Lucky for you, at least 90 percent of Tucsonans are in the same boat. After all, shopping can be hard! That's why this GASP! gift guide exists.
While we at the Weekly don't claim to be geniuses, we do have all the knowledge to help you shop for all the stuff you need so late this holiday season. Plus, each of the following stores is independent, so their staff can add even more brainpower to your enterprise--in this day and age, it takes intelligence to keep an independent business alive and successful.
Some of those smarts are bound to rub off, right?
If you want to get a clue--literarily--this mystery-book store has an unlimited supply (hence its name). It has 10,000 different mystery titles, and the owner promises that if a mystery book is in print but not in the store, it can be ordered for you, pronto. There are plenty of holiday-themed titles, like Jingle Bell Bark ("A Melanie Travis Mystery," $6.50) and Mistletoe and Murder by Carola Dunn ($5.99), and there's also a special "Sherlockian" section for those who love the classics. To get the kids' deductive juices flowing, try the Detective Dinosaur series, Cirque du Freak or Chet Gecko's Detective Handbook (and Cookbook)--the latter of which has a lot of good sleuthing advice, plus some very fun snack-food recipes. Speaking of cookbooks, we can't help but wonder what it is about mystery lovers and food, since this store has a whole little section of cookbooks--it even sells a book called A Taste of Murder ($19.95) that covers mystery novels and cooking at once, full of "diabolically delicious recipes" from contemporary mystery writers. More inexplicably, the store has a special section for books on pigs and greyhounds. Is that random, or what? (We think we've solved the mystery: This store's owner loves pigs and greyhounds. She encourages you to come just to meet her dogs, Canelo and Farra.)
The dictionary defines "picante" as either "prepared in such a way as to be spicy" or "having a sauce typically containing tomatoes, onions, peppers and vinegar." After looking around for a while in Picante Boutique, we're pretty sure the former definition applies. So if you're prepared to be spicy--that is, to leave all the bland, mall-bought gifts behind--come to this store, and you can't go wrong. Whether you're looking for kitschy accessories (like Virgin de Guadalupe handbags and T-shirts, $34; lotería bracelets and earrings, $14) or authentic folk art (think hand-carved Oaxacan figurines and hand-woven Guatemalan aprons), the stuff at Picante has all the spice of Central America and the American Southwest combined. For that matter, there are items from pretty much every region, even Vietnam--check out the selection of fun purses, including some made out of recycled flour bags. If you want Christmas items, there's a whole table full of hand-crafted tree ornaments, another displaying handmade clay nativity scenes (a nine-piece set goes for $95) and a large portion of one wall completely devoted to colorful, oversized milagros (Mexican tin ornaments) depicting everything from disembodied legs and arms to cute-looking animals ($4-$15).
What good is intelligence without a little creativity? Even if you're not overflowing with artistic vision yourself, it's good to promote it in others, and there's no better way to do that than by giving artists the tools they need to practice their craft. At Sarnoff, you can find everything under one roof. Of course, there's all the obvious stuff for the professional artist--paint, pencils, paper and brushes, all top of the line--but the store also has drafting supplies, desks and easels, instruction books and lots of things for kids. You know what makes a great gift? An art kit, and Sarnoff's got all kinds: a sketchbook kit that helps you along as you draw ($22.95), a block-printing starter kit with all supplies included ($25.99) and even a Japanese egg-decorating kit ($14.95). Kids will love the Young Artist Discovery Box ($49.95), which has everything they need to start their artistic career off right, while adolescents will go nuts over the mehndi henna body-art kit ($11.95)--don't worry, the tattoos go away within 10 days. Finally, if you like to make gifts instead of buying them, you'll definitely find all the glues, glitter, sprays, sheets, scissors, hooks, pins and whatever else you need. (We know it's kind of late to start creating, but your relatives won't care about a few mistakes; it's the thought that counts.)
Pets love gifts as much as we do, and despite what some people say, they are smart enough to tell the difference between crumpled-up wrapping paper and a brand-new plaything. And they can definitely tell the difference between cast-off turkey bones--which you shouldn't give them anyway--and high-end gourmet treats. The folks at Paws and Claws know how your pet's brain ticks, and they've accordingly stocked everything he or she could desire. Imagine, for example, Fido's joy when he receives a new plush "Furcedes" car-shaped chew toy ($12.99), or a cool leather collar complete with spikes ($9.99). Fifi, on the other hand, will be delighted with a Ruff Ruff Couture Dolce Vita dog dress ($42.99) or a luxurious microsuede bed ($89). And don't forget the cat: Fluffy will love settling down with a catnip cigar--reportedly filled with the world's strongest catnip--just after her tryst in the alley. As for edibles, let's just say we were drooling ourselves over the all-natural peanut butter dog treats.
The smartest children are often the ones who play the most. It's true: Since caveman times, kids have been having fun simulating adult situations with games, imagination and--most importantly--toys. Of course, we've come a long way since the days of clay dolls, sling shots and stick animals, and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's is here to prove it. Does your kid want to be an astronomer one day? She or he can use a Mega Cosmos glow-in-the-dark star kit ($25) to create a bedroom-ceiling universe. How about a chemist? Try the deluxe Milestones in Science kit ($94), with which anyone 10 or older can perform 100 groundbreaking experiments. An architect? Lincoln Logs, of course! Even future housewives can find what they need with kitchen playsets and realistic baby dolls dressed in hand-sewn outfits. From jigsaw puzzles to kaleidoscopes to board games, the stuff at Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's never fails to stimulate the brain. Well ... there are some not-so-beneficial toys, like bloody putty ($6.25) and potato guns ($3). But everybody needs a little relaxation, including adults--who can also find great gifts here, like a Global Warming Mug ($12.50) sporting a map of the world on its exterior. Fill it with coffee, and the coastlines disappear! Isn't learning fun?
No, "Toxic Ranch" is not a reference to contaminated salad dressing. The real story behind this store's name is too much to relate here ... suffice it to say, the name sounds cool. And so does the music this shop sells--in fact, this is where all the cool people go for anything underground or local, be it psychobilly, rock or industrial--but especially punk and hardcore. There are some pretty sweet deals on vinyl (and some of it's rare): 7-inches go for about $3; 10- and 12-inches are from about $7 to $16. CDs, while not as "scene," make a great gift for not much more. There are also posters, books, DVDs and T-shirts featuring bands from Fear to Joy Division. (For the not-so-music-obsessed-but-still-cool people on your list, go for a "Bush Hates Me" or "Work Stinks" T-shirt.) Oh, and as far as we know, this is the only place in town with any kind of decent underground 'zine selection--ever read Razorcake or Chunklet? Well, how about Tucson Vomit? We don't know if punk's dead or not, but Toxic Ranch's brochure tells us it's "the record store too tough to die."
If you have a special musician in your life--or maybe someone you wish was a musician, or a better one--you could give them a brand-new instrument. Or, if you're cheap, a musical accessory. Either way, you'll find what you need at Rainbow Guitars. Despite its limiting name, this store has way more than guitars. Enter, and you'll walk almost smack-dab into about 20 sets of shiny new drums, from a beginner's jazz kit for junior ($469.95) to top-of-the-line full kits (about $3,000). Keyboards, amps, digital recorders--you'll find it all. But if you are looking for a guitar, they have a great selection of electric ones, be they brand new (quality midlines are $450-$650) or used. If we were guitar players, we'd definitely want the John Lennon by Gibson: a perfect working replica of Lennon's most recognized electric guitar that comes with a real Lennon lithograph, a New York City T-shirt--just like John's--and a certificate of authenticity signed by Yoko herself (the whole package is $4,400). If that's a little out of your price range, they have music books ($10-$27.50) that can show anyone how to play almost anything, whether it's by Tori Amos or Black Sabbath.
Attention, boyfriends: Shop at Zoë. No matter how thick-skulled you are when it comes to pleasing a stylish female, it's hard to screw up here. For almost 15 years, this store has been sprucing up North Fourth with some pretty exclusive, good-looking clothing and accessories, a lot of which are locally made. Are you sick of lending your chilly girlfriend your coat? Get her a Supreme Being girl's mathematics jacket with cool green and white designs ($78.40)--it's not all that warm, but she won't care because, it looks so good. Anyway, she can supplement it with a locally made scarf ($25-35) and lots of layers, including a tank top or two ($9.50) and as many sweaters and vintage shirts as she pleases. (We like the $34 "crazy blouzes.") If you're not too sure about her size, take a look at the accessories, like Tasha Bundy's hand-made "birds nest" earrings ($28) or a cool vintage clutch ($25)--that's a purse, guys. Or try art: All the cool pieces on the walls are for sale (for anywhere between $50 and $400). Still not sure what to get? Ask Lissa, the store's current owner, or ask "Zoë" herself. (She's on MySpace.)
What's smarter than bicycling in a world of bad traffic, climate change and obesity? Not much, especially here in our beautiful, mostly flat city with its spectacular weather and ultra-wide streets. But it's pretty dumb to bike without all the right equipment, or without a properly tuned-up ride. Phil and Judy Slattery, the owners of Pima Street Bicycle, know this--that's why they've been bike-shop owners for 34 years, and why they're the perfect people to help you find a great bike-related present. They don't sell new bikes, only used ones on consignment, but they carry a great variety, and each bike is guaranteed to be in top condition. For the bike fanatic that has everything, a gift certificate for servicing would be great--a tuneup costs $59, while a complete overhaul is $125 (plus parts). Finally, don't forget all the fun gear you can give: locks, bags, handlebar grips, basic tools ... this store's shelves are lined. They don't have any really weird stuff, like sparkly grip tape--"We're uncool," Phil declares--but we saw some pretty awesome-looking helmets starting at $35.
Got a hippie or New-Ager on your list? Or maybe just someone completely immersed in spirituality? Since you don't have much time to craft a special homemade gift, In Spiritu is there for you with all the material goods your loved one yearns for but pretends not to need. For example, inner peace may be a feeling, but one of the best ways to foster it is with a unique gemstone tree crafted with energy-filled earth elements ($54.95). And yes, meditation may be a skill, but how enjoyable can it be without incense? You can get the Violet Lotus set, which includes handcrafted incense sticks, a tray and a pot, for $19.95. This store also has spiritual books, rosaries, Buddhas, meditation CDs, greeting cards and a million kinds of lotions and oils--which you can custom-blend yourself in the special aromatherapy section. And if you want handmade, In Spiritu will give you handmade: From African baskets made with recycled telephone wire to healing bracelets encrusted with semi-precious stones, there's something unique on every shelf.
Whether you admit it or not, you know the holidays pretty much revolve around food, especially sweets--which happen to be the perfect gift, either for family members whose love you must earn or for acquaintances you want to impress. But what if your baking skills aren't too impressive? That's where Nadine's comes in. First of all, it's the ideal place to pick up cookies for any holiday function; you can customize your own trays, big or small, just by calling and describing what you want (prices start at around $35). Collect the tray before the party, and you're all set! If you're one of those people who forces cookies on all their friends and neighbors, Nadine's has that covered, too, with cookies by the pound ($8.99 per pound for a wide selection). As for individual delicacies, the best-sellers seem to follow an ethnic theme: Try the Italian rum custard ($16.50-$54.95), some Russian tea biscuits ($2 each) or a Danish strip ($5.95). Nadine's also does Christmas cakes, apple pies, dessert bars and whatever anyone's sweet tooth could possibly crave--and it's all phenomenally delicious. We should add that it's a Jewish bakery, so if you're Jewish, and this year's Hanukkah goodies sucked, make up for it here--everything's kosher.
Sacred Desert owner Robert Reus has been into the culture of the Huichol Indians for decades, admiring their customs, religion and art as he travels through their home turf in Mexico. Years ago, when he was riding on a Mexican bus, he realized he could sell the Huichols' beautiful art in Tucson, so he dropped $1,500 on native crafts, and "the rest," he says, "is history." Come into this shop, and you'll be surrounded by history: The Huichols' intensely beautiful, complex and colorful yarn paintings and beaded figurines reflect a religion and culture dating back to about 200 B.C.--and here, you can buy an authentic 24-by-24-inch yarn painting for as little as $200. Other big, beautiful items include a cool-looking mask to hang on your wall ($95), a near-life-sized iguana figurine ($115) and a large jaguar statuette encrusted head to tail with tiny beads ($500, but you probably won't find it anywhere else for less than $1,000). If these are out of your price range, smaller pieces won't be: You can get a 6-by-6-inch yarn painting or a small beaded animal figurine for just $12, or a rukuri offering bowl, made out of a gourd and lined with beads, for a little more. (Keep in mind that rukuris don't make good candy dishes--their interiors are too impressive to cover up.) And, no, we're not going to try to describe the images on these Huichol crafts; let's just say they're simultaneously gorgeous and trippy.
Is there someone you'd like to wish "a very sexy Christmas"? If you think you've been naughty, take a look at some of the outfits at Hydra--if you can call bustier dresses, studded bra-and-panty sets and leather getups "outfits." Have a peek at the footwear, if you dare--the flame-decorated black leather boots with 7-inch heels ($69.95) might take a little practice to walk in, but they sure look great. Or perhaps your favorite female would prefer relaxing around the house in a "sexy Mrs. Claus" robe ($49.95)--always a favorite this time of year, Hydra employees tell us. For the men, there are some very stylish leather chopper jackets ($149.95), leather studded bracelets ($4.99-$9.95) and even a police hat ($12.95). Hydra also has a lot of things that are just plain fun, from beaded tiaras to colorful '60s-era hoop earrings to wacky belt buckles. The best-selling stuff? That would have to be the Bettie Page merchandise: Hydra has everything Bettie, whether you wear it, read it or put it on your wall. And the store's most popular brand, we're told, is Lucky 13, which makes lots of cool stuff for both guys and girls.
Had enough shopping by now? If your brain is feeling a little taxed, it's time to go to the best store of all: the liquor store. Yes, besides being the most fun place to buy holiday gifts, it's also one of the easiest and most practical, because many people on your list probably like to booze it up a little around this time of year--and Plaza can help you help your loved ones drink intelligently. First item of advice: When it comes to beer, have a variety on hand. Plaza has a mind-blowing beer selection, offering everything from special-ordered Panil Barrique to several Berliner Weisses. And you can custom-make your own six-pack: a perfect idea for holiday parties. Next item: Don't buy rotgut. Plaza carries high-quality hard liquor, including the uncommon Anchor Distilling Company's junipero gin (98.6 proof!)--though the store's best-seller is definitely tequila (try Milagro, arguably the best-priced "sipping" tequila, for about $22-$29). Finally: Don't spend more than you have to. While the folks at Plaza love quality, they won't rip you off: Even their most expensive vintage wine, Opus One, is just $188, and they always have some great-tasting cheaper stuff on sale for $4.99. As you're leaving, if you're so inclined, go ahead and get a little mini-bottle of vodka for yourself ... sure, you're purpose is to buy gifts for others, but there's no harm in a little self-indulgence once in a while. You don't want your brain to be sharp all the time.