The rag trade has always been one of the first employment rungs immigrants step onto to gain a piece of the American dream, and L.A.'s Santee Alley is where you find both the products of their labor and the marketing smarts of other immigrants who have become shopowners and managers. Our local garment district is also a place to score cheap deals on everything from sports-team T-shirts to leather jackets. There is a rough pattern to the alley's mad layout, with stalls selling watches on the Olympic Boulevard boundary, and sportswear, toy guns, car accessories and more politically themed T-shirts located in the newer addition at 12th Street. Like L.A. itself, the alley's boundaries are increasingly amorphous, and adjacent stores reach out toward somewhat separate shopping districts specializing in shoes and fabrics. Santee Alley also provides a panorama of city life crammed into a few blocks, as Spanish-speaking child-preachers and handicapped panhandlers vie for your attention over the ubiquitous shouts of “$5!” — as the ever-present aroma of bacon-wrapped sausage vendors wafts over everything. Between Santee St. & Maple Ave., and Olympic Blvd. & 12th St., dwntwn. Open 365 days a year.

—Steven Mikulan

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