ST. PETE BEACH — What if one of Santa's elves boycotts the cold and crowded working conditions of the North Pole and takes off for St. Pete Beach? And what if this elf, let's call him Don, decides that instead of spending weeks making his presents he would spend just one day shopping, then relax the rest of December?
So Don heads out to find the perfect gifts from some of the eclectic shops along the Gulf of Mexico. He's willing to spend $300 on the family of seven that he's responsible for, as well as a few gifts for their extended family and close friends.
His first stop is A Little Room for Art, the artists co-operative at 111 Eighth Ave. in Pass-a-Grille. Considering his stature, Don feels comfortable in the small, narrow store that somehow has room to house hundreds of locally created sculptures, dolls, jewelry, paintings and other art. He homes in on the necklaces with funky pictures and words adhered to Scrabble tiles and picks one for each of the 10-year-old twin girls. One will get the purple and black peace sign while the other will love one that says: iRead. They hang on long silver chains. Since they cost $13.50 each, he decides to get another one for the family's babysitter, who is earning her teaching degree. It says I (heart) Teaching.
On the gallery's patio, Don spies a group of wooden angels with rusted metal wings hanging from a tree.
"I am a yardian angel. Please put me in your yard or patio and I will watch over things," the tags read. The rustic, twisted pieces are carved out of driftwood by local artist Mary Alice Harley. He picks one with serene eyes and delicate hands for $35 to give to the mother of the family.
Back inside he buys a $4 note card with a whimsical pen and ink sketch of the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa. It reminds him of the illustrations in the famous Eloise books. He'll stick it in a black frame and give it to Grammie, who visits the family from up North every winter and loves to walk by the hotel that looks like a pink sand castle.
A few doors down on Eighth Avenue, Don walks into Bamboozle. It features women's clothes, such as embroidered jeans and dresses and skirts made of a patchwork of T-shirts. He sees a doormat woven out of recycled flip-flops for $28 and decides that would be fun for Grandpa, who hates dirt in his house but takes his part in helping the earth very seriously.
In the Dolphin Village Shopping Center, at 4615 Gulf Blvd., a clothing and gift store called Tropical's has the perfect gift for the family's college sophomore. It's an illuminated peace sign that goes on top of a tree. Don suspects she'll find a way to display it throughout the year and buys it for $28.
Simply Perfect at 339 Corey Ave. in downtown St. Pete Beach is full of home decor and gifts. Don discovers a Find It game, a clear plastic tube filled with recycled plastic pellets. About 25 objects such as rubber bands, toy cars and coins are buried within. Kids and adults shake it, spin it, twist it and turn it until they find them all. He buys a Wizard of Oz Find It for $15 to give to the 5-year-old son in the family. Others are filled with letters, princess-related objects or everyday items.
A few doors down, Don steps into Paradise Gifts & Home Decor. He buys a $5 cheese knife that is shaped like a mouse with a serrated tail for the blade. The family can give this as a hostess present at the neighbors' annual New Year's Day party.
At Best Buddies Dog Boutique and Bakery, at 6498 Gulf Blvd., he stocks up on handmade dog treats and a few gifts for Daisy the basset hound's stocking. He buys a little plaid purse with a patent leather handle that is filled with scented plastic bags for picking up poop. It's $12. Now the twins can clean up after Daisy in style.
Moving on to Madeira Beach, Don can't decide what the father of the family would like best at Westwind Tackle, 13823 Gulf Blvd. There's a great selection of lures, floats, bait buckets and even a $25 rod and reel. So Don buys a $40 gift card for the casual fisherman and a weighted cast net for $22 for the 12-year-old son.
He hits Cups A 2 Z at John's Pass Village and picks up a Tervis Tumbler insulated mug featuring the University of North Carolina ram for $13.50 for the college daughter's boyfriend. He goes to school there and will be visiting her in Florida after Christmas. The store features a huge selection of professional and college sports logos on the popular, sturdy cups. They also come with images of pirates, palm trees and more.
After looking through other shops at John's Pass, Don heads up the road to Pheeney's at 13999 Gulf Blvd. The store is full of gifts and home accents. He gets a chuckle out of the wine cork that has a sign attached that reads: "Oh Come All Ye Thirsty." He thinks the $11 cork next to a bottle of wine would be nice for the family to enjoy with their Christmas Day dinner. After all, the parents don't hang stockings.
Stockings! He almost forgot about candy. Don backtracks to Sweets N Treats at 10641 Gulf Blvd. in Treasure Island. The store has a wide variety of old classics such as Chic-o-Sticks and the cloth bag of little bits of bubble gum that look like gold nuggets. He also picks up some gummies shaped like gators and sharks, SweeTarts shaped like Lego blocks, and little metal flip-flops that hold mints. The Florida kids will love getting the bubble gum that looks like little oranges in a green net bag. He then overhears some people talking about the Candy Kitchen at 13711 Gulf Blvd. in Madeira Beach and heads over there for more.
The nonedible presents added up to $272.85 with tax. So that left $27 for candy and about 20 days for Don to hang out at the beach after all his shopping was done. No splinters from the workshop this year. No ringing ears from spending days on end with frantic elves. Yes, Don could get used to beach shopping instead of building.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.