Whether You’re at the Starting Gate or the Finish Line, Mark Off These Fun Stops for Holiday Shopping
Here’s to December because, after all, December is finally here! Mariah Carey has high-noted her way onto our radios and holiday playlists once again. Fresh evergreen trees are standing tall in tree lots. Social media is replete with time-honored recipes for traditional dishes and inventive ways to showcase favorite holiday ingredients. Hallmark flicks, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Home Alone and other holiday favorite shows and movies are lined up in the queue for their time(s) in the spotlight. Finally, most people I know have a gift shopping list close at hand or (at the very least) on their minds.
“Done and done!” v. “Not even begun!”
Heather and Jodi have kindly invited me to share with Friendsville Square some of my ideas and favorite places/sites for holiday gifts. In rounding up the businesses I wanted to include, I thought about four holiday shopping strategies that have served me well over the years:
Drawing upon the below list of favorites. I keep this list in my phone’s Notes app and update it yearly. Use the tool that works best for you to track your own favorite shopping stops.
Keeping my eyes out for “the perfect gift” whether I’m running Saturday errands around home or exploring a new or familiar city.
Maximizing periodic deals run by my favorite sites. Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are always worth a bookmark, but I find that some of my favorite sites offer “Black Friday” in July or clearance sales two or three times a year. Those are extra opportunities to think about my favorite people and what they like, while giving my wallet a bit of a break.
A couple of editorial notes before we dive in:
Since I live in St. Louis and am devoted to shopping local as much as possible, this post admittedly hits numerous St. Louis-centric destinations. Happily, many of the St. Louis shopping spots I love offer online shopping options. I encourage you to shop local when you can; many of these shops will have sisters, so to speak, in other towns and cities. But I also share my non-local preferred holiday shopping destinations.
This is an ad-free/promo-free post! The stores and websites listed here are true favorites of mine (and of the girlfriends I consulted, as you’ll see) and are listed here solely due to love.
Kicking Off: Six Go-To Places for Go-To Gifts
For matching holiday PJs: Hanna Andersson and Old Navy. I’ve purchased snug pull-on holiday-themed PJs for young family members for many years. They’re cozy, make for adorable around-the-table-or-tree photos, and can be handed down to younger siblings or friends.
For designer fashion at a discount: The Outnet. As the savvy-priced sister of the luxury-focused Net-a-Porter, the Outnet offers a swath of designer goods at much less than retail price. I find accessories like jewelry, scarves, belts, hats and gloves to be the prime choices. The best time to shop is during their periodic clearance sale, which sadly does not take place around the holidays. But it doesn’t hurt to bookmark the site, download the app, or get on the mailing list so you get word when it hits.
For the loved ones who are all about the personalization: jBloom. I’ll note that one of our group of seven girlfriends, Liz Cottrell, is a jBloom Designer, and I’m including jBloom jewelry and personalized gifts in this compendium because women I’ve gifted jBloom items to love them. With the exhortation to “Wear Your Story,” jBloom allows you to personalize a variety of charms, jewelry, and Christmas ornaments with monograms, symbols, artwork, and even photos. The jewelry is contemporary, easy and fun to style and has looks for women whose sensibilities run from subtle to bold.
For basic with a heaping helping of comfort: Land’s End. Warm coats and sweaters, winter accessories, cozy bath towels and bedding … Land’s End definitely has a place on my winter-shopping list. I like ordering small personalized canvas bags as gift bags, and I always make sure to check out the clearance area for deals. Land’s End constantly offers codes for further savings, too.
Choosing from a truly dazzling array of gifts for the beauty and skin care is part of the fun of shopping at Ulta Beauty. Online or in one of their increasingly plentiful stores, one can scope out a favorite scent and the latest trends in skin care. Many Ulta locations also offer full-service salons. I think Ulta Beauty’s rewards program is one of the best in this space, and it makes taking my holiday shopping dollars there more appealing.
Local Spotlight: Three Favorite Destinations in Metro St. Louis
A haven in downtown Clayton, Lusso brings the elegant and the bohemian together under one roof. As the website notes, “Repeatedly voted the ‘Best Gift Shop in St. Louis,’ we offer a fabulous array of home décor, jewelry, clothing and gifts from your favorite designers.” I go for the greeting cards for all occasions (some are, shall we say, irreverent), Nest candles, and the selection of candy in jars ready to be scooped. (Get a small bag of the chocolate-covered popcorn when they have it.) Whether you’re looking for refined barware or shimmery glass Christmas tree ornaments, Lusso is your destination. They will wrap your gift exuberantly and without charge.
I talked to a couple of my local friends, both of whom are very thoughtful gift-givers, about their favorite fun places for gifts. Both named shops that are, like Lusso, women-owned businesses. Lisa is a big fan of Urban Matter in St. Louis. “I love shopping here for unique gifts,” she said. “They have a wide assortment of luxury candles and incense, stationery, fun cards and coffee table books, and lots of home stuff. Every time I go in, there is always something new. It’s a must-visit if you are in the South Grand area.”
Stephanie is a big fan of Milk & Honey in the St. Louis County suburb of Wildwood. “They have an array of unique home items, clothing, jewelry, purses, and gifts for babies, weddings, and new homes,” she noted. “The owners and staff always greet you warmly, and I never leave the shop empty-handed. They also have an event space if you’re looking to host a shower. When you’re done shopping, you can grab one of their draft beers or a glass of wine.”
Other Fun Ways to Shop Local
School holiday bazaars are the places to find unusual gifts from local makers while supporting local schools. If you have children in your life, you have possibly shopped at and/or helped out at holiday bazaars. One of my favorite school-sponsored holiday shopping events in St. Louis is the Unique Boutique at John Burroughs School. This annual two-day boutique takes place the Saturday and Sunday before Thanksgiving and offers a selection of high-quality handmade gifts from artisans based in St. Louis and further afield. This year, I was drawn to the beautiful wool socks by Mary’s Little Lambs Products and the hand-dyed silk fashioned into a variety of useful and sense-satisfying products at Sweet Seed Textiles. If you’re in St. Louis and want to check out the 2023 Unique Boutique, mark November 18-19 on your calendar.
Check out your town’s annual festivals, where cultural activities, food and shopping meet up and have a blast together! I’ve picked up unique jewelry gifts from artisans at the St. Louis Art Fair, the Kansas City Irish Fest and Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina.
Sometimes you find just the right gift for someone who has a very particular interest at thrift and secondhand shops. I’ve found vintage jewelry and sunglasses, ‘70s glassware, and designer skirts that have delighted friends at easy-on-the-account prices. My friend Nora, a power thrift shopper, said the standout find is all about stopping in frequently at places you know carry things you like, checking out the provenance and retail price online in real time, being on the lookout when freshly stocked racks are rolled out, and pouncing without hesitation when you zero in on that find. Put it in your cart immediately … no hesitation! You can always change your mind before you get to the checkout. One of my reliably excellent thrift destinations in St. Louis is The Resale Shop, a charitable project of the National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis.
Big box home-and-hardware stores have their place, but I’ve found my neighborhood hardware store (Ace Hardware) to be a great source for Christmas décor, stocking stuffers (hand warmers are one example), and a comprehensive selection of appropriate gifts for my barbecue-and-grilling contingent. It’s easy to find knowledgeable assistance if you need it, and finding parking most times is easy!
For the person who absolutely doesn’t need another material item, local food and beverage gifts that can be shared with visitors or enjoyed at leisure are often appreciated around the holidays. Chocolate and coffee are my reliably delicious fallbacks. In St. Louis, I love Bissinger’s (particularly the chocolate-covered Oreos) and Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate (the Candy Cane Truffles are, as my son might say, a move right now). From Kaldi’s Coffee, I pick up my favorite holiday coffee blend, ‘Tis the Season, to share with my coffee drinkers around the country.
My niece Mary Beth passed on a thoughtful idea for her two young boys last year: with plenty of toys, books and clothes under their tree and more on the way from Santa, she said a gift certificate to the boys’ favorite donut spot would be perfect. (Their fave donut shop happens to be Donut Land in Brunswick, Ohio.) We loved the action shots full of elated smiles and donut crumbs Mary Beth sent from the trip they made to redeem the gift certificate!
Along those lines, note that the gift of a local experience is quite likely a welcome one; whether it’s a beloved restaurant, a long-anticipated concert or theatrical production, a quirky specialty store or a special limited-time-only attraction like Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience that’s coming to town, take note of your loved one’s interests and treat them to a memorable experience!
One Final Note: Meet Me at the Museum!
I find an expansive selection of books, toys, food items, and ephemera to be a treat at the end of a visit to any museum. I always leave with just the right gift for a loved one (and often something for myself). If you have a person on your list with a specific interest, a membership to a local museum, garden, theatre, or cultural attraction also makes a thoughtful gift.
The Saint Louis Art Museum Shop’s offers a curation of art-themed books, posters, accessories, decorative items, and toys. If you’re there for a visit, you’ll find two shops. It also offers online shopping.
Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Museum Store also has in-person shopping and an online store. The Denver Art Museum offers a comprehensive online shop as well. And as far as specialty museums go, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix has every kind of gift for anyone who loves music, no matter what genre. The in-person shop is a treat and so is its online store.
I visited the Mill City Museum, built into the ruins of a behemoth building that was once the world’s largest flour mill, during our family trip to Minneapolis this summer and was agog at the museum store’s selection of cookbooks, cooking gadgets, jewelry, and fun children’s items that encourage them to get in the kitchen. (Yes, I did purchase a Minnesota hot dish potholder!)
Have a plant lover in your life? Tour a public or private garden and after treating your feet to a walk and your senses to nature, check out the gift shop. I am impressed by the selection of garden- and nature-themed items at the Garden Gate Shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and the Seasons Gift Store (in-person shopping only) at Gibbs Gardens north of Atlanta.
I hope you’ve found some inspiration for your own holiday shopping here, and I would love to learn about your own favorites in the comments. Warm holiday wishes and cheers to finding just the right gifts for your loved ones this season!
Laurie White Bergman is a recently retired public relations professional taking the first exhilarating steps into her “next act” armed with an extensive list of places to visit, activities to explore, and skills to learn or rediscover. She lives with her family in St. Louis County, Missouri. You can connect with her on Twitter: @LaurieBergman