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2008 Gift Guide

Gift Global, Shop Local

In today’s tough economic times, shop pers are striving to make their holiday dollars count. This holiday season, Metroland has teamed with Capital District Local First to create the Buy Local Holiday Pledge, challenging readers to spend at least $100 of their gift-giving budgets at local retailers. Buying local not only can help bolster the regional economy, it can help you make great use of even the most modest holiday budget, with gifts that are personal, distinctive, even one-of-a-kind.

Neighborhood retailers provide local sources for typical and not-so-typical holiday gifts, from home theaters to handknits. So, here is a sneak peek into the charming storefronts of some area shops, and a round-up of Metroland’s favorite shopping districts in the Capital Region.

In search of electronics? Hippo’s can help you customize your home entertainment needs, while Stuyvesant Photo has all the equipment and extras a budding or professional photographer could Christmas wish for. A number of area book stores continue to hold their own against the megachains—the Book House, Market Block Books, Open Door, and the Book Loft, to name a few—largely due to their eclectic selections, and their unparalleled assistance in helping you find that perfect dinosaur picture book or collection of artists’ love letters. For the kids on your list, The Toy Maker, Persnickety and G. Willikers are as chock-a-block as Santa’s Workshop with unique and creative toys. And for the child at heart, you can find a wider selection of comics, toys, t-shirts, and fanboy paraphernalia at your neighborhood comic shop than at any chain.

For the fashionista, local boutiques offer a stylish and unique selection; Mark Thomas Men’s Apparel, Some Girls Boutique, Circles and Main Street are perennial Metroland favorites. And when it comes to accessorizing that sassy new sheath, local jewelers offer everything from diamond brooches to plastic bangles. Fine local jewelers like Frank Adams and Hummingbird Designs will even help you create a custom treasure for your sweetheart. Elissa Halloran Designs is an area staple for funky and elegant original jewelry, and her eclectic Lark Street shop abounds with artsy treasures that highlight what’s best about shopping local—the prospect of discovering the perfect, one-of-a-kind gift that you truly couldn’t find anywhere else.

Local shops from Broadway to the Berkshires offer that same opportunity, and a single, thoughtful gift will count more than 20 pairs of Isotoners. Do you remember gazing into your grandmother’s long-lost tortoiseshell hand mirror as a child? Does your dad still wax nostalgic for the old soda fountain? Hunt through the Capital Region’s many antique stores and you’re likely to uncover a sentimental gem: a familiar mirror, a vintage milkshake maker, a well-worn rocking chair for an expectant mother, or an antique frame for a new family photo. There are wonderful antique stores tucked throughout Albany, Saratoga and the Berkshires. On the edge of nowhere, the Coxackie Antique Center brings more than 100 antique dealers together under one roof. And Troy’s antique district is so renowned it was recently featured on Oprah. Take a day to wander through Bournebrook Antique Center, Living Room, the Antiques Warehouse, and Troy’s many other repositories for all things artfully aged. It will provide endless gift-giving possibilities, and a fun afternoon to boot.

Or, take one-of-a-kind gift giving in a more contemporary direction by buying handmade. A handful of retailers have found their niche with handcrafted wares, and holiday fairs help make finding that singular gift easy and festive. The Crafter’s Gallery of Saratoga is a local favorite with the artistic set, offering an array of handmade gifts that range from metalwork to pottery. Relative newcomer The Paper Sparrow celebrates its first holiday season in Troy this year, and the shop is already a huge hit, brimming with handcrafted wonders—squeezable toys, bold handbags, baby clothes, jewelry, paintings, pottery and more.

Also new this year, Albany’s Grand Street Community Arts is presenting the giveHANDMADE! Craftstravaganza for one last weekend at Albany’s Winter WonderLark celebration this Saturday and Sunday. The annual Christmas craft fair at the Shaker Heritage site runs through December 20, and the Arts Center of the Capital Region has expanded their shop for the holidays. Or, as another alternative for the art lover on your list, visit the gift shops of your local museums—The Albany Institute of History and Art, Mass MoCA, the Berkshire Museum, even your city’s historic society. Not only will you find creative gift selections, your purchase will help your favorite museum to thrive.

Expecting holiday guests from out of town who might not want to tote that leaded crystal vase all the way back to California? Give them a gift sure to make their visit even more enchanting: tickets to a holiday show at Proctor’s, the Palace, the Egg, or any of the region’s other performance venues. Have friends you just don’t see quite often enough? Take them out to the theater after the holidays quiet down. And what new parents in dire need of a quiet date wouldn’t love a pair of movie tickets to the Spectrum and a gift certificate for coffee and cake at the Ulitmate Cafe next door?

While you may have had your fill of mail-order fruit baskets, thoughtfully prepared gift baskets can make wonderful presents. For the epicurean, look for herbs and spices, teas, sauces, sweets and cheeses at your local year-round farmers’ market or orchard. At the Cohoes Wine Seller, you can find the perfect New York State wine to pair with those handmade chocolates. For the artist on your list, bundle up a selection of paints, palettes and papers from Arlene’s Art Supply or Souve Faire. And Menges & Curtis Apothecary in Saratoga, one of the nation’s oldest pharmacies, offers their own line of skin care and spa products.

Tuck that tortoiseshell mirror between bath salts and foot balm, or nestle those locally-grown herbs into the pockets of a vintage apron, and your holiday gift-giving will be sure to delight.

—Kathryn Geurin

Small-Box Sanctuaries

Shopping districts where local independent stores thrive


Downtown Albany

Lark Street has changed quite a bit over the years, but the charm and uniqueness of Albany’s historic Center Square neighborhood remains. And it’s at its best at Christmastime—complete with lights twinkling in the trees and wreaths decking the lampposts.

Elissa Halloran Designs, brimming with handcrafted jewelry, art, and vintage treasures, is a perennial favorite for the eclectic gift seeker. Romeo’s offers everything from art lamps and fine boutique candles to pride magnets and candy g-strings. For the feisty little pin-up girl on your list, you can find sassy, sexy body jewelry at Lark Vegas. Up the beribboned steps of Cheeky Tiki Monkey, you’ll find yourself in a haven of kitsch, nostalgia and novelty. For the art lover, Upstate Artists Guild gallery offers original work by local artists—or for do-it-yourselfers, Central Art Supply has all the provisions for putting those visions of sugarplums on canvas. Flamingo Antiques, Hodge Podge Books, Downtube Bike Shop, coffee, flowers, pastries, wine and water pipes, the Center Square strip has it all.

And if you’re willing to head just a few turns off the beaten path, weekends At the Warehouse on Learned Street enliven the city’s industrial district with an array of vendors. Dig for treasure in Silver Fox architectural salvage; peruse the jewelry, art, pottery, and vintage aprons crafted by Capital Region artisans. Or create a gift basket of local delights. Cheeses, honeys, pickles, herbs, wines, mustards, teas and sweets are all abundant At the Warehouse.

Downtown Saratoga Springs

The downtown Saratoga shopping district (Broadway and its cross streets) is one of those truly Rockwellian snow globes that might achieve an even greater level of festivity if only visitors still parked their sleighs at the curbside. Dotted with cafes and restaurants, the area not only provides the shopper with wide and eccentric gift options, but, in stark opposition to the mall, it makes the process as enjoyable as the spoils.

True to Saratoga’s international reputation as an equestrian hub, designer boutiques such as Clothes Horse and Saratoga Saddlery will get racegoers looking their best. Along with Lifestyles, Aggies, Violet’s, Rockabella, Frivolous Gal and Lucia, the area is a veritable fashion district. This distinction would not be complete, though, without mention of local jewelers Gemset of Saratoga and Silverado Jewelry Gallery. For the industrious accessorizer, there’s Saratoga Beads, and Saratoga Needle Arts for the wool-savvy.

Great vintage shops are hard to come by, but Saratoga has three in Recycling Red Dresses, Reruns (which borders on antiquity), and Last Vestige, which is a mandatory stop for vinyl collectors as well. On the topic of second-hand wonders, Downstreet Antiques will bring back memories, and Lyrical Ballad (used and antiquarian books) will give you something to curl up with.

That earlier reference to Norman Rockwell gets skewed in all the right ways for the more exotic shopper. A good chunk of the globe is covered between Saratoga Turkish Bazaar, Celtic Treasures, Hamada Egyptian Bazaar, Kusikay (Peruvian art), and Pangea (specializing in Asian gifts).

For specialty items, there’s Saratoga Guitar, the classic toy store G. Willikers, Blue Sky Bicycles, Dawgdom designer dog store, Soave Faire gifts, and Putnam Wine/Market for all things gourmet.

Downtown Schenectady

Downtown Schenectady looks gorgeous this winter with its theater district in full swing. Holiday shoppers looking for an outdoors winter stroll, punctuated by a cup of something warm, some crepes, and a good bookstore should start their trip at Proctors Theatre on State Street. Begin your holiday shopping in Proctors Arcade with a warm drink at the Muddy Cup, pick up some sheet music at Schenectady VanCurler Music. Cross the sidewalk over to Jay Street and pay a visit to the Open Door Bookstore. While Proctors continually offers an impressive lineup of shows, the Open Door Bookstore continually has worthwhile readings and signings by local and national authors that draw literary types from around the area. After picking up a book or two, stop by Ambition for a snack and perhaps one of their emboldening martinis. Finish up with a treat at Chez Daisie. Just a block over you can pick up gifts for those interested in home beatification at Experience and Creative Design. Finish your trip back at Proctors and pick up tickets to stuff the stocking with or perhaps take a break from shopping to see a show yourself.

Downtown Troy

There is a reason why Troy’s yearly celebration of its Victorian heritage is done in a stroll. It’s what you hear uttered by loyal Trojans with an awe-tinged sense of hometown pride, that divine quality that separates their city from so many other Northeastern treasures: walkability. Troy’s downtown is so quaint, so charming, such an architectural delight, and so walkable. When people fall under the spell of Troy’s central shopping and dining district, they fall hard.

If you don’t happen to watch the Oprah Winfrey Show, we have some news for you: A top-rate antiques district has steadily grown among the cool, quirky shops that fill many of Troy’s historic storefronts. Now, thanks to the mighty “O” herself, the entire country knows: A new contender in the world of destination antique districts is nestled in the promising postindustrial, Hudson River city just outside of New York’s capital.

Shopping for the hard-to-find antique, or for the unique one-of-a-kind gift is easy, and fun in Troy. Along with its now-famous antique shops, downtown offers arts and crafts boutiques, galleries, bookstores, clothing stores, even a cobbler to fix the holes you will inevitably get in the soles of your shoes. After browsing for new or used books, antique or artisan wares, there are top-notch restaurants for any appetite in Troy to be discovered and savored. Park your car, and take a stroll. It’s all in walking distance.

Stuyvesant Plaza

Upscale: There, we’ve said it. Stuy vesant Plaza, located where Fuller Road meets Route 20, offers an upscale, lifestyle-enhancing shopping experience. And unlike in the malls, many of its stores are locally owned: Hippo’s, the place to go for home theater; Edleez Tobacco; The Book House and the Little Book House, which, along with the Toy Maker, is the place to shop for kids; Jean Paul Salon; Circles, for the latest women’s fashions; and more. There are places to grab a bite or enjoy fine dining. There are card stores, gift shops, a pharmacy, a wine store, and a United States Post Office. And wherever you park, it’s a nice walk ’round the plaza, from one end to the other.

Downtown Chatham

“Downtown” in Chatham not too long ago meant Main Street, but cross the railway tracks and you’ll now find a thriving and steadily expanding bunch of stores and restaurants extending up Route 295. Chatham is a holiday shopper’s delight. Full of the smells of local bakeries, candy shops and restaurants like Our Daily Bread, Applewood Barbeque and Chocolate Moose, Chatham is an ideal small-town shopping experience.

For the happily literate, Chatham offers three worthwhile bookstores in Chatham Books, Berkshire Books and Dodi’s Books and Music. For those stylish folk in your gift giving universe, Chatham offers Re-Wraps, Banner Clothing and Browns. For those in your life who are talented enough to create their own clothes, the Warm Ewe offers a wealth of knitting supplies and has the Baby Pattern of the Month Club.

Chatham also has a vibrant arts district with enough shops to ensure you can find the appropriate art work for the art lover in your life at shops and galleries like the Handcrafters, Groovi, and the Joyce Goldstein Gallery. For the kids and young at heart there is Chatham Main Street Toys.

Chatham is so small that many Capital Region shoppers probably don’t know the treasures tucked away there. But if thought of holiday madness at the malls isn’t doing it for you, Chatham is pretty much the antithesis.

Great Barrington, Mass.

Over in the Berkshires, the concept of local, sustainable economies gained traction before it did on the New York side of the border. And while Great Barrington’s Main Street and Railroad Avenue at first glance might look like a not-so-local shopping getaway for Manhattanites, there is plenty going on in this bustling little commercial district for the non-second-home set. Although the best new-book store is up the road at K-Mart Plaza, there’s a great used bookstore in town, as well as several quality clothing options (the women we know go gaga over the fashions at Main Street), two excellent toy stores, a wonderful kitchen store, and Tune Street, where you can buy CDs, DVDs and the electronic equipment to play them on. Take a break at one of the upscale eatieres or squeeze in alongside the locals at the ever-popular Martin’s—then finish off with coffee or the delicious ice cream at SoCo. Whatever trendiness you might feel in Great Barrington is nicely balanced by its old-fashioned small-town charm.

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