Shopping Safari 

Taking to Memphis' retail trail.

Rlunked down in the middle of the wilderness, could you get back to civilization? Could you find anything?

During "orienteering" competitions, participants must find their way through heavily wooded terrain using only a compass and a map. Flags mark "control points," areas competitors must find to complete the course.

In a way, shopping is a lot like orienteering. Participants are lost in a wilderness of retail, looking for a "control point": the best deal, the most unusual item, something someone really wants.

However, if you were plunked down in the middle of Memphis, it wouldn't matter what exactly you needed, all you would have to find is a poplar.

Poplar Avenue, that is.

Starting at the dual public edifices of the Cannon Center and the county jail, the beginning of Poplar hardly seems the trail to Shangri-la. And there are certainly other shopping hot spots: South Main, Cooper-Young, the Avenue Carriage Crossing in Collierville. But inch-for-inch and mile-for-mile, Poplar has more locally owned boutiques along it than any other street. Many national retailers also have local space with a Poplar address. Starting with a jumble of pawn shops downtown, Poplar offers anything you might ever need or want. Follow it far enough and you'll even find yourself at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, the place where lost airplane luggage is unloaded to buyers.

Working east from the river, the first Poplar shopping center of note is Chickasaw Oaks Village. It's not always open on Sundays, but you will not find a better array of gift and home goods. Grab lots of little things for your friends at Mango Street Company, the Paper Garden, Boulevard, and Lisa Mallory. And then find things for yourself at Kittie Kyle Kollection, Ella, and, if you're lucky in love, the Leah Camille Bridal Salon.

Farther east, you'll hit an area anchored by Oak Court Mall and dense with successful local retailers. At tony shopping center Laurelwood, you can indulge your bookworm (Davis-Kidd), your sweet tooth (Dinstuhl's), your green thumb (Crocker Antiques and Garden Accents, Le Fleur), your skin (Zoe), your wanderlust (Regency Travel), and your shoe fetish (James Davis, Joseph).

Across Perkins are the Shops of Laurelwood and Laurelwood Place, which include Trousseau II (if you're looking for boudoir wear), Sloan (for sleek ladies' suiting), the Eyewear Gallery (for, well, you know), and the Curtain Exchange. And if you're in the market for some sparkle, there are also several jewelry stores in the immediate vicinity, including the fine folks at Mednikow.

If you're thinking that there couldn't possibly be anything else within a half-mile radius of that, you would be wrong. Ladies, especially, love Laurelwood Collection. Oxford, Mississippi-transplant More Therapy recently opened in the shopping center, as did downtown hot spot Blu Champagne. They join the hip fashionistas at Miguela's, Eve, and Isabella, among others. The Collection also includes M. Creech Antiques, the Papel Collection, and the Pink Door.

Still haven't found what you want? There's more down the road. Register for flatware at the Gift and Art Shop or at Midtown's unofficial Target, near the intersection of Poplar and Colonial. In addition to being home to Target, Audubon Place is the natural habitat for the outlets of national faves Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.

The upscale Regalia Center at Poplar and Shady Grove, has a little something for everyone: Oak Hall (outfitting corporate honchos and ladies who lunch, to name a few), Shoppe (the up-and-coming jet set), A Pea in the Pod (mothers-to-be), and luxury-linen seller Reverie (everyone who sleeps).

Once you hit Germantown, the shopping still doesn't stop. Near Kirby Parkway, there is Carrefour at Kirby Woods (with über-book-seller Borders) and Orleans Place (with fine stationery at Shara's Paperie). Further along, the many sides of Saddle Creek straddle Poplar with style. You'll find What's Hot, White House/Black Market, Coldwater Creek, Apple, Lola, Indigo, and Sigrid Olsen. And just past that is DSW (the shoe warehouse) and kiddie favorite Chocolate Soup.

If that's not enough on Poplar, you can even buy a car (Bud Davis Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz of Memphis) or a house (between Highland and Goodlett).

So get out your compass (and your credit cards) and hit the road.

cashiola@memphisflyer.com 

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