In our gift guide each year, the Tucson Weekly profiles awesome, independently owned Tucson businesses where we encourage you to buy some great holiday presents for your loved ones—while also supporting the local culture and economy.
But even the most community-centered businesses usually carry some things that aren't manufactured locally. And let's face it: If you really want to give a gift with local flavor, that gift had better be made locally.
This year, we're sticking with locally owned, independent businesses—and we're narrowing our focus to get more local than ever: In this portion of the gift guide, only stuff produced right here in Southern Arizona is allowed.
Read on to find just a few of the totally Tucson things you can buy for loved ones who live in Minneapolis, Louisville, Toledo, Dallas, Seattle or anywhere else—to show them just how cool our little city is. And if you're giving locally ... well, any Tucsonan who doesn't want a Tucson-produced gift just doesn't deserve a present, do they?
Note: While we're highlighting individual presents this year, they come from stores filled with numerous awesome gift options—so please browse around the businesses we mention. These places have a lot of other things almost as cool as our favorites.
SOUTHWEST-THEMED KNITTING KIT
Kiwi Knitting Company
2540 E. Sixth St.
It's always nice to get a gift for your grandma—instead of just being showered with presents from her. If she knits—like any self-respecting stereotypical grandma does—it's a good thing you have a local outlet for getting her an easy, quality gift. That gift is a knitting kit straight from the Southwest—made in Tucson, of course, which will be a big plus if that older female relative on your list is from the Midwest or East Coast.
The Kiwi Knitting Company sells threads, needles, patterns and other knitting accessories, which your grandma might appreciate as gifts in themselves. But a much-less-humble choice would be one of the few ready-made gifts available at this store: knitting kits by Brookmoore Creations ($20), which use only yarn hand-spun in Tucson.
With the "Lizard Tails Lace" kit, that special senior female on your list can make a soft, homespun bookmark patterned just like a lizard's tail leaving trails in the sand. With the "Arizona Barrel Cactus" kit, she can knit a tiny succulent made out of yarn—and the kit even comes with a pot to put it in. With the most-popular knitting kit, the "Arizona Treasure Bag," she can make a small Southwest-style beaded purse to give you next winter—and you'll find it a lot more useful in Tucson than mittens.
Of course, we should mention that knitting kits are also awesome gifts for hipsters of any age or gender. In case you didn't know.
'THE BEAN TREES' BY BARBARA KINGSOLVER
411 N. Fourth Ave.
Tucson may not be all that big, but it's been the home of a few big-time authors, and the birthplace of some of their most-popular books.
If you'd like to give the bookworm on your list something made—that is, written—in Tucson, you can't go wrong with the classic novel The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, a Tucson resident for much of her career (and a long-ago Weekly contributor). Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees follows the life of Taylor, a Kentucky-born woman who finds herself in Tucson taking care of a young, abandoned American Indian girl; Taylor eventually goes on a quest to legally adopt the child. Blending drama, trauma and heartwarming meaning, the book explores the themes of motherhood, friendship, abuse, illegal immigration, the court system, life and death and beauty. And it fully captures the spirit of Tucson.
You can pick up The Bean Trees—plus other Kingsolver favorites, like the book's best-selling sequel, Pigs in Heaven, and the essay collection High Tide in Tucson—at Tucson's own unique institution, Antigone Books.
CHERRY BLOSSOM DREAM MAKEUP PURSE
735 N. Fourth Ave.
Sure, you could get your girlfriend a pair of Prada boots or a Fendi handbag for the holidays—and if she's a certain type of girl, she'd love that. But clothes and accessories by big-name Italian designers cost a lot of dinero. And more importantly, who wants to pour money into some billion-dollar foreign fashion house when you can support creative, innovative designers right here in Tucson?
Zoë Boutique is so full of stuff by great local designers—from jewelry to purses to shoes to jeans—that we had a hard time picking a favorite item here. But we finally settled on a unique and beautiful makeup bag by local artist Andrea Peterson. It's not made of supple Italian leather, but pretty, durable, satin-finish synthetic fabric on the outside, and cushiony black polyester on the inside. It's not adorned with glitter or feathers or whatever's popular on the runway nowadays; instead, it's emblazoned with real art: One side shows a dreamlike painting of a girl's rosy face and flowing pink hair, and the other shows a solitary mermaid sitting on a rock. Best of all, this piece doesn't cost hundreds of dollars—just $15.
TOHONO O'ODHAM GILA MONSTER BASKET
Grey Dog Trading Company
4320 N. Campbell Ave., No. 130
No gifts say "made in the Southwest" like arts and crafts handmade by our region's native peoples. Grey Dog Trading Company has jewelry, kachina dolls, pottery and much more by American Indian artisans from many different Southwest regions—including beautiful hand-woven baskets made in the Tohono O'odham Nation. Of course, the Tohono O'odham were in the area long before the city was founded—in fact, "Tucson" comes from the Tohono O'odham word Chuk-son, which roughly translates to "at the base of the black hill."
Our favorite piece was a fancy, solidly coiled basket by T.O. artist Anita Antone, made of yucca fibers, red yucca root and devil's claw, woven over bear grass and depicting Gila monsters—some of the Tucson area's most-charismatic native reptiles. This particular Tohono O'odham basket will run you $585, but Grey Dog has many more, in all shapes and sizes, starting around $30.
AFRICAN SPURRED TORTOISE
3459 E. Speedway Blvd.
One way to get an animal-lover a gift that was "made" in Tucson would be to go to the desert; catch a critter; and put it in a terrarium topped with a bow. But that's a little dangerous—and a lot of trouble. (Plus, it may be illegal.) Another way would be to head over to Reptile Specialists, where you can pick up any number of reptiles hatched here by—who else?—specialists.
Our favorites at this store are the baby African spurred tortoises. Bred right here in Tucson, they go for just $89 each, and while tiny (and very cute) as babies, they will grow into amazing adults stretching more than 2 feet in length. These are the third-largest tortoises in the world. While wild African spurred tortoises are native to Africa (as you can guess from the name), and not the Southwest, they are adapted to dry desert conditions, being native to the Sahara Desert, so one would be right at home in your giftee's backyard. (As with all pet purchases, be responsible, and make sure the gift recipient wants and will take care of his or her new pet.)
299 S. Park Ave.
Jewelry is an easy gift—too easy, perhaps—unless we're talking about something incredibly unique, something made of stuff you almost certainly never thought of as decorative, and something made—where else?—in Tucson.
If that's the kind of jewelry you're looking for, head down to MAST in the Lost Barrio, where we found barrettes made of rulers, lamps made of ostrich eggs and, our choice gift, necklaces made of real wooden pencils on chains. For $28, you can custom-order a pencil necklace according to the number of pencils you want, the pencil lengths and the pencil kinds (from colored-pencil tips to editing-pencil stubs to antique-looking carpenter pencils, all covered with a clear finish and adorning small copper chains with lobster-claw clasps). Though the chains are delicate, one of these pieces could adorn the neck of a girly girl or a macho man.
Lotus Massage and Wellness Center
2850 E. Grant Road
This gift guide is all about the here (Tucson, of course). But maybe it should also be about the now. After all, sometimes staying in the here and now is all that can get us through the stresses of the holidays.
Nothing will get someone feeling more serene in the moment—or more grounded in our sweet little city—than a massage, whether it's cranial-sacral, Shiatsu, injury-management or hot-stone. The Lotus Massage and Wellness Center offers gift certificates for all of these massage genres and more ($68 per hour, or a bit extra for hot stone). And, yes, Tucson masseuses are some of the best in the country. Forget those Southern Californian massage-school divas—laid-back Southern Arizonans know how to make anyone relax.
ARTISTIC GREETING CARD GIFT SET
Individual cards sold at the Tucson Museum of Art and Chocolate Iguana
What's better than a set of corny Christmas cards featuring Santa or poinsettias or cartoon cherubs? A set of cards showing real art and poetry—born in Tucson, of course.
Susan Mrosek is a local painter and prose-loving poet whose work can be hilarious, heart-wrenching, bizarre and beautiful—all at the same time. She and her husband, Bill, run a company that sells greeting cards, posters and more to devoted fans across the country, as well as throughout Tucson. Each card and poster shows a subject painted in Mrosek's otherworldy style, accompanied by a (usually odd) piece of poetry, wit or wisdom, from "Love is in the air. Please pick up a freshener," to, "Hysteria. It's an acquired taste."
Mrosek's website offers 90 cards, plus large and small poster versions of each, but we recommend Gift Set 5 ($48) for its volume: It includes 20 different cards. Some are appropriate for the holidays; some are not—but we guarantee each one will be welcome upon some occasion in your giftee's life.
HOLIDAY COOKIE PLATTER
Lutz Swiss Bakery
5418 E. Pima St.
Not everyone can get through this festive season without having to attend at least one party or get-together. And if you're prepared with the right edible offering, getting through a gathering can even be a pleasure.
Of course, we're talking about cookies, both a boon and bane for so many during the holidays. Want some advice from us here at the Weekly? Forget the calories; forget the fat and sugar; and eat the heck out of those cookies—because eating them is largely (no pun intended) what the holidays are for. Just make sure they're quality cookies, or you'll never live it down, either with your friends or your stomach.
Lutz Swiss Bakery offers only quality cookies, the best of which are available on its holiday cookie platter ($18.50), with four dozen treats on a colorful holiday plate—including butter spritz, almond horn, Christmas shortbread and other delightfully indulgent varieties. Plus, this bakery features the friendliest folks around. The owner and employees are all eager to please, and so nice that after interacting with them, you'll hardly care if you're forced to buy cookies for your in-laws.