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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v10n50 (12/14/2011) » Last Minute Gift Guide

Last-Minute Utilitarian Gifts

Because want and need are two different things...

’Tis the season when you can’t glance at a TV without seeing a commercial where good-looking lovers frolic in a snowy landscape, or cuddle around a crackling fire—before a small box is produced containing a sparkling diamond ring or necklace. Or, there are those ads that suggest, even more extravagantly, that a brand-new car would be the perfect gift for your loved one—to celebrate the birth of Christ. Low APR financing for a limited time only.

But Jesus was a simple carpenter, after all, and if the scriptures of the New Testament are to be believed, it’s likely he might have been more apt to storm into a jewelry store at the mall, smashing displays and flipping over tables, than be swayed by sentimental advertising.

In fact, if you want to get into the true spirit of the season, shop where carpenters shop: a hardware store.

Not all hardware stores are the same, of course. There are the big-box giants like Home Depot and Lowe’s, and those are okay for this kind of last-minute shopping, but don’t underestimate the smaller places, where you’re likely to find a plethora of useful little gifts that will come in handy during this coming winter and year-round. Shopping in littler stores also gives you more of a small-town Christmas feel.

Tools make great gifts. Hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, saws, drills, and all the accessories that go along with them can be humble little presents that might just become lifesavers when tinkering around the house or apartment. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing a task at hand could be so much simpler if only you had the right tool. And you can find a lot of these with flowery grips, for example, if you don’t want to give your girlfriend a piece of equipment that looks like it belongs on a construction site.

Here are a few random things I came across at Dibble’s True Value on West Ferry Street:

• A 250-watt four-in-one work light can be just the thing to brighten up a dark corner of the house that needs attention. Vastly superior to holding a small flashlight in your teeth as you scrunch up under the sink, barking your knuckles on pipes. This also leaves your mouth free to utter all kinds of choice syllables as you go about your fix. $12.99. (Small flashlights are also great stocking-stuffers. Several to choose from.)

• A 2.5-quart Granite-Wear canner. This rustic-looking pot is just the thing to preserve fresh foods. Throw in some jars and lids, and you’ve got a great gift for your favorite foodie. Made in USA. $21.99.

• An outdoor thermometer shaped like a dog . Everyone either has a dog, or knows someone who has one. Since so few dogs are toilet-trained, all dog owners share a common bond that can be unpleasant on some of the harshest winter days. Mount this outside where you can see it, and as your heart freezes over looking at the pitifully short line of red mercury, feel it begin to melt again as you gaze into the soulful eyes of the faithful hound—who would do anything for you. Then dress accordingly, grab the leash, and go. Available in a variety of breeds—on sale for $4.59.

• Speaking of going for a walk in the freezing cold, a good snow shovel can make a world of difference when you’re trying to clear your stairs and sidewalk. There are several to choose from. Another useful thing to have on hand would be a bag of Pet Friendly Ice Melt. Works like rock salt, but these magnesium chloride pellets are eco-friendly, and safer for plants and paws. Twenty pounds for $13.99.

Window insulation is a great idea for a lot of our old Buffalo houses and apartments, but if you’ve noticed, many of these old windows are larger than the typical plastic insulation kits sold today. At Dibble’s, you can find kits that contain big enough sheets of material to cover an entire patio door. No more watching the curtains swelling with drafts from those lovely French doors to the porch—the ones you know you’re not going to open again until spring. 84 inches wide by 110 inches long, $9.99.

• Since so many people drive cars, you can’t go wrong giving ice-scrapers as gifts. You can find some with telescopic handles that will clear the windshield of the biggest SUV with relative ease. Or, use the brush end to whisk away the powdery stuff. $10.99.

Hardware stores are great places to find affordable, useful presents. Because useful gifts tend to get used, the odds are much higher that the person you give them to will think of you fondly on that cold Sunday night in February when a professional plumber can’t be found, and they suddenly remember the brand new plunger wrapped in a red ribbon, unceremoniously stowed under the sink.

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