Malls and box stores make me itchy during the holiday season. Crowded parking lots, people wearing too much cologne, all squabbling over the last giggling Elmo doll or whatever the cool kids want these days.
Last year, I set out to shop local for all my gift-giving needs — and that went pretty okay, with a couple of exceptions. I've got the same goal in mind this year, though I also have a less-portable toddler and more realistic expectations.
But you, you can do better! With that in mind, our team of roving reporters fell on their swords and scoped out sweet finds from some favorite shops around Tampa Bay. I can report from personal experience that shopping was fun (I got to pet Oscar the shop dog at Strands of Sunshine in St. Pete!) and money was spent during these excursions. Some of it even on stuff for other people.
Elsewhere in the section you'll also find suggestions for stocking stuffers for less than $10 and gifts you can find in bay area museum gift stores.
So go to town, find your finds. Bless you merry shoppers.
You can't get in on the vinyl revolution without a turntable, can you? Any good used record store should have several new and used ones in stock. A great one, like Planet Retro, will have styles that appeal to all budgets, from a $55 Vibe Sound model that'll convert your LPs to MP3s, up to an Audio-Technica AT-LP120 that'll set you back around $299. And while audiophiles may turn up their noses at Crosley's briefcase-style turntables, we're kinda digging this pink and black Ramones Cruiser Record Store Day Turntable ($109). Cruisers are fun and simple starter kits, particularly for kids. You'll get better fidelity and durability with another model, but when did the Ramones ever care about fidelity? And what better place to buy it than Planet Retro, renowned for its amazing selection of new and used punk and metal? One word of warning: Once your little punks catch the crate-digging bug, they might also start eyeballing some of the new releases on the wall. Better pick up Taylor Swift's 1989 ($24.50) while you're at it. — Jay Cridlin
This is a high-low idea I came up with for a harried friend with lots of meals to cook for a crowd. I thought: pasta always works. So I put together a starter kit of sorts. Gordon Food Service is a restaurant supply chain with several local retail outlets. The one nearest me sells mostly food now instead of equipment, but it has a few useful cooking things. Round up a 12-quart stockpot ($22.99), lid (optional, $7.29) large ladle ($12), 6-pound can of pasta sauce ($6) and 5-pound bag of pasta ($6). It doesn't look like much but wait! Class it up with a visit to the Savory Spice Shop, which sells dried herbs and spices both unique and familiar in elegant little jars. Prices are usually between $4 and $5. The shop also has gift sets, including one for Italian cooking for about $20. Grab a wedge of Parmesan from the grocery, put a bunch of holiday straw in the pot, nestle everything in, tie on a bow and you have a gift. — Lennie Bennett
Recently relocated to Central Avenue's 600 block, this shop bills itself as carrying handcrafted jewelry for happy people — but it's got a whole lot more. Owner and artist Amy Marshall has always carried work from other local artists, such as these killer Vintage Neon prints ($20-$25) from Todd Bates that are perfect for friends and family who dig vintage area signage. Marshall says she plans to use the extra space in her new digs to feature even more artisans. Bright and happy air plants from Sea & Aster ($15-$30) are great gifts for the office dwellers in your life. And it's hard to go wrong with Marshall's jewelry, but we won't talk more about the earrings because my husband reads this newspaper. — Ellen E. Clarke
I admit it, there are clutch holiday gifts for which I keep dipping from the same well. Everyone loves Toffee to Go, no one has ever turned up their nose at a box of William Dean chocolates. But you don't want to be predictable, right? That's why this year I'm checking out Le Bouquet by Francis, which opened Nov. 19 at Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater. When the Peyronnet family moved to Clearwater they were perplexed at the paucity of handcrafted chocolates. So they got busy, enlisting the services of French-born pastry chef Jean-François Bonnet, who produces hand-made chocolates in his chocolate factory in Brooklyn. Twice listed among Dessert Professional magazine's Top 10 pastry chefs in America and featured in Food & Wine magazine's "Masters Series," Bonnet has contributed a variety of milk, dark and white chocolate barks, packaged distinctively in bouquets ($18 half pound, $36 full pound). Flavor combinations like mandarin orange and cinnamon, peanut butter and banana, peppermint and so forth elevate the level of play, and then the lineup of boxed bonbons, spreads and traditional chocolate bars make for some exciting stocking stuffer options. — Laura Reiley
Who doesn't love dancing Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy? Only Scrooges, that's who. For $22.99, a dancing Baby Groot can brighten the desk of your favorite nerd, playing Michael Jackson's I Want You Back (loudly) at the touch of a button. Even better is that he also grooves to any music you play near him, so bust out the Christmas Pandora stations. Move aside, firs. There's a new favorite Christmas tree in town. Emerald City Comics also has an impressive array of comic books, action figures and fandom-themed board and card games, but surely don't miss the book My Name Is _____ and I Am a Cumberbitch ($9.99), full of Benedict Cumberbatch love, puzzles and trivia, and the Doctor Who TARDIS cookie jar ($39.99) with lights and the materialization sound effect. — Caitlin E. O'Conner
No high-end department stores in Safety Harbor, just a quaint Main Street stroll past shops reflecting the community's artistic bent, ranging from funky (Dazzled Boutique) to home finery (Accents by Paula). A few steps off Main sits Francie's Studio Fifth Avenue, in a charming bungalow adorned with bamboo front porch columns. Owner Francie Rogal creates jewelry and home art with fused glass, sterling silver, and pearls, including decorative tiles (up to $250), pendants (around $150), earrings ($65) and copper slave bracelets (around $50). Each item is one-of-a-kind and made on the premises, a thoughtful alternative to mass-produced gifts. Plus, the town's laid-back vibe is exactly what shoppers need this time of year. — Steve Persall
Step into downtown Tarpon Springs' Mad Hatter General Store and it's like falling into the rabbit hole and landing with a thud in the kitschy heart of Portland. There's a little bit of vintage-inspired everything here — clothing, jewelry, accessories and gifts ranging from the unusual to the retro to the straight-up bizarre. On the day I visited and lingered for an unfathomable amount of kid-in-a-candy-store time, my eyes and taste buds were drawn to the elixir-like display of made-in-the-USA hot sauces. What better way to rid your insides of the season's sugary sweetness than with Professor Payne Indeass's line of creatively named condiments? Varieties include Sphincter Shrinker, Colon Cleaner, Butt Pucker and Anal Angst, all selling for $7.99 per hipsterly labeled bottle. I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't also mention the 1980s rock 'n' roll quiz cards or Albert Einstein neckties. And ladies, just because I've featured masculine-leaning items doesn't mean this delightfully quirky shop is without its share of vintage hats, bohemian dresses and antique-looking bags. Swing by; it's guaranteed not to be a miss. — Lydia Harvey
Antiques stores peddle on the promise that shoppers can stumble onto the treasure they never knew they wanted on any dusty shelf or creaky hat rack. At Top Drawer Antiques, one of downtown Dade City's 13 shops stuffed with just such treasures, jewelry by Tena Smith is an absolutely lovely discovery. Each piece is one of a kind, a fusion of vintage jewelry pieces with found items. "Steampunk light" is how shop owner Kathleen Hotchkiss described it. Old watch parts are bedecked with heavy rhinestones for statement pieces. Burnished skeleton keys encrusted with gems and other sparkly bits offer a more dainty look. My favorite: a necklace using a filigree drawer pull made beautiful with yellow gold and aquamarine baubles ($38). The shop carries a museum's worth of collectibles, if you're in the market for — big inhale — clocks, coins, music boxes, vintage toys, linens, chandeliers, primitive furniture, military memorabilia, vinyl and much, much more. Then walk outside, wander to the next storefront and start the treasure hunt anew. — Molly Moorhead
If you have a trinket collector or thrifty hipster to find a gift for this holiday season, Sweet Memories Antiques is an ideal place to go present picking. The shop is located in a building that could pass for your grandmother's house and has a plethora of cozy rooms filled with Americana relics. Browsing through the treasures, you'll spot rows of vinyl records, Coca-Cola collectables, an endless array of 1900s home items, vintage comics, throwback decor and much more. With new-to-you inventory circulated through the nostalgic shrine each day, you might come across an Underwood typewriter, an old-school record player or the Little Golden Books from your childhood. If you love antiquing (like me), the coolest part of the shopping experience at Sweet Memories is that it is basically a gift to yourself. — Amber McDonald
Kids love toys, but parents appreciate gifts that keep on giving. That's why Catherine Kyres, owner of Silly Dilly, has cornered the market on both. Kyres has engineered her very own, two-part manners workshop called "Mouse Etiquette," which invites kiddos ages 6 to 9 to come to her wonderland of a children's store and learn all about the do's and don'ts of social graces in the most storybook way. Registering a kid for Mouse Etiquette ($125) gets them a personally mailed invitation (Enchanted Ticket) to The Enchanted Spot to learn how to charm a cat, and use the proper utensils on delectable in-workshop snacks. Sign up fees also include a beautiful Malieg Mouse plush toy that acts as the child's concierge through the training. Course finishers get a keepsake memento plaque with the 10 Social Graces of Etiquette to help them remember what they've learned. Parents and grandparents without babes in the workshop-age range can still purchase Maileg Mice for $20 and all other manner of keepsake and educational products from Silly Dilly. Throughout the holiday season, customers can get complimentary gift wrap and head downstairs to The Enchanted Spot, Kyres' fairytale-like class space, and wrap the gifts while snacking and making friends. — Robbyn Mitchell
This fashionable spot's bookstore and gift shop teem with great gift ideas. One standout is a little item that aims to bring back a touch of civilization to air travel: the Carry On Cocktail Kit ($24). Packaged in a pocket-size tin with retro graphics, each kit contains tools and ingredients for turning those teeny bottles of airline booze into a couple of craft cocktails. The Moscow Mule kit (its tin is copper-colored, natch) includes a silver shot glass and spoon, a linen napkin, a recipe and a bottle of spicy ginger syrup small enough to get through the security check. Also available: the Old Fashioned and the Champagne Cocktail. — Colette Bancroft
Pair this vegan leather peplum, $98, with skinny jeans or dress pants, boots or spiked heels from Liz Murtagh Boutique, where Western instincts marry urban posh. Don't ask why a shop you'd expect to find in New York's SoHo is sandwiched between bars and restaurants in Tampa's SoHo's foodie row. Just pinch yourself and admire the Coco Chanel-chic jacket shown with ripped jeans. Nab a leather cuff bracelet studded with giant turquoise. There's a home decor corner to explore for wine glasses, candles and throw pillows. The selection of boots would please Carrie Underwood and the array of belts and jewelry awe a Carrie Bradshaw. — Amy Scherzer
Who needs sparkly eyeshadow palettes and boxes of gourmet chocolates when you can have a Bereavement Box from a local shop that touts the mingling of death and art. The Bereavement Box from Dysfunctional Grace is a monthly subscription box or one-time buy ($30 to $90 depending upon size) with an assortment of goodies like taxidermy insects, vintage medical tools, crystals, old-timey photos and bone jewelry. Each box varies per person every month. The pictured box contains a jar of human teeth, a raccoon paw and chicken foot, a casket key, a brass Jesus crucifix and a small preserved bat all on a bed of human hair. I was sold when co-owner Daniel James said "jar of human teeth." Besides this "box of curiosities," James and co-owner Liz Furlong also sell religious collectibles, taxidermy animals, handmade voodoo dolls, procured prison shanks and glossy handmade wands. The two say their shop's collection shows "the curious sides of life and death."— Chelsea Tatham
If there's one thing Dunedin is known for, it's a rich Scottish history. Wander downtown any given weekend and you may hear the distinct sound of bagpipes wafting through the air. And the music just may put you in the mood to stop into the Celtic Shop, which carries gifts and imported items from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany. You can find your family's tartan, snag some sweets and traditional eats from overseas or acquire a witty onesie. But If your heritage or interests run more to the Irish, or if you just dig a cool hat, check out the shop's supply of Hanna Hats of Donegal, dapper tweed headgear assembled by hand in a factory in Donegal Town, Ireland. They're $55 and come in a variety of fetching patterns — when it comes to the patchwork version, no two are the same. — Stephanie Hayes
Give the gift of an experience. Or even better, go along! Here are some of the gift options for local shows and attractions:
• The Amalie Arena does not sell gift cards that can be redeemed for tickets, though it does have gift cards for the Lightning's team store, but that is solely for merchandise. If you want to buy tickets as a gift, check out the lineup at amaliearena.com or get gift cards at ticketmaster.com that can be used toward any Ticketmaster event.
• Ruth Eckerd Hall has gift certificates that you can buy in person or by phone. See details at rutheckerdhall.com.
• The Straz Center has gift cards are available online at strazcenter.org or you can by them by visiting the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office, or by calling (813) 229-STAR (7827). Gift cards may be redeemed for tickets, merchandise, the Straz Center memberships, as payment for Conservatory classes and at any Maestro's restaurants (but they are not valid at the bars or SteamHeat Cafe). There's a delivery fee of $9 for Priority Mail, but no fees if the gift cards are bought in person at the ticket sales office.
• American Stage has a custom page on its website for holiday gift packages and gift certificates at americanstage.org.
• The Glazer Children's Museum is offering a special membership sale, running through Dec. 19, where you can buy a membership and get a free one-year membership to give to a friend or family member. Basic Family Memberships $100, Premium Memberships $150, and Deluxe Memberships $300. See glazermuseum.org/become-a-member. All gift memberships provided must be redeemed by June 1 and are only valid until Dec. 19, 2016. — Sharon Kennedy Wynne