San Antonio offers the shopper a nice balance of large malls and little enclaves of specialized shops. You'll find everything here from the utilitarian to the unusual: a huge Sears department store, a Saks Fifth Avenue fronted by a 40-foot pair of cowboy boots, a mall with a river running through it, and some lively Mexican markets.
You can count on most shops around town being open from 9 or 10am to 5:30 or 6pm Monday through Saturday, with shorter hours on Sunday. Malls are generally open Monday through Saturday 10am to 9pm and on Sunday noon to 6pm. Sales tax in San Antonio is 8.25%.
The Shopping Scene
Most out-of-town shoppers will find all they need downtown, between the large Rivercenter Mall, the boutiques and crafts shops of La Villita, the colorful Mexican wares of Market Square, the Southwest School of Art and Craft, and assorted shops and galleries on and around Alamo Plaza. More avant-garde boutiques and galleries, including Blue Star, can be found in the adjacent area known as Southtown.
Most mainstream San Antonians prefer to shop in the malls along Loop 410, especially Alamo Quarry Market, the Shops at La Cantera, North Star, and Heubner Oaks. The Shops at La Cantera is the city's newest large-scale mall. It's also the farthest away from downtown (15 miles), out along the outer loop (Loop 1604) just west of I-10. This is now the fanciest mall in town, having secured the city's only Neiman Marcus and only Nordstrom, and it has plenty of smaller retail stores to match the same well-heeled customer base. More upmarket retail outlets can be found closer to downtown in the fancy strip centers that line Broadway, where it passes through Alamo Heights (the posh Collection and Lincoln Heights are particularly noteworthy). Weekends might see locals poking around a number of terrific flea markets. For bargains on brand labels, they head up to San Marcos (35 miles north on I-35), home to two large factory outlet malls.
Shopping A to Z
Antiques -- In addition to the places that follow, a number of antiques shops line Hildebrand between Blanco and San Pedro, and McCullough between Hildebrand and Basse.
Art Galleries -- ArtPace, in the northern part of downtown, and the Blue Star Contemporary Arts Center in Southtown, are the best venues for cutting-edge art, but Finesilver Gallery, 816 Camaron St., Ste. 1-2, just north of downtown (tel. 210/354-3333; www.finesilver.com), assembles some impressive shows with talented artists. And Galería Ortiz Contemporary, 4026 McCullough (tel. 210/826-8623), represents several up-and-coming artists, and it has a downtown space in Market Square, 102 Concho St. Much of what it sells is Southwestern art. Another gallery specializing in this work is Nanette Richardson Fine Art, 555 E. Basse Rd. (tel. 210/930-1343; www.nanetterichardsonfineart.com), with a wide array of oils, watercolors, bronzes, ceramics, and handcrafted wood furnishings. Also, keep in mind the smaller galleries in La Villita. You'll find a good bit of variety, and the area is so laid back and relaxing that it makes for enjoyable viewing.
For more information on other galleries and the art scene in general, visit the Office of Cultural Affairs' website, www.sahearts.com, with listings of several local galleries, and schedules for events held during July's Contemporary Art Month.
Crafts/Folk Art -- Again, since most people happen upon La Villita while exploring downtown, take a little time to explore the crafts stores there. You never know what you might come across. Another top option is the Ursuline Sales Gallery in the Southwest School of Art and Craft.
Love Potion No. 9 -- Ask a proprietor of a botanica, "What kind of store is this?" and you'll hear anything from "a drugstore" to "a religious bookstore." But along with Christian artifacts (including glow-in-the-dark rosaries and dashboard icons), botanicas carry magic floor washes, candles designed to keep the law off your back, wolf skulls, amulets, herbal remedies, and, of course, love potions. The common theme is happiness enhancement, whether by self-improvement, prayer, or luck.
Many of San Antonio's small botanicas specialize in articles used by curanderos, traditional folk doctors or medicine men and women. Books directing laypersons in the use of medicinal herbs sit next to volumes that retell the lives of the saints. It's easy enough to figure out the use of the santos (saints), candles in tall glass jars to which are affixed such labels as "Peaceful Home," "Find Work," and "Bingo." Milagros (miracles) are small charms that represent parts of the body -- or mind -- that a person wishes to have healed. Don't worry that many of the labels are in Spanish, as the person behind the counter will be happy to translate.
Papa Jim's, 5630 S. Flores (tel. 210/922-6665; www.papajimsbotanica.com), is the best known of all the botanicas. (Papa Jim, who used to bless the various artifacts he sold, died a few years ago.) Can't make it to the shop? Order online or get a copy of the more comprehensive print catalog by phoning or ordering through the Papa Jim's website.
Toys -- If your child is especially hard on playthings or your cash supply is running low, consider buying used toys at Kids Junction Resale Shop, 2267 NW Military Hwy. (tel. 210/340-5532), or Too Good to Be Threw, 7115 Blanco (tel. 210/340-2422).