Save Yourself from being malled — stay ‘Centered’

By Niki Vettel

This shopping adventure was inspired by Neanderthals. I am watching a PBS documentary about Neanderthals, aka cavemen – the real ones, not those quasi-charming, quasi-dopey guys in the commercials. Incredible computer graphics show them running, hoping to catch their dinner. Something stirs in me; why can I relate to this chase so deeply? It’s 2009; food is easily purchased; if I’m too lazy to hunt down a chicken breast, Nick’s Place will deliver a whole array of food to my front door. So why do I relate to these harried, hairy creatures?

Shopping. These poor ancestors are reminding me of the way we holiday shop. Running, running, hoping to catch our prey- that special gift. They would feel right at home on Route 1 and in any mall on the day after Thanksgiving. There must be a better way… a more civilized way. And it dawns on me: Could I do all my holiday shopping right in Winthrop Center? Since my office is located in the Center , all I have to do after work is walk out the front door. But I wonder: is it possible?

I am happy to report that my daring experiment has played itself out, successfully. Now, time to share the results, in the form of recommendations. Trust me – you’ll be delighted and surprised.

First stop: The Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, 207 Hagman Rd. What better present to start this tour off than with a Winthrop Commemorative ornament? This year, the 16th edition, it’s a beautiful golden ball, depicting the Winthrop Firehouse. It’s $5.00 – a great gift for any tree, here or faraway. And, when you buy the 2009 edition, you can choose a previous year’s ornament for free! The office carries other designs, celebrating our sports teams, including the Vikings. The Chamber sells a beautifully designed Winthrop tee-shirt, and a limited edition graphics print celebrating Winthrop. Perhaps best of all, you can buy Winthrop Dollars – just like a mall certificate! Over 50 businesses throughout the town accept the dollars. What a great, easy gift, in whatever levels you wish!

Next, I swing by Swetts Liquors. Owner Paul has stocked a fantastic wine selection, including all of the wines recently presented during the Sip of Winthrop. Prices on these start at an affordable $10.99. Also, my favorite “spiked” holiday taste: Old New England Egg Nog. This is a fun present, and packs a punch, but not to your wallet; it’s only $7.99. Got a vodka lover on your list? Absolut has come out with a limited edition Absolut Boston ($25). It’s flavored with elderberry (you thought maybe it would be clams?). If you like to choose your wines strictly by the labels – look for Mommy’s Time Out, in white or red ($9.00).

Next, I go into Luna, 3 Bartlett Road. This, gentleman readers, is where you go for the ladies on your list. You can get stocking-stuffer soaps ($4), holiday hankies ($1.25), bath salts ($6). Delicious scented candles (apple pie, peppermint) are wonderful hostess presents. There’s a full array of jewelry – one-of-a-kind pieces, and, of course, Pandora charms ($25 and up), and rings. You’ll prize the choice selection of coats, scarves, hats, plus Vietri tableware from Italy. I was charmed by sun-catchers ($12) and Flying Wish Paper. Cindy will help you, but help yourself by suggesting that it might make Santa’s job easier if your recipients create their own Luna wish list (a device for which my husband is eternally grateful).

More Gal Gifts: gift certificates at Sain Visage (28 Woodside Ave.) for a special facial (check out The Balm lip balms; one of those plus a certificate will bring big hugs!); they also do facials for men! The nail salons in town offer certificates for manicure/pedicure combo’s; you might want to choose a nail polish, and wrap your certificate around it! You feel the “spa vibe” at Inner Peace Massage (192 Hagman Rd.), and Sarah will match your needs and budget to her massage menu. For classic gold and silver jewelry, including Cape Cod bracelets, visit Bobby Lou (90 Jefferson St.). He carries jewelry for men, too.

Beacon Photography at 74 Jefferson St. is offering some truly unique Winthrop-centric gifts: amazing aerial photographs of Winthrop (12” by 18”, $40 unframed): I know some executives that will welcome these. Photographer John Munson has put the images on mugs ($15), and a relaxing DVD, which features the photos with a soundtrack of gulls and waves ($15).

Step next door, check out Wave N’ Pave – you do not have to know how to skateboard or surf to look very hip in their sunglasses or jackets, and Dad might go nuts for the O’Neill slippers for men ($25).

If you love the sound of your own voice: cross the street, and head into the Hallmark Store in Michael’s Mall. This year’s trend of recordable holiday presents can be hilarious or emotional. I love “Microphone Mike” – a stuffed animal that will transform anything you say to him into a monster’s voice! ($20). You can also vocally personalize cards, Hallmark tree ornaments (great to send to faraway aunties), and my favorite: the Recordable Storybook of “Twas The Night Before Christmas”. You speak the story into the book, and your readers will treasure hearing your voice tell the story as they turn the pages. Lisa explained that quite a few patrons are sending the book to servicemen and women stationed overseas; they will read/speak the story and send the book back to their own children.

I dare you to go in and not be put into the holiday spirit! The store carries the full line of Vera Bradley, and I really like the array of piggy banks – in this economy, saving money can still be fun for kids and adults. Stocking stuffers and Secret Santa gifts abound for tots, tweens and teens

At the Book Depot (11 Somerset Ave.), you can pick up New York Times best-sellers (at a 10% discount), as well as groovy finger puppets, bookmarks, puzzles, and handmade (by owner Lois) totebags.

Know someone who appreciates great gourmet goodies? At Moonstruck, (47A Woodside Ave.), check out the Stonewall Kitchen sauces: Chocolate Hazelnut, Spiced Rum Butterscotch. Show up with one of those and you will have made someone very happy, indeed. Co-workers, your accountant, your lawyer, or the family that lent you their snowblower last January – Maggie will make up a suitable and creative gourmet gift basket (starting at $45). The Moonstruck tee-shirts and aprons are first-class, as is anything from the Tea Forte line. You can also buy Harbor Sweets by the box, or chocolate by the strip or bar. By the way, there’s an Illy Espresso maker on sale for $395 (marked down from $600).

What to get the man or woman who has everything, including a beloved dog or cat? Why, wheat-free Wagatha dog treats, organic catnip, or, my favorite, the Hide-A-Squirrel toy! At The Sandy Paw (44 Woodside Ave.) Stephanie has a genius for matching treats and toys for girls and boys – furry ones, that is. She’ll help you figure out just what Max or Minx would like the best!

Five Petals, Mary Lally’s florist shop on Barlett Rd., has fresh flowers of the season, cash-and-carry centerpieces, AND whimsical, one-of-a-kind novelties (starting at $2). Christopher’s, on Woodside Ave, has bouquets and lovely artificial, seasonal floral arrangements. Check them both for your stem-and-pistel needs!

If the Center has an “emporium”, it would be CVS. Naturally, all the holiday specials are on display: the colognes, bath beauty sets, make-up collections, candy. I’m getting Burt’s Bees collections for some very dedicated nurses that I know; high-end skin care lines, like Roche-Posay, are on my list for my mature women friends who have mature skin! Some rambling yielded great finds: An auto-count digital coin bank ($10)! Pajama bottoms for men and women ($7.00). iTunes gift cards come in all denominations, and an iHome iPod speaker/clock combo ($50.00).

So now, confession time: while my plan was to limit my shopping travels to Winthrop Center, a personal errand brought me to Woodside Hardware. To my surprise, I found some unlikely, but terrific, gifts here, as well:

All sorts of designer keys, from the Sox to Betty Boop, Nemo to bling – what fun! ($2.99 – $4.99). And how about “snowtires for your feet’? Women’s and men’s sizes, these attach easily to your shoes, to grip snowy and ice pavements and unshoveled sidewalks. I found mason jars in all sizes for canners, and bathroom scales (well, not so much fun around the holidays, but helpful for New Year’s resolutions).

For the men: Snow Blower Gloves – as seen on The Deadliest Catch. These are serious gloves, for any kind of heavy outdoor winter work ($15.00). (Of course, you can also buy a matching snowblower).The most surprising gift idea was brought to me by Anthony: three phenomenal reference books, each one just 3” by 5”, but packed with amazing information in a highly readable format.

The General Reference book is like having a concise Wikipedia in your pocket: Handyman in Your Pocket includes the strengths of woodbeams: the Auto Reference book includes instructions for making knots, and tire wear patterns. Each book is $9.95, but I think the set of three is the way to go. Also, The Tide and Pilot 2010 Book ($14.00). For kids, you can find snow tubes, marbles, whiffle balls, compasses, and magnets (the old-fashioned kind).

Finally, on my way home, I had to stop at the Winthrop Marketplace for some milk – and sure enough, realized that you can do some Christmas shopping there, too! Special fruits, candies, and one of the most important items for holiday food prep – styrofoam chests. The Marketplace is the only place in town to carry these in the winter, and they are absolutely invaluable when packing up food to bring to dinners, parties, etc.

Did I mention gift certificates at our various restaurants? Those are sure-fire, gender-free, always-welcomed gifts (even for folks who don’t live right here in town!).

And so – it can be done! I was inspired by what our shop owners have, and had a great time perusing the shelves, talking with them, and, best of all, finding that everything I needed was right here. Of course, there are other areas of town with stores to check out (Winthrop Street, Shirley Street, Crest Avenue, and others).

Hopefully, you’re convinced to stay and shop in town! You won’t be mauled – or malled. Happy Holidays!

Niki Vettel is a PBS producer, media consultant, and avid shopper, who has happily lived in Winthrop for over 25 years.

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