End resident Mary Sanford may be reached via editor@sdistrictjournal.com.

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