I generally avoid touristy places when I travel because if I’m going to be in a new city, I’d like to see what the city really represents instead of what the city hopes to present to visiting tourists. Generally, major cities with a Chinatown are places to avoid (unless you want some decent dim sum) when it comes to shopping: it’s usually major t-shirt stands, gimmicky Asian knick knacks and key chains for everyone to ANN to ZACHARY.
But in San Francisco’s Chinatown, one store worth searching for is Chong Imports. It’s in the basement of a nondescript mall where hundreds of vintage imports from China are for sale, as if stuck in a time warp and still sold at their original prices. In other words: A prop stylist’s dream come true.
There’s nothing super clean, tidy and perfect about the store…and that’s what I like. If you like the thrill of the hunt, you’ll love this place. Rooting through boxes, cramped aisles and looking behind items for sale to uncover different items can be such a rewarding experience. I even love this bowl of burnt incense just sitting on the shelf next to Chinese New Year decorations.
Authentic brass knobs for your furniture can be picked up for a song. You could take your boring Ikea cabinet and make it all your own with these knobs; add a few coats of glossy green paint, swap in these knobs and voila! You’ve got a marriage of Modern American Style with Chinese influences. PS-The knobs are $4.
Simply wrapped ceramic serviceware and cooking pots. No fuss, no marked up prices. Just all the real deal.
Here’s what I walked away with: Packing ribbon in faded jewel tones (maybe from the sun) for 99 cents each; embossed paper leafed with gold leaf ($5); boxes of little oil paints in beautiful metal tubs ($5 a box) as a gift for a stylist I work with; tons of unfussed dried herbs for a photo shoot (for the Upcycled Celebrations book) for 99 cents a bag… and a few other styling props.
Go visit if you have a chance. Highly rec.
Chong Imports, 838 Grant Avenue, Basement level, San Francisco, CA.