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Don't Make the Same Mistake This Year
35 gift ideas that will inspire you not to wait until the late last minute
You can, if you wish, wait until December 22. Okay, December 23. All, right, who are we fooling? You can wait until the evening of December 24, launch yourself into the cold, desperate night, vowing to find a single shop that is still open and will provide you gifts for every person on the list that you made—finally—that very morning over a cup of coffee.
Granted, that one shop may be a chain drugstore, and maybe everyone on the list gets a pair of thermal boot socks and some aftershave. Maybe a Whitman’s sampler and a novelty flashlight. But do you really want to embarrass yourself again this year? Do you really want to see your niece’s face as she unwraps (another) chia pet, or your mother’s when she realizes you’ve given her Sarah Palin’s book on CD?
You can do better. You can begin now. Knock a few gifts down early. Take your time browsing all the rich offerings of the area’s merchants and artists, while the sun is still shining and the month of December stretches before you.
To give you a jump-start, to push you in the direction of Western New York’s great shopping districts and artisan bazaars, we offer you this list of 35 gifts, some of them unusual and some of them old standards, all of them locally sourced. This is not the be-all and end-all of lists—it’s an appetizer. Try these ideas and see where they take you. But get moving. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
Rrichardson Towers Lighted Snow Globe — The holiday gift that says, “I’m crazy for you.” The second in a series of snow globes celebrating Buffalo’s architectural landmarks, this scene features that city’s stunning former insane asylum. Perfect for your “Rosebud…” moment. Available for just $49.95 (batteries included) at The Floristry (1385 Delaware Avenue) or through www.avalonscarves.com, which also trades in scarves and ponchos in opulent fabrics.
Sinatra: New York Box Set (Reprise/Sinatra Enterprises) — There’s a story in the book that accompanies Sinatra: New York where the 1977 Yankees have just won the World Series and to celebrate they head over to fabled Italian eatery Patsy’s, only only to find they can’t have their favored private corner of the joint. They were not the kings of New York. Sinatra was there and he always came first. They were just World Series champs, he was the Chairman of the Board! This four-CD plus DVD live collection spans 30 years and shows how the kid from Hoboken commandingly took Manhattan every single time. Available at Record Theater (1800 Main Street, Buffalo; 3500 Main Street, Amherst).
Joe Cascio’s Buffalo Skyline Posters—Photographer Joe Cascio has produced a terrific collection of posters featuring the Buffalo’s skyline, augmented by detail shots of the city’s architecture and landscapes. Everyone who’s from here, whether they’re still here or have moved away, needs to have a poster of Buffalo eventually—might as well make it the very best. Available at Poster Art (1055 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo).
Es N Yaa Handbags — These eco-friendly, handmade, fairtrade, Ghanaian-inspired handbag/travel bags are designed by Buffalo native Esther Ossei Anto, who splits her time between Buffalo and LA. Esther is also the founder of Shop Tell Give (www.shoptellgive.com), a charity shopping event at Canisius College on December 4, 10am-4pm, featuring designs from emerging local artists and boutiques in Buffalo and elsewhere. Admission to the one-stop shopping event is simple: a can of non-perishable goods for the Food Bank of WNY. Esther’s bags are available at Shop Tell Give, Thin Ice (719 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo), Splash Panic (818 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, and at www.esnyaa.com.
Excuria Spa Winewrap — Instead of going out for a glass of wine, how about taking a friend for a WineWrap at Ex Curia Salon (5725 Main Street, Buffalo). Tapping into the powerful antioxidant properties of the grape, a WineWrap redices signs of sun damage and refreshes dry skin. Alternately, chocolate lovers on your list might appreciate the Chocolate Indulgence Scrub. Gift certificates can be purchased at the shop or at www.excuriaspa.com.
Polaroid 103 Automatic Land Camera — Rust Belt Threads specializes in unusual vintage clothing and home decor, as well as the odd one-off item, like this vintage Polaroid camera, complete with case, manuals, and flash. Available at www.etsy.com/shop/RustBeltThreads.
McIntosh Stereo — Tired of MP3s played through tiny, tinny-sounding headphones? Maybe it’s time to listen to recorded music the way it was meant to be. It’s time to get a proper stereo and why not get the modern update on the old“hi-fi”? Not far away, in Binghamton, New York, the greatest stereo components in the world are designed and built at McIntosh Laboratory. They were making the greatest in stereo technology 40 years ago and are still doing it better than anyone else. Sure, it’s not cheap but the best things rarely are…and Santa’s footing the bill this time around. Available at The Speaker Shop (3604 Main Street, Amherst).
Growler of Draft Beer — How about a little love in a jug? Then again, a half-gallon of beer isn’t exactly “a little.” Hand in hand with the explosion of smaller breweries and craft beers, the option to go and buy takeaway growlers of draft is among the best thing to happen to beer lovers in recent years. You buy a glass growler, fill it up, take it home and drink it, wash it out, and go back for a refill! It’s all about choice, too. Regional brewers like Flying Bison, Southern Tier and Ellicottville Brewing Company. My favorite of all however is the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware-based Dogfish Head, who are constantly pushing the envelope with varied wonderful creations. Available at Consumers Beverages (numerous locations) and Village Beer Merchant (547 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo).
The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer (Knopf) — Knopf’s seventh edition in their Complete Lyrics series celebrates the giant of the American songbook Johnny Mercer—who would be 100 years old this year—and his colossal catalog. Writing the words that would be sung by Fred Astaire and Louis Armstrong and provide ideal backdrops for Esther Williams or Audrey Hepburn, there’s few who compare. Now every single song is in one place as a lavish coffee table-style book. Let’s just say it’s “Out Of This World.” Available at Talking Leaves Books (951 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo; 3158 Main Street, Buffalo).
Mealy Monsters — Local artist Nicole Johnson sell her endearingly creepy dolls and scupltures from Mealy Monster Land at www.mealymonsterland.com and at www.etsy.com/shop/mealymonster. Collect ’em all!
Woven African Shopping Basket — These handwoven bags are sturdy and capacious, and available at The African Market (236 Elmwood Avenue, side parking lot).
Pavlov’s Togs Buffalo City Hall T-Shirt — While it’s hard to love some of the characters elected to work inside of it, it’s almost impossible not to love George Dietel’s Art Deco-style masterpiece that sits like a majestic beacon over the Queen City. There’s a lot of Buffalo-themed shirts making the rounds and cashing in on hometown pride, but none of them could be cooler than this stark screen of Buffalo City Hall on heather gray. Available at Pavlov’s Togs (734 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo).
Dancing Buffalo Cidre — Of all the local ly produced potables on the market, perhaps the most unusual is Glace de Ballet, a fermented cidre produced by Danicing Buffalo. Freshly extracted sweet cider is left outside until the water in the juice freezes and separates from the sugar, which is gravity-harvested. The concentrated cider is then fermented into a delectable dessert wine. Available at Chateau Buffalo, purveyor of luxurious local liquids (1209 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo).
Nixon Watches — For men and women, these chic watches are super cool, all waterproof, and the company sponsors extreme athletes—which means anyone you give this a Nixon Watch to can pretend they’re on mile 23 even if it’s only mile 2.3. Better yet, the Bills and Sabres are wearing them…Available at Urban (736 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo).
Certain Days Political Prisoners Calendar — 42 pages of arts and writing celebrating indigenous resistance and justice movements throughout history and continuing to this day—the movements they forget to teach us about in school. Proceeds will benefit the New York State Task Force on Political Prisoners, the San Francisco 8 (www.freethesf8.org), and Addameer (www.addameer.org). Locally, you can pick up the Certain Days calendar (for just $12!) by contacting Nate Buckley (firstname.lastname@example.org), or at Talking Leaves Books (951 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo; 3158 Main Street, Buffalo) and Rust Belt Books (202 Allen Street, Buffalo).
Jimmy Lee Gown for New Year’s — Do you really want to floor your New Year’s Eve date? Bring her to Taglis Tailor (5 Linwood Avenue, Buffalo) and have her fitted for an evening gown, custom-fitted and designed by Jimmy Lee himself. (Warning: You’d better be prepared to dress to the nines yourself, and you’d better make appropriate plans.) You can learn more at www.tt-newyork.com and at www.jimmyleedesigns.com.
Big Tea Cup & Saucer Basket — Syd Hoffman at TeaLeafs (499 West Klein Road, Williamsville) will stuff this oversized tea cup with tea accessories, teas, sweeteners and snacks—creating a perfectly serviceable hostess gift. Once empty, the cup turns into a nifty planter; the saucer acts as the bottom of the pot.
Super Mighty From Mighty Taco — All right, you can’t wrap this up and put it under the tree. But you can run in with your partner during a harried gift-shopping safari, and smooch under the Mighty Mistletoe. Available only, of course, at Mighty Tace (numerous locations).
Diamond Ring From Abraham’s — A diamond is always a show-stopper. Abraham’s Jewelers (798 Auburn Avenue at Elmwood, Buffalo) has an 18-carat white and pink gold ring with .30 carats of fine white diamonds, .10 carats of natural pink diamonds, and a one-carat VS-G round brilliant cut diamond center stone.
Kershaw Shun Three-Piece Set Knife Set — If you’ve ever seen the film Kill Bill, you might understand that a good blade is an important thing, and sometimes it’s worth going all the way to Japan to procure. The good news is that you get the finest knife made in Japan right here in Buffalo, although not quite in sword size. For kitchen duty however, it’s tough to beat Kershaw’s Shun series. Crafted in Seki City—Japan’s traditional haven of sword-making—this set of eight-inch chef’s knife, six-inch utility knife, and four-inch parer makes a great starter for some first class cutting. Available at Premier Gourmet (3465 Delaware Avenue, Kenmore).
Perfect Parcel Kit — This package provides everything you need to dress up a letter or gift properly, which makes it a great gift for yourself or your loved one. Created by Buffalo’s own Design Cicrcus team, the Perfect Parcel Kit—as well as a variety of other beautifully designed paper goods—can be ordered at www.etsy.com/shop/DesignCircus.
Shoefly Gift Registry — Of course, we all fall victim to this romantic notion that we can walk into any store and identify in a quick second the gift that is precisely right for our loved one. And we all know it’s a lie: We can’t even remember his shoe size. So Shoefly (801 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo) is setting up a shoe registry. Gently suggest to your partner that he or she drop in, try on a couple pairs, choose the correct fit and color, and register. All you need to do is drop in afterward and voila—a gift guaranteed to satisfy. Unromantic? Who cares. Clutch (814 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo), selling purses and accessories, is doing the same thing.
Tokyo Milk Perfume — Great scents like Dead Sexy, Gin & Rose Water, Let them Eat Cake, and more…and only $28. Available in Buffalo exclusively at Anna Grace (799 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo).
Headin’ to Hertel? — Maybe your nephew needs a Jerry tie-dye, or a hemp belt? Maybe your old housemate is still collecting, ahem, glassware? Hertel Avenue remains the epicenter of head shop culture in Western New York, with Terrapin Station (1172 Hertel Avenue) and Headin’ to Hertel (1251 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo) within a stone’s throw of one another. Right now, Headin’ to Hertel is offering a free bowl with any purchase of $30 or more.
No Hassle Bike Tuneup — Don’t give your friend a gift certifciate to fold, spindle, and forget. Go to your friend’s house and take his or her bike. Deliver it to any one of the region’s fine bike shops—Rick’s (55 Allen Street, Buffalo), Campus (744 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo), Handlebars (685 Englewood Avenue, Buffalo), or The Bike Shop (21 Elm Street, East Aurora), for example—for a tuneup. When it’s ready, pick it up and return it to your friend’s house.
Swarovski Crystal Birthstone Bracelets — Local artist Kristine Lewis handcrafts these bracelets with birthstones to order for just $23. (You can see her work at www.crazyartgrrljewelry.com.) To pre-order order, e-mail email@example.com.
Your Name in Building Blocks — Send the name of a loved one to local photographer Jennifer Dennis Potter, and she’ll create a custom art still life using the person’s name and send it to you. Contact her at www.etsy.com/shop/jenniferdennispotter.
Discover Buffalo Niagara Calendar — Hands down the best local interest calendar on the market. The 10th edition features beautiful photography and local history, as well as more than 350 regional events and festivals. Available beginning November 23 at Premier Gourmet (3465 Delaware Avenue, Kenmore), Talking Leaves Books (951 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo; 3158 Main Street, Buffalo), Buffalo Erie County Historical Society (25 Nottingham Court, Buffalo), Definitely Buffalo (Main Place Mall), and Calendar Club Kiosks (Walden Galleria and Fashion Outlet Mall).
Flamed Toilet Seat — For the person who thinks she already has everything. Hurry: There’s just one of these, and a fellow form West Seneca is selling it on Craigslist. Search “flamed toilet seat.”
A Scarf From the Dress Shop — You just can’t go wrong with one of these long, luxe indigo scarves. And if that seems wrong, the shop’s owner, Denny Erb, will steer you in the right direction—possibly toward something from the Citron Line: great separates for the holidays in silk, velvet, and other all natural fibers. An abundance of great gifts, available at The Dress Shop (89 Allen Street, Buffalo; 712 Main Street, East Aurora).
Pets of Buffalo Poster — If your pet or a friend’s pet is a part of this poster, who could you not buy one? Created by Brian Nesline, the artists who created Faces of Buffalo, Pets of Buffalo is a collage of individual portraits of Western New York pets. The proceeds from sales of the poster benefit the Pet Emergency Fund, which helps to defrasy the cost of emergency vet care for folks who are low on cash. Available at www.petemergencyfund.org.
Giving Care — As you read this, caregivers throughout Western New York are taking loved ones to doctor appointments, hairdressers, podiatrists, church, or bathing and feeding someone who can no longer do it for him or herself. Propelled by love, but often tired, caregivers are hugely appreciative of offers to lend a hand. Imagine the joy you can bring when you put your hand out to someone dancing madly to meet someone else’s needs. Here are some ideas: Shovel the caregiver’s or care recipient’s walk; drive the care recipient to the doctor or hairdresser, or even for a massage; present a gift certificate of hours you will sit with the care recipient (respite is a lifesaver), or have everyone over for a home cooked meal. One of my favorite ideas is to buy some bulbs (they are half-price at a lot of places now) and plant them, creating months of wonderful anticipation of spring color peeking up in April and May. (I know the plant books tell you to plant much sooner than December or January, but we have found that you can plant late if the ground isn’t frozen. The bulbs will come up.) Asking the caregiver what he or she would most like is another way to approach this gift, but it has been my experience that making a clear offer with dates and times is the most effective way to be sure the gift happens.
Vintage Shoes — Lisa Zain Freedenberg is among the region’s leading curators of vintage shoes for men and women, and she peddles her wares at www.etsy.com/shop/lisazain.
UB Bulls Sweatshirt — Some day, the UB football team is going to be a winning enterprise. It might take a dozen more years. How much cooler will your loved one be if his UB Bulls sweatshirt is vintage when the golden age finally arrives?
Expensive Wool Socks — Left to their own devices, few people will splurge on a pair of soft, warm, high-end wool socks. That’s why it’s up to you, the gift-giver. You can find a variety of brands and price points at Buffalo Fleece (758 Elmwood Avenue).
Jewelry from the Albright-Knox — There are a thousand great gifts at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Shop, but a thousand choices can be daunting. So head straight for the jewelery cases and look for the Abra Couture and Tashka by Beatrice collections. Both lines are carried exclusively at the Albright-Knox, and we guarantee the recipient will be pleased. Available at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Gallery Shop (1285 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo).
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