Rather than slink off to the mall and breathe in carbon monoxide as you wait for hours to find a parking space, not to mention end up giving boring gifts one more time, why not venture out to some of Tucson's unique, locally owned retail stores, where you can find all kinds of creative and one-of-a-kind gifts, some of which you can only find here in our little-big city? We have some fairly amazing places around town--who knew there was a local paint maker, or that you can find some of the best-quality Chinese teas available in the country right here in Tucson?
Shopping is supposed to be fun, especially when you're buying for your loved ones, so we've selected some of our favorite, interesting, only-in-Tucson shops to help you find original gifts for even the hardest to please.
Biblio owner Maggie Golston has been trying to do the extraordinary--run a successful, independent new-and-used bookstore--downtown for three years now, but unfortunately, the store will soon meet the fate of too many independent booksellers these days: Biblio will be closing its doors in January. Golston chalks it up to the increasing success of Internet bookstores that offer more of a selection than even the biggest, baddest "real" bookstore can. Small, comfortable, living-room-like stores like Biblio just don't stand a chance against the giant Amazons of the bookselling industry. All the more reason to venture in to the store to shop for your literary-minded friends and family. Biblio has the best poetry section in town, as well as graphic novels, used copies of hard-to-find literary theory, history books, kids' books, art books and novels, novels, novels. And bookmarks. Gift certificates won't be available, for obvious reasons, but Golston says there will probably be some screamin' deals as the closing date gets closer.
Located across the street from the Rincon Market, Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas is not only a sit-down tea restaurant; it also sells a rainbow of premium bulk teas from China. The tea comes straight from the farmers in China (in fact, the farmers are partial owners of the shop), so you know your money is well-spent. In 50-gram and 100-gram bags, tea is available with names like "Buddha's Eyebrow" and "Gunpowder," along with plain ol' "English Breakfast Style" black tea, white tea, yellow tea, jasmine-scented tea, puer tea and oolong. The teas range in price from around $5 to $22.95, depending on the amount and type of tea. Add a bag of Chinese rock sugar for $1, and some beautiful designer filter cups ($12.50 each) that come with a tea infuser and a lid to keep your tea warm. Seven Cups also sells a fascinating array of authentic Chinese tea sets and a collection of Chinese herbs. Don't be afraid to ask questions--owner Austin Hodge is an actual certified tea master.
Just follow the colorful signs placed along Euclid Avenue to The Myriad. Only open Saturdays and Sundays, Myriad is a collection of things owner Desiree has found at other resale shops around the country, in addition to lots and lots of art--paintings and 3-D pieces--most of which were created by Desiree herself. Myriad has strange toys, decorative objects and clothing--the most intriguing thing we found was a basket full of postcard-size stamps (a quarter each!) of famous artworks, such as Parmigianino's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror," from an early 20th-century textbook. Also intriguing were little boxes shaped like walnuts ($1 each), for the organized squirrel in your family. The whole place is so colorful, you can't help but leave happy, which is always a welcome feeling while holiday shopping--and you'll leave with some unique things that won't do much damage to your wallet.
Native Seeds/SEARCH is a nonprofit organization that aims to protect and re-establish native pants and crops to the desert Southwest. Their retail store on Fourth Avenue offers a smorgasbord of native plant-seed packets--yes, you can give the gift of plenty this season and feel good about where your money is going. Proceeds from the store help fund the organization's conservation programs. Pick out an assortment of seed packets (from $2.75), and your loved ones can grow their very own crops of amaranth, tomatillo and chile, to name a few. Native grass-seed bags are desert-friendly; throw in a package of Golden Mesquite Cookie Mix ($6.50) and some Desert Mint White Sage tea ($3) for variety. Pack it all in a Tarahumara Indian basket (a square one with a lid is $18), and you've made a Southwestern gift basket as diverse as the ecosystem we live in. Native Seeds/SEARCH also sells their own packaged gift baskets if you're really in a rush--the Healthy Foods Sampler ($40) includes a copy of the Healthy Traditions Cookbook and prickly pear butter. The Smoked Chiles gift box ($20) packs heat with recipes and a variety of chipotles.
Just off Fourth Avenue on Seventh Street is Borderlands Outlet Store, where you can find pretty much everything you can find on the streets of Nogales--and then some--for around the same price. Colorful Mexican pottery? Plenty. Those brightly painted Oaxacan hand-carved animals? They're 30 percent off until Dec. 29! Corona beer bottle salt-and-pepper shakers ($5.25 each), with a Corona bottle opener ($4.75) to match? Claro que si. In addition to a selection of unique stocking stuffers, like a little turtle whistle ($1.95) and gigantic paper lilies ($1.95 each--two or three would look so lovely placed in a stocking, don't you think?), Borderlands sells lots and lots and lots of furniture--we're talking everything from the dining room table to a shelf you hang on the wall. There are literally hundreds of stores that sell the kinds of things Borderlands does, but you'd have to go to Mexico to find prices this good.
Owned by local fashion designer C.J. Volk, Citron offers a large pallet of paints that are special in quality and design. Made in the back of the store, the paints use up to 15 different pigments for each color, and they never use black or gray to darken anything. The result is warm colors that all work together. The colors all have intriguing names, some of which reflect a local flavor--"Monsoon" is just that color of blue-gray that the sky turns right before a storm, and "Catalinas" is exactly the color of the mountains on a clear, summer day. Small paint pots are $3 each, and you can get a dozen for $25--the perfect gift for the artist or DIY interior decorator in your family who can't ever stop watching Trading Spaces. Quarts of paint come in handy glass jars for $20, and gallons of paint range from $48-$54, depending on the finish. You can find all sorts of other interesting interior-design pieces throughout the store, like furniture, candles, vases and bowls made out of magazine pages.
Don't worry if you don't know much about wine (except that your cousin Fredrick drinks it in place of water)--the staff at 58 Degrees can suggest the perfect bottle, even one that is actually in your price range. The store also sells all kinds of wine-drinking accessories, including bottle openers and wine-friendly snacks, and they even offer wine storage, if you go for a particularly special bottle that you want to keep at 58 degrees (we mean the actual temperature, which is the proper temperature to store red wine, hence the name of the store). You can even shop for your beer-guzzling uncle here; one wall is filled with refrigerators housing the largest selection of gourmet beers we've seen in Tucson. Create your own six-pack with beers from around the world, or just pick the ones with pretty labels--and if your beer-guzzling uncle doesn't like a particular bottle, he can go bug Fredrick for a glass of the delicious malbec, or perhaps a smooth shiraz, you bought him.
Located on the corner of Prince and Campbell Avenue, Razzle Dazzle is in an unlikely spot for an antique and vintage store of its caliber--it'd be more at home on Fourth Avenue, perhaps, or nestled among the more interesting antique stores on Grant Road. Walk inside Razzle Dazzle, and you'll understand the name--oodles of antique jewelry greet you, as well as an impressive selection of vintage dresses, hats and jackets. Reasonably priced antique items from 1960 and before are placed throughout--it feels more like you're wandering through someone's home than an antique store. We were especially enthralled with a small tray adorned with a fairy ($100), but for the more practical person on your list, there were several Fiestaware pieces around the $15 range. Downstairs you can find furniture and other household items, and if you can't find what you're looking for, the staff is more than willing to pull the most beautiful dress from the rack that your great Aunt Maude would just adore.
On a recent visit to Victoria's Music Boxes, owner Becky Berry was immediately helpful and excited to show off some of her more interesting pieces in the store--she had clocks play music, made little people inside boxes dance and filled the small store in the Casas Adobes Plaza with chimes and twinkles. There are music boxes that you can actually put things in--a small blue one with flowers played "You Are My Sunshine" ($86.40)--and wooden Christmas-themed boxes with trains that run around a track and ice skaters that twirl on an idyllic frozen lake when you open the lid (a small one is $16.25). Victoria's has several holiday items, like a Christmas tree that you can actually put together ($25), and little boxes that look like gift bags and can be used as ornaments ($18). A stained-glass style snowball music box had a warm-looking house inside and played "The Lord's Prayer" ($45). Fake snow is really the best we can do around here, and somehow, if it's inside a music box, it doesn't seem so far away after all.
Milagro means "miracle"; milagros are charms, usually in the shape of a body part or an animal, fruit or vegetable, that are worn, or given to a saint in thanks or to ask for help with a particular need. Casa de los Milagros sells milagros like this, of course, but they also sell all kinds of other charms, decorations and sacred items. A little handmade Frida Kahlo shrine, with a Corona bottle and a little mug inside ($22.50), was next to some wonderful Christmas ornaments: hand-painted pottery bells from the Rio Balsas region of Mexico ($21) and cats and dogs dressed in holiday clothes ($15). Colorfully painted wooden dreidels ($8) were near a wall tapestry that read "Shabbat Shalom" in Hebrew ($115), and even if you don't celebrate Christmas, the smell of a Christmas tree is undeniably good--$10 buys you a pine-scented candle in a octagonal jar. The walls of Casa de los Milagros, in fact, are covered, floor-to-ceiling, with paintings, decorated crosses and tapestries--miracles and charms are, indeed, everywhere.
Choc-A-Lot's gourmet chocolates are so good, it's hard to drive by the store without stopping. Their large selection of dark, milk and even sugar-free and low-carb chocolates are $20 a pound, and you can mix and match to create individualized gift boxes. For the holidays, Choc-A-Lot makes all kinds of molded goodies, like Santas, poinsettias and reindeer--these range in price from $2-$100, according to how much chocolate is in them. The dark chocolate-covered Bavarian pretzels are a perfect combination of sweet and salty, and the chocolate-covered cranberries are sweet and tart. If you're really in a rush for gifts, chocolates are the way to go--except, perhaps for the rare person who doesn't like chocolate. They may still like these chocolates, though--especially if they're shaped like a cute reindeer.
Culinary Concepts, in Plaza Palomino, offers everything the burgeoning chef needs to cook up a frenzy in the comfort of his or her own home. Cookbooks and kitchen towels join gadgets you never knew you needed--like a knork, which works like a fork and a knife combined ($8.15), or a cutting board made out of a revolutionary bacteria-resistant, dishwasher-safe composite material ($41). The store also sells platters and bowls designed by local artist Chris Kennedy-Bubany. The Chile Plate and Bowl ($38 each) scream Arizona--send one to your snowed-in Indiana relatives. Culinary Concepts is actually first and foremost a cooking school--they offer one-time workshops, six-week certification courses, classes for kids and special demonstrations (prices vary). You can find a whole listing of courses online. Give your Aunt Ida, whose chicken is the consistency of shoe leather, a ticket to a workshop in rotisserie chicken ($50), and you'll never have to tire out your jaw chewing again.
Forget the big chain pet stores--Desert Pet Center has everything you need to give your dog, cat, bird, reptile or fish a happy holiday. Really, all your pets ask of you is a little love, good food, shelter and exercise, and while Desert Pet Center's sprawling store is no big box, they've got ya covered, with all kinds of treats, toys and other pet-related things that you can put into a paw-shaped stocking ($7.99). Birds squawk hello when you enter--they'll even whistle at you if they're feeling frisky, and in the fish room, you'll find aquariums as big as a wall, and more fish than you ever thought possible in the desert. There are even fish about as big as a normal fish bowl. The store also sells pure-bred puppies, if you're in the market for a pug or a silky terrier for $1,000. A massive sale is slated for Dec. 10, with prizes and all kinds of crazy deals.
Patty Cakes is the place to go to find the perfect gift for the fashionable baby or toddler you know. Owner Lisa Jacome fills her store with things like baby-sized Che Guevara T-shirts ($26.50), onesies that say "Someday I'll be a Rock Star" ($28), and pants that say "Angel" on the butt. There are Diaper Dude bags ($100) and Michael Jordan diaper bags made out of basketballs ($150) for the modern father. Patty Cakes also offers personalization services--monogram a beanie, super-soft Giraffe blanket ($70) or diaper cover for $6, or you can even get a copy of an ultrasound image mounted on canvas for $95; Jacome says it's a great way to tell Mom and Dad they're going to be grandparents soon.
What would the holiday season be without lots and lots of toys? Kid's Center has games, puzzles, stuffed animals, marbles, music, movies, craft kits, dolls, science toys, sport toys, girly-girl toys, boy toys, baby toys--look around, and you will find it. A snail puppet ($18.95) together with a scallop puppet ($17.95) would make a thrilling puppet show about what it's like to live in a shell, and a purse made entirely out of zippers ($21) is by far the coolest way to carry around one's belongings. There are even educational toys here--synonym Magnetic Poetry ($14.95) would be perfect for little Lisa, who is having trouble with reading, and the book selection is organized by subject: They have biographies, nonfiction, books about the alphabet and interactive books aplenty. There are even things here for adults who secretly love toys: Apples to Apples is a great all-ages party game ($29.95), and there's a whole wall of puzzles to choose from.
Broadway Village is Tucson's oldest outdoor shopping center, and tucked in the southwest corner is the recently expanded Aroma Tree. You can smell the fragrances of Aroma Tree's products, made with 100 percent essential oils, from the parking lot; the soaps, lotions, hair products and bath salts smell so good, you'll want to take a bite out of them. Their handmade olive oil-based soaps are colorful and come in fragrances like lemongrass, fire (cinnamon), vanilla and coffee, rosemary and dill, lavender, and pink grapefruit--get a bar for $8, or a three-pack of smaller bars for $7.50. Massage creams come in four different blends, as well as unscented, and are creamy and luxurious ($14.50); the Bamboo body scrub ($18) is scented with lemongrass, and is made from bamboo and carrot oil. A bottle of orange and clove body lotion is $17.50, and a stick of orange and ginger lip moisturizer is $3.40. Lavender bundles are $15 and $20, and you can even pick up a copy of the Lavender Cookbook for $16.95. The stars of the show, though, are the essential oils--with 21 different scents, you're sure to find something that will entice even the pickiest nose.
Rainbow Guitars has, in our humble opinion, the best selection of musical instruments and accessories in town. Electric and acoustic guitars and basses, drums, keyboards, amps, instrument cables, effects pedals, music books, percussion instruments shaped like fruits and vegetables--it's all here. Since Rainbow buys and sells used instruments, it's easy to find unique and affordable amps and instruments--like a very cute mini Vox speaker and head for $269. The Vzek effects pedals--each one is handpainted--are the most fun you'll ever have turning knobs; the Fuzz Factory (a screen-printed one will run you $189) starts screaming even before you start playing your guitar. It's beyond wicked. Staffed by local musicians who know a good instrument when they play one, you'll have no problem setting up a just-learning musician or finding a cool new gadget for the seasoned musician on your list.
Since Tucson is one of the best places to view the night sky, it's no wonder we have a place like Starizona, where you can find telescopes and everything the professional and amateur astronomer needs, like a glow-in-the dark NASA T-shirt ($17.95), a 2006 Moon Calendar ($4.99) and books galore about stargazing and astronomy. Getting set up to stargaze is cheaper than you think, said Dean Koening as he adjusted a telescope; Starizona sells a selection of Dobsonian telescopes ("Dobsonian" comes from a guy named Dobson who invented the rocker box on which telescopes sit) that have a large diameter to allow more light to enter the scope. A Celestron Starhopper will run you about $249. For a little planetary viewing in the comfort of your home, there's a solar system mobile ($34.95), but if you're into the real thing, you can bring the family out to Starizona Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights to watch the night sky through some of the store's own telescopes.
Your cousin Tommy just turned 14, and suddenly he wants everybody to call him Razor; he doesn't leave the house unless he's draped in black, and his eyes are covered in red eyeliner like the guys in My Chemical Romance. Somehow, that chemistry set you were thinking he'd be into no longer seems appropriate. And then there's your hippie uncle who shuns consumer culture. There is a solution, and you'll score cool points while you're at it: They want music. Good music. And all the accessories that go with that lifestyle, like incense, posters and stickers. CD City recently expanded their inventory to include all kinds of music-related paraphernalia, like stretchy posters depicting buxom nurses, that you can hang on the ceiling ($13.99), and the largest selection of classic-rock T-shirts anywhere in town. While you're picking up a Slipknot record for Tommy, you can throw in a tie-dyed Jimi Hendrix shirt ($25.99) for your uncle. And, of course, there's the music: CD City has rock/pop, metal, techno/ambient, R&B/funk/soul, country/bluegrass, classical, jazz, reggae, world and local music sections, which include used and new CDs, and for fun, there's always the two-for-$5 area in the back.