Before this sonofawhore cold came up on me like a backhanded slap, I had all these great ideas about posts promoting a simplified gift-giving for Christmas (which did not include, ahem Vermillion, forgoing the presents all together). The dreaded germs took a hold of me and for the past few days my nose has been a constant fountain of mucus. Every morning for the past few days I wake feeling like someone jammed an umbrella up my sinus cavity and then opened it wide. Good thing we buy our Kleenex at Costco.
Despite my current but mild health maladies, I do want to continue to inspire people to think beyond the typical schlock peddled to us as Christmas gifts by the retail conglomerates. To rise above the early bird specials and doorbuster savings and measly 15% off coupons (You know who you are, GAP.). To forgo the traffic, the frustrating hunt for a decent parking space, sore arms laden with bags, the grouchiness.
My first tip: Go Local. Seek out those independent little shops where you live. I firmly believe that small businesses, especially locally owned retail establishment, provide an area with vital lifeblood, character, and soul. Often times the staff of these stores are more personable, knowledgeable, and helpful to their customers (With that noted exception: Grouchy Fat Fuck Who Works at Creatures and Crooks.). They remember and love their regular customers. While small shops aren't for the avid bargain hunter, nor is it always possible to check off your list with things purchased solely from little local purveyors of fine goods. Stuff like obscenely huge television sets, Wiis, Pods, and those poly-cotton elastic waistband pants Aunt Mildred loves so much are better located in the stores shaped conspicuously like large boxes.
However, you can be served very well by supporting the local shops in several categories. The examples I give are solely for my readers of The 804, but my wish is that by throwing out what a small city like Richmond can offer, you get inspired to move beyond the mall scene and look a little closer at what's to be found in your own backyard:
1. Toys- The big stores tend to have the widest selection of toys and some of the better deals, monetarily speaking, but for a refreshing break from all the TV and movie tie-ins, you can't beat the local toy shop. These smaller stores tend to focus on better crafted (read: less likely to be lead leaden), more unique, and educational toys than their behemoth competitors. Locally, there's my favorite, World of Mirth (Where we just bought Little A his Christmas bilibo.). It's a toy store to delight the kiddies and the big kiddies too. The Toy Center on Patterson caters to collectors, but has a killer selection of PlayMobile, and Toys That Teach in the Far West End is a fabulous source for learning and creativity-based goodies.
2. Books- While I carry a Borders Rewards card in my wallet, my heart belongs to the independent bookstore. Local bookstores seem to do a better job supporting lesser-known writers and niche markets than your massive chains. Plus they don't try to hawk a Frequent Reader card on you every time you buy a stinking magazine. Some of my favorites 'round these parts are Carytown Books (oddly now on MacArthur St.), Fountain Bookstore in Shockoe Slip, Creatures and Crooks (Minus Fat Fuck employee), and Narnia Children's Books. Used bookstores are heaven to me, and Charlottesville is like the super-duper-extra-special heaven with all its little shops of used books. Richmond's got a couple of good ones like Black Swan and both locations of Chop Suey.
3. Food- Potables are a great standby gift for those people who seemingly have everything. Unless stricken by an eating disorder, everyone likes to put food in their face, especially at Christmas. So for the baking and cooking illiterate, local food shops are a great resource. As a one JamieSmitten can attest, Jean-Jacques Bakery can't be beat for tasty treats, nor can their neighbor For The Love of Chocolate. Shout out to Northside for the very excellent breads and pies at Sammy's Bakery (Portuguese transplant from MA, too!). We've got several small wine and beer shops with knowledgeable staff scattered around the city for your imbibing friends.
4. Jewelry- The jewelry industry, like the wedding and funeral business, has done a fine job hijacking our holidays and convincing us that what's appropriate gifting at Christmas (and Valentine's Day) is some generic piece of shite jewelry that costs at least a paycheck (or two or three). Fortunately there are some great alternatives where you can buy a lovely piece of jewelry without selling your soul to the DeBeers diamond monopoly. Bangles and Beads has some great affordable pieces, many of which were made on site by staffers. For finer jewelry, Dramsfield Jewelers is as much a gallery as a jewelry store. Coconut Jewelry also sells handcrafted, unique pieces that have as much glitz as anything (That's) Jerrod (!) stocks.
5. Gifty Stuff- You know decorative things, tchotcky, knick-knacks. Stuff that we like, but would never really buy for ourselves. Lane Sanson, a store which is a study in claustrophobia and glitter, is the undisputed Queen Bee of Gifty Stuff. Mongrel has a funkier, more hipster vibe. Ten Thousand Villages rarely disappoints for gift possibilities, and while they aren't necessarily local, their mission is admirable and worth supporting. I must give mad props to Feathernesters which isn't just a gifty shop but also a tea house and yummy pastry counter. The two guys who run it are great fun and make beautiful wreaths and a tasty Sunday brunch. Their neighbor Hunter Lange has a great mixture of vintage and new items, with some unique handmade jewelry. Lakeside Avenue is having something of a renaissance right now; in a few years, we might have our own little Carytown here in the redneck enclave of Lakeside.
Oh happy shopping!