Although the powers that be encourage us to get out and spend more, many of us don't exactly have that option--so we here at the Weekly are offering those on a tight budget some better ideas.
We're applying the "reuse, reduce, recycle" catchphrase to our gift-buying guide. Reuse and recycle: Plenty of used items can make incredible gifts; after all, delightful things like collectable antiques and vintage books aren't new. If money's tight, you can reduce the amount of money you spend (we're drawing the line at $30 or less) on each gift without compromising uniqueness or quality.
And for those of you who are heirs to oil fortunes or something, we've included some exceptional gifts that are worth their higher price tags.
In any case: All of the stores below are independent, and many of them feature locally made items, so you can be confident that your money is staying right here in Southern Arizona, where it belongs.
Stores with fabulous, "seasoned" gifts
For a little more than a year now, the Cat Mountain Emporium--a consignment shop located in Cat Mountain Station, near the entrance to Tucson Mountain Park--has been filling its massive shop wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with cool, classy and even locally made items.
You'll find many of the same treasures here that you'd find at a dreary antique store, at the same affordable prices--but without the bad lighting and the stench of neglect. On a recent visit, we saw a set of country-style porcelain measuring cups with a sweet little swan on them for $7. Crystal? How about a sugar/creamer set with etched daisies for $60? Vintage election paraphernalia? You know you want to commemorate the end of 20th-century Republican control with the ironic purchase of an Ike-and-Nixon button for a measly $15. Antique clocks? An old hotel clock with strange pins sticking out of it is $22.
Add to all of this Native American jewelry, Navajo rugs, artistic renditions of ghost dancers by local artist Gerald Shoff (most were $175), an actual turntable--the kind with a crank--for $190, and a slot machine ($285), and you have a slightly clearer picture of the selection at Cat Mountain Emporium.
Visit the station Sunday, Dec. 7, for an arts and crafts fair from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., which will feature local artists selling original, handmade artwork.
Pollywogs owner Natalie Orozco has been buying and selling used children's items at her Grant Road store for about three years now, and she's developed a keen eye for things that both parents and kids will love. Smack in the center of the store is a plastic indoor/outdoor playground with slides for a measly $100; scattered around the store are clothes, toys, videos and various other kid-related items--priced at about half of what they'd cost new.
Orozco even pointed out that she has plenty of new items--unused gifts that couldn't be returned, or duplicates of things people already own that they sold to her, with tags and/or packaging still in place. Seated on a chair in one corner, we saw such a find: a brand-new vintage-style Bears From the Past teddy bear, tag still on, for $4.50--retail, he'd be closer to $20. Near the bear was a practically brand-new orange-and-black car seat/infant carrier for $50, and by the door, a cute little grasshopper with wheels ($12.50) sat waiting for a new owner to ride him away.
The clothes racks offered plenty of finds, too: a size 4T girls' jacket looked exceptionally fashionable and warm, for only $15; a set of boys' Aladdin pajamas looked perfectly comfy, for $5.
Plus, added Orozco, all of the clothes will be 25 percent off through the holidays.
What makes the Book Stop wonderful is the myriad sections: literature, popular fiction, books about books, books about writing, poetry, natural history, the desert, cooking, Arizona history, humor, art and music books, and--last but not least--a children's section in the back, where you'll find everything from Harry Potter to The Bobbsey Twins.
Used books are special things indeed: They can offer glimpses into the past and put the present into perspective. In the Arizona history section, we found old UA yearbooks, from as far back as 1943 and 1937 ($30 and $45, respectively). Have your loved ones read up on another failed Arizona presidential hopeful in Dean Smith's The Goldwaters of Arizona ($10), or maybe someone you know would appreciate a McGuffey's Third Reader from 1920 ($10).
The 40-volume set of The Yale Shakespeare for only $85 would be an impressive gesture, or how about decorative editions of classic texts in boxes, like a gold-embossed edition of Le Morte d'Arthur, for $25?
Co-owner Claire Fellows mentioned that she might have live music in the store over the holidays, but nothing is set in stone. Music aside, browsing the stacks at the Book Stop is already peaceful and stress-relieving: Books survive, and even seemingly forgotten ones can come back to life if they fall into the right hands.
Stores with fabulous gifts less than $30
CRIZMAC's bright-yellow building on Alvernon Way has often intrigued us--what exactly can one find in an "art and cultural marketplace?"
The answer: a dazzling assortment of African masks and drums, Mexican folk art, culturally focused children's books and other educational materials designed to broaden one's view of the world.
Owner Stevie Mack stocks her store and accompanying catalogue with the kinds of things that educators and art departments need in order to teach outside the box--and offers those things at prices even teachers can afford.
In the children's books section, we found books about all kinds of different countries, as well as educational DVDs. Closer to the cash register were bright, beaded giraffe key chains ($8.50) and their larger stand-alone cousins ($9.50). In the Creativity Area, we found the Innovative Whack Pack ($16)--a set of cards boasting 60 creative strategies--and a variety of painting, papermaking and knitting kits for all ages ($10 to $20).
There are even a few didgeridoos hanging out in a corner ($49), waiting for some lost Australian soul to pick them up and take them home. Despite all of this good stuff, Mack assured us that the store only carries half of what's in the catalog.
The weekend of Dec. 5 is an ideal time to stop by CRIZMAC to get some holiday shopping out of the way: The store will be having a holiday show, and 10 percent of proceeds will go to the Community Food Bank.
Stepping into Flavorbank Spice Market is sort of like stepping into a spice shrine. Displays of exotic peppercorns, whole spices and salts are scattered artistically around the store, and most of the time, you're immediately greeted by owner and local culinary personality Jennifer English, who will inundate you with her incredible knowledge of spices.
With cash flows tightening, many people are cutting back on going out to eat, English pointed out. But, she added, people can give the gift of restaurant-quality flavor by providing good seasonings.
With this in mind, Flavorbank has decorative salt cellars prewrapped with a tube of one of the company's many varieties of salt for only $10. For the more adventurous salt-lover who likes to work for their flavor, a hefty rock of Himalayan pink salt might be just the thing ($30).
If someone you know is still without a good pepper-grinder (for shame!), Flavorbank has an unbeatable deal: Purchase a Peugeot pepper mill (starting at around $19), and English will fill it with peppercorns. Sign up for a Peppercorn Club Card, and she'll refill your mill as long as you own it.
Otherwise, you can get whole or dried spices, which range from about $5 to $11 per large tube. (Smaller, half-size tubes are also available.) Currently, Flavorbank's holiday special is six spices for $30, but other holiday-themed gifts include cookbooks, teas and gift baskets.
Tucson's Fleet Feet is locally owned and operated by Pete and Jeanne Snell, who have built their store into a great place to get running gear; they've even made it into the hub of a thriving running community.
Fleet Feet's staff are well-trained in all things running-gear related; if you know someone who loves running or is interested in trying it out, the staff will help you find all the gear your loved one will ever need. Getting in shape is, after all, priceless. Watches average around $60, and cool machine-washable visors in an assortment of colors will keep the desert sun away ($16.99). Your jogging grandma will look hip running around the track in a pink SkirtSports-brand running skirt ($64), and Fleet Feet carries a line of HeatGear technical shirts that are designed to keep runners cool in hot weather ($24.99 for a women's black long-sleeve).
Running socks are about the only socks that are exciting to get as a gift, especially when they're the South African brand Balga--some are even packaged with a matching bracelet for $10.95.
Fleet Feet also offers a variety of excellent training programs, which could make great gifts as well; check their Web site for upcoming classes.
Here's what's different about Mudpies and Pigtails, a virtually brand-new children's boutique: Almost everything in the store is handmade. Many things are handmade by owner Monique Green herself, like cute and clever hair bows and barrettes, tutus ($20-$25) and decorative, individualized bow holders ($20) that hang on a wall. What she didn't make herself, other like-minded seamstresses and designers have handcrafted. Regardless, everything in Mudpies and Pigtails is adorable and lovingly made.
The wall of hair accessories alone is impressive: bows, clips, barrettes, ribbons in all patterns and colors, ladybugs made out of ribbon ($3.50), princesses made out of ribbon ($6.50), ribbons made out of ribbon ... it's a little girl's dream come true.
For the boys, Green has onesies with ties sewn on ($18), a blanket depicting a sock monkey on a pogo stick ($45.99) and little monster finger puppets made out of felt ($1.50).
For the new mom-to-be on your list, Green can custom-build for you a "diaper cake," which is basically a gift basket made out of diapers and baby accessories that looks strangely like a cake (around $55, depending on the items).
Everything can be custom-made, added Green, and made to match: If you like the ladybug hair clip, Green can probably set you up with almost a whole wardrobe of all things ladybug--and you can rest assured that your little one will look as unique as you know she is.
The Pastiche Wine Shop developed out of pure necessity.
"It's wine storage for the restaurant that got a little out of hand," explained wine store manager Liz Hagan.
The shop's inventory is self-explanatory: It offers wine, cheese and chocolate. The shop carries more than 600 different wines from all over the world--and management works hard to make sure it is offering good wine at reasonable prices, with plenty falling below the $25 mark.
Since the shop is small, Hagan said, they can buy small batches from small vineyards, so the selection is always changing. The same goes for the cheese--which means you're likely to find something at the Pastiche Wine Shop that you probably won't find anywhere else. Hagan suggested that prospective gift-buyers check out the monthly online newsletter to get a sense of what's in stock before they visit--but being surprised is always fun, too.
When we visited the shop, Hagan suggested a syrah by Cochise County vineyard Keeling Schaefer ($16.99), which won a Wall Street Journal wine-section contest that pitted wines from each presidential candidate's state against each other. (At least we're contributing something of quality to the country.) Pair that with a container of Wine Lover's chocolate, formulated to complement a syrah ($5.99), and you've got not only the perfect gift, but a damn good evening.
Don't be discouraged by the unmarked building you'll find at 1010 N. Fifth Ave.; just walk into the courtyard, and head for the door on your left. Ask around, and someone will lead you into the Sage Ceramic Gallery, where you'll find lots and lots of glazed ceramic lizards, mushrooms, turtles, dragonflies and chiles, all painted by adults with developmental disabilities.
Marketing manager Sharon Walker said that the shop, which is run by the Blake Foundation, has on average 22 to 24 adults working there, designing, decorating and firing their handiwork. Depending on when you stop by, you might even get to see the artists in action. All proceeds go back into the foundation, and prices range from $2.50 for a small sea star all the way up to $100 for a vase--but the little clay monkeys ($10) are by far the cutest thing in the shop: each one is unique, and proceeds from these little guys benefit the Jane Goodall Institute.
This recent addition to the Park/University shopping area is a market, with food and wine and snacks and coffee, but it's also a fantastic gift shop, full of hip and affordable items for just about everyone on your list. Managing partner Rebecca Wilson buys unique things in small quantities, and looks for "green" products from eco-friendly and sustainable companies.
Wilko's cool T-shirt collection includes one that features a cow wearing a gas mask and the words "Factory Farming Stinks" ($18); nearby, you'll find fancy shower caps with polka dots or orange daisies ($18). For the hairy man in your life, pick up a bottle of Jack Black's Beard Lube ($10), or maybe a dry-erase Report Card for Grown-ups ($9), where you can rate how talented he is at partying, sex or work-avoidance. A mere $21 will get you a Bitch Kit, with notepads and a booklet of "Quotes for Bitches." If it's bike stuff your gift list calls for, Wilko delivers: A frog-shaped bike light comes in a variety of colors for $12.99, or choose from a selection of locks and pick up an "I Love My Bike" bell for $4.99.
Wilko is the main place in Tucson to find Storm watches, which are made in the United Kingdom ($100 to $220), but if those are a little too fancy for your cousin Leo, pick him up an orange $7 Digit Band, made out of rubber.
And finally, we have a suggestion for that person on your list who just doesn't want stuff: Beer-pong balls with the Wilko insignia ($1.75 each), along with a good-quality six-pack.