Local restaurants. Give someone a connection to home via their taste buds. Many restaurants sell signature condiments, such as barbecue sauces, marinades, salad dressings and spice mixtures. “I get sauces and such for my two grown kids who live in other states, so they can re-create the food they love,” says Jody Mace, publisher of Charlotte on the Cheap, an online guide to freebies and discounts in Charlotte. “I like that these products are consumable and I’m buying local. Even better, it reminds my children of North Carolina and is a reminder they should come home and visit their mother.”
Museum shops. Nonprofit museums, zoos and cultural attractions fill their gift shops with curated merchandise. Staff members can often provide one-on-one attention, and prices are generally at suggested retail, because these stores typically carry lower overhead costs than for-profit retailers. Even better, proceeds benefit the cause instead of a corporation, says David Wilson, retail and visitor experience manager for the Detroit Historical Museum. Find a local museum that reflects the recipient’s interests or the kind of gifts you want to buy, such as an art museum for framed prints or a children’s museum for an educational toy. Natural history museums often have a broad spectrum of merchandise. “Our museum offers things that are made in Detroit or reflect Detroit: candles that smell like Faygo sodas or coffee mugs sporting the logo of now-defunct grocery chain Farmer Jack,” Wilson says. And remember that museum shops typically offer an alternative entrance or one outside the ticket gates, so there’s no need to buy admission.
Specialty grocers. Elizabeth Preble moved to Billings, Mont., two years ago. “None of my family lives here, so I like sending a piece of my new home to someone,” she says. She relies on specialty grocery stores for Montana-sourced consumables. Last year, Preble sent boxes of cured meats to her grandparents. This year, it’s all huckleberry, including chocolate-covered huckleberries, syrups, pancake mix, candies and huckleberry margarita mix. Odds are your state is “famous” for something, whether it’s honey, peaches, maple syrup or pralines. Another option: Mix and match locally produced products that you find at neighborhood and specialty grocery stores to create a custom gift box.
Arts and crafts stores. It’s great to give a handmade gift, but Chloe Choe, a software engineer in Tustin, Calif., prefers to give people something that will encourage them to tap into their creativity. That’s why she shops at arts and crafts stores. “Sure, I could give someone a terrarium I assembled, but why shouldn’t they enjoy the aspect of make-it-yourself? Some people even send me pictures of their finished item afterward,” Choe says. Pull together a gift basket with supplies that feed someone’s interests, whether it’s fine art, knitting, baking or crafting.
Holiday craft shows. Craft shows boast a relaxed vibe, and you’ll find pieces you won’t see elsewhere: handmade candles, lotions, soaps, home decor, quilts, ceramics, fine art, photography, jewelry, pet gear, wall hangings and other offbeat items that are so cute you have to buy them. Chatting up the crafters adds to the experience. Entry to most shows is free or less than $5. Look for them at high schools, community centers, churches and parks. Social media comes in handy to find shows; try searching Facebook Events for “craft shows near me.”
Hardware stores. Home improvement and hardware stores offer much more than tools and building supplies. Trysta Barwig’s “go-to” holiday retailer is Home Depot. “Check out the lightbulb aisle for cool night lights. Kids love them,” says Barwig, an Atlanta-based project manager. Hardware stores are often stocked with small appliances, kitchen gadgets, gardening supplies, electronics and smart home devices. Barwig has even found snorkeling gear. Have a grillmaster in your life? Look for aprons, gloves, cooking tools and thermometers. Barwig’s tip: Visit the front of the store for the most popular sale items, and peruse aisle end caps for clearance.
Thrift and consignment shops. Those willing to take the time and do some digging can uncover treasures at thrift and consignment stores. Preble, a self-proclaimed thrift-store junkie, once scored a set of near-new Le Creuset Dutch ovens she gifted to friends. “If you frequent a store once a week, you’ll come upon quality items at bargain prices,” Preble says. “For instance, I’ve found toys in like-new condition. These are especially good for kids age 5 and younger who don’t care if it’s the original box. In my case, I have two boys and buy any steel (instead of plastic) Tonka trucks, because they last forever.” Consignment stores are the ideal place to find designer labels, jewelry, tableware and home accessories. In many cities, Target sends much of its unsold merchandise to Goodwill. Ask your local Goodwill if this is the case. Timing is everything, but if you shop shortly after a shipment has been placed on the sales floor, you will discover deeply discounted new toys, clothes and seasonal decor.