Suzy Gershman takes her shopping seriously. The author of Frommer's "Born to Shop" city guides visited Paris recently and made a point of testing a touted face cream.
"I thought I was going to go blind," she said. "For four days in Paris, I could not open my eyes. And people think this is fun."
Truth be told, Gershman does think shopping is fun - maybe not with her eyes closed, but even with a floundering economy and a deflated dollar. Recently, she visited San Francisco and optimistically launched her new guide, "Where to Buy the Best of Everything," at one of her chosen destinations, Forgotten Shanghai on Kansas Street.
It would not seem to be an opportune time to launch a book on buying the best of anything, but Gershman makes the case that it does seem to be a time when a chapter that stars the Bay Area, "Home Style and Tabletop," calls for some attention.
"I'm not that luxury oriented, and I think even in a bad economy there's a dividing line," Gershman said. "You'll see clothing lines cut down, certainly. But when it comes to things for the home and the garden, it's going to be a matter of: 'Is it another tchotchke that's just going to sit there, because if it is, I don't need that,' or 'Is it something that's going to bring me peace.'
"Because when it comes to things for the garden - a bench, a birdcage, a fountain - there are those small, psychologically soothing things that people will spend money on. They will cut back on dining out, but the home and the garden give us our refuge in these hard, stressful times. We need that peace. That's why we won't stop with that kind of shopping."
Gershman, a Texan who also has a home in France, won't stop with any kind of shopping - she even goes online for basics such as books to save time and gas, though she says, "That's not really shopping." Her new book underscores the kind of shopping she most prefers.
"To me, the bottom line in what makes something the best is that you walk in and you are transported," she said. "It can happen here, it can happen at Whole Foods, it even happens sometimes at a factory outlet. It's that out-of-body experience when you are taken somewhere else."
As she spoke, Gershman was wearing a Chinese outfit and standing in the middle of Forgotten Shanghai, one of only 14 shops in the world Gershman listed under "furniture." Margaret Currivan's retail store, just up the block from the Design Center's Galleria, captivated her with its homey feel and unexpected mix of contemporary and antique Chinese furniture, plus pillows and other accessories.
"I fill the showroom with things that appeal to me," Currivan said before heading off for a shopping trip to Hong Kong. This spring, windows were full of colorful metal garden stools (priced at just above and below $500), and inside were furnishings of all sizes for living rooms and bedrooms. Glass-based lamps, metal-framed mirrors and silk-covered pillows filled the gaps.
"This is that little find that you might drive by every day of your life and not come in," Gershman said.
She also included in the book many well-known San Francisco finds - Gump's, for instance, which she described as "the most focused specialty store in America, if not the world," and where she looks for the San Francisco-originated Agraria line of home scents. There are also listings for the Britex fabrics house just off Union Square and the McCroskey mattress store on Market Street.
Other Bay Area home-related destinations include: Heath Ceramics in Sausalito (tabletop), Nancy Koltes at Home in Mill Valley (for bed linens; "ignore the rest," Gershman writes), the Gilman outlet strip in Berkeley (home design shop Trove is "one of the best stores") and Via Diva in San Rafael (a "crowded warehouse" full of Asian furniture finds at good prices).
Gershman has plenty of destinations for shopping for clothes, shoes and purses, but not so many for furniture. She puts the onus on the consumer for this kind of big-ticket shopping.
"A lot has to do with your pre-education and research," she said of shopping for sofas and large furniture pieces. "Have you looked at the magazines, can you show the salesperson a picture so that he can say, 'I can do that in a $10,000 version or a $3,000 version - which do you prefer?' and you have an answer."
Gershman does include some Web sites and flea markets in her "best of" listings, but not the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire.
"We felt that one was really up and down," said Gershman, who leans heavily on "Born to Shop" editorial director Sarah Lahey of Sausalito for Bay Area haunts. "The key when it comes to flea markets and shows, to me, is the ability to find something usable in real life, something you want or need, something that makes a good gift."
For that sort of market, she'd recommend Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, one of the few places in her book where the dollar is not dismal. In other European and Asian destinations, Gershman recommends: "Go to the grocery store. You can always find something there you'd never see here."