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Got last-minute holiday gifts to buy? Keep dollars in Tucson by spending at an indie store

It's almost Christmas, meaning the end of a not-so-lucrative year is almost upon us.

Even if you don't have a lot of money, you really can buy happiness--just by buying stuff for others. According to a recent Harvard University study, people who spend money on themselves aren't cheered up for long (if at all), while those who shell out the bucks for friends, family and even strangers get a definite and lasting boost in bliss. So please, don't just sit there in a funk while the most convenient opportunity to grab happiness--the holiday shopping season--passes you by. If you haven't made use of the Tucson Weekly's Nov. 20 Gift Guide--written especially for those bordering on broke--yet you still have gift-buying that you need to do, don't despair; it's not too late. You still have time to get out there and spend--whatever you can--on others, and help the economy at the same time. While you're at it, make sure you put your money where it's needed most: at the independent stores that are really feeling the economic chill this winter.

Here's a list of locally owned/operated places that can help you turn your cash flow, dwindling as it may be, into emotional well-being all around.

Philabaum Glass Studio and Gallery

711 S. Sixth Ave.

What's as delicate as today's economy, but beautiful and pleasing instead of ugly and frightening? Every piece of merchandise at Philabaum Glass.

This local studio, gallery and gift shop is full of hand-blown glass items made by local artist Tom Philabaum, his Tucson glass-blowing crew and his peers across the country. Every year during the holidays, the gallery offers a new group of glass Christmas tree ornaments ($25 to $30)--this year, chili peppers are in vogue. There are also some beautiful champagne flutes to toast the new year that can be had for $44.

For the women, the gallery has a huge variety of beautiful glass jewelry, including necklaces and bracelets with handmade glass beads mixed with gemstones, earrings made out of recycled glass (about $30) and the ever-popular dichroic earrings, made of layers of different-colored glass that sparkle and change colors according to how they catch the light ($79).

Other stuff this venue offers: paperweights ($40), bowls and vases ($100 to $200) and even perfume bottles ($100 to $150). While you're here, get something for yourself out of the experience by stopping to watch real glass-blowers doing what they do best.

Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop

7366 N. Paseo del Norte

Most Tucsonans know Tohono Chul Park is a beautiful spot to walk in the desert, view Sonoran-themed art and/or learn about desert flora. That all makes this park's gift shop the perfect place to buy presents that truly capture the essence of the Southwest--which we all know should make any gift-opener, anywhere, smile.

For your brother's kids in Virginia, send a rattlesnake baseball cap with a miniature rattle on the top ($20), or a beautifully illustrated saguaro wall chart, which they can use to track their growth against a print of a 6-foot cactus ($24.99). Your brother himself would probably like a "My Life's in Ruins" T-shirt featuring authentic-looking petroglyphs on the front ($30), and your mother might like making holiday cookies with a javelina cookie-cutter ($10.95).

Just about anyone would love to find a horned-toad bobblehead ($8) under the tree, or a rattlesnake snow globe ($11) in their stocking. (Don't worry; these reptiles aren't too realistic-looking.) There's also a great selection of wildflower seeds for just $2 per bag to help someone re-create Tohono Chul in their own backyard.

The West

5615 E. River Road, Suite 101

When you buy a present at The West, you're actually giving twice the gift for your money--not only are you buying something for a specific friend or relative; you're also giving to the community.

The West is a nonprofit, mostly volunteer-run store that awards grants to charities throughout Tucson--in fact, since the store opened in the 1960s, it's given almost $1.9 million to groups like Youth on Their Own and Mobile Meals of Tucson. Mostly, the store offers homey gifts your grandmother, aunt or infant niece/nephew would love, from paper products and cookbooks to kids' clothes and toys.

The West also has one of the largest needlework departments in the country, with needlework pieces ranging from about $30 to more than $300, as well as threads, needlework supplies and books, fabrics and even classes (which you can purchase for others in gift-certificate form for just $10 a session). There's plenty of Christmas stuff, too, including cards, ornaments and charming Byers' Choice caroler figurines ($50 to $70).

We admit The West may not be the place for ultra-hip gifts ... but then again, remember when knitting came into vogue? Needlework could be the next new fad.

Collage Boutique

747 N. Park Ave.

Speaking of vogue, do you know what kind of gift would make your young, trendy female loved-one happy this Christmas? The folks at Collage Boutique probably do. They spend a lot of time studying all the latest trends worn in cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles--especially Hollywood--but they don't charge an arm and a leg for any of it.

Seriously, this store has its own version of, like, every stylish item worn by, like, any star you can think of: Yves Saint Laurent "Tribute" platforms, as seen on J-Lo and Pam Anderson (Collage's version: $47); Jimmy Choo "mo mo" sandals, loved by Lindsay Lohan (Collage's version: $30); the leather-and-chain bracelets made famous by Nicole Richie (Collage's version: $18) and more. Even if you've never heard of a pencil skirt or crisscross wedge and have never so much as uttered the word "fabulous," you can still get something great for that girl in your life at Collage for $50 or less.

Roadrunner Bicycles

6177 E. Broadway Blvd.

OK, so gas prices have gone way down since those $4-a-gallon days just a couple of months ago. But ditching the car is still a great way to save--on both gas and gym-membership fees--so bikes and bike-related gifts are bound to please all those who like to keep dollars in their pockets.

Family-owned Roadrunner Bicycles is a perfect place to go for said gifts, because it offers everything a bicyclist could possibly need--high-quality accessories at a more-than-fair price. Potential gifts range from Snell Foundation-approved helmets ($32.95 and up) to tires ($12.95) to fashionable biking gloves (starting at $9.95).

For those truly dedicated to the anti-car lifestyle, Roadrunner offers a great line of commuter bikes from $239 to $459, as well as all kinds of racks and baskets, including a removable front-mount basket ($22.95) that's big enough to haul a small dog.

Got someone on your list who has a long way to bike--or maybe they're not into sweating? Roadrunner is the best store in town for electric hybrids: The two-battery "Twist" by Giant ($1,999) can get you to Benson and back while saving you a quarter of your pedaling effort. It has a computer and everything--just like a Prius!

17th Street Market World Music Store

840 E. 17th St.
624-8821, ext. 147;

Most people wouldn't think to go to a "market" to buy music or musical instruments. But the 17th Street Market isn't just any market. Not only does it have food, toys, clothing and international gifts; it also has an impressive musical-instrument store and a CD section run by the market's "CD guru," Marty Kool (formerly of Hear's Music fame).

The CD store has a great selection of everything (except for the crappy mainstream stuff you'd find in the mall or online). Aside from the store's offerings in world music, blues, jazz and a bunch of other genres, there is a ton of local music, including Tom Walbank's new LP ($12.99) and all the Rainer CDs ($17.99 each).

"We probably have the best local music selection in town," Kool brags, "because it's important to support local musicians. We harp on that a lot (no pun intended)."

Speaking of harps, the adjacent Harvey Brooks Music Shop has 'em (folk harps, $399)--plus drums from around the world, ukuleles, mandolins and banjos. The shop also carries some great classical and electric guitars. But why go the usual route when you can buy someone a guitar made out of a stainless-steel dog bowl by Salvage Sound ($250) or something called a strumstick (an easy-to-play, three-string "backpacker's guitar," $109 to $129)?

Starr Skates

1927 E. Grant Road

Does your nephew, niece, cousin or kid like to skate? Perhaps your boyfriend, your girlfriend--your grandpa? (Hey, you never know.) If so, the best way to guarantee that person's happiness--and thus, your own--may be to buy them a skateboard or skateboard-related gift, and the best place to do that is at Starr Skates.

This store may have the largest selection of skateboards and accessories in the whole state, with gear by all the big names, from Element to Flip to Toy Machine. And prices? You literally can't beat them, since Starr Skates will match prices from any other store, even sales prices.

The store's own complete skateboards start at $69, with decks starting at just $25. Pairs of shoes (and Starr has a lot of those) start at just $20--plus the store is always having shoe sales.

If you're not really looking for a skateboard but just need a cool store at which to buy stuff for someone young, check out Starr's selection of clothes and accessories, including a ton of sweatshirts ($25 to $60), flannels ($20 to $40), watches ($60) and sunglasses. If you are looking specifically for skateboarding stuff, though, Starr's knowledgeable all-skater staff will help you find what your loved one needs (assuming you don't know jack about the sport).

Silverbell Trading

7119 N. Oracle Road

As Keith Kleber, the co-owner of Silverbell Trading, told us, "Most of our stuff walks in the front door." Then he explained what he meant: Almost all of the store's beautiful, locally and/or native-made arts and crafts are brought in by and purchased directly from the artists. What that means for you is that your money isn't going to a bunch of middlemen--a little goes to the store, it's true, but most goes to the artists themselves.

And what artists they are! Who wouldn't love to receive the La Katrina pendant, a three-dimensional dancing-skeleton miniature made out of copper and sterling silver by Marilu Savage ($540)? Or a mosaic inlay sterling-silver bracelet with turquoise and sugilite by Navajo artist Alex Beeshligaii ($450)?

Of course, if you can't afford that hand-sculpted jewelry, there's plenty of lower-priced but equally wonderful art for sale, like colorful beaded and embroidered bags showing jaguars, flowers and intricate patterns ($15 to $25), Navajo clay sheep mud toys wrapped in real wool ($12), handmade mesquite cutting boards ($45), cool-looking Hopi kachinas and Tohono O'odham baskets in every size made of yucca and beargrass ($55 and up). Even the edibles this store offers are locally crafted--try the raw, unfiltered Happy Bear mesquite honey made in Cortaro for just $6.50. (The beekeeper makes beeswax candles, too, for $9 each.)

Yikes! Toys

2930 E. Broadway Blvd.

Nothing can bring joy to recession-plagued holidays like toys--especially insanely wacky, randomly hilarious toys like those lining the shelves of Yikes!, Tucson's oldest (and perhaps best) independently owned, off-the-wall toy store.

Has your father lost a fortune in the stock market? Stuff his stocking with an ice-cube tray shaped like dentures ($7). Is your girlfriend down 'cause she can't afford a new Accord? Help her spice up her old car with a bacon- or corn dog-scented car air freshener ($3). Your best friend lost his job? Remind him of better prospects with one of Yikes!' novelty books like How to be Pope, which gives step-by-step instructions on what to do and where to go once you're in the Vatican ($10.95).

Yikes! also has plenty of "normal" toys, like wooden blocks, stuffed animals, kites and wind-up toys. But, really, how can anyone not smile when they rip the wrapping paper off a yodeling pickle ($14) or a Barack Obama action figure?

Mostly Books

6208 E. Speedway Blvd.

"Man, we've got a lot of stuff!" exclaimed Mostly Books co-owner Tricia Clapp when we checked out her store. That stuff includes "really cool T-shirts" ($16 to $25), "meditation-y CDs" (around $14), crystals of all shapes and sizes ($6.99 to $16) and stuffed animals--notably, a great big stuffed moose ("the softest thing" Clapp has ever felt, $39.95). Lots of this store's merchandise is so horribly corny, it's hilarious: Check out the nightshirts with bookstands on them that say "One Nightstand," and the tea cups boasting the words "Night-tea night."

But, yes, Clapp admits, what she sells is mostly books--there's a huge arrangement of them, in fact, both new and used, including an entire wall of locally authored tomes, many written and signed by J.A. Jance (who stops in the store often). If you have booklovers to buy for but aren't sure just what they've already read, go for a book accessory like a bookmark (99 cents to $12.99 for the really special ones) or a book bag ($25 or less). Mostly Books has at least one of the latter that Clapp insists "you could fit a small family in."

Persnickety's New and Resale Emporium

6447 N. Oracle Road

Tucson's not exactly a fashion mecca. That's not necessarily a bad thing--who wants to spend thousands of dollars on designer clothing, especially in times like these? But that doesn't mean the women in your life wouldn't love to find that stuff under the tree.

At Persnickety's, you can get the most expensive high-end merchandise, used and new, for a fraction of the retail price: Coach handbags starting at $40 (usually they're hundreds of dollars), Tiffany's bracelets for $180 (usually almost $300), a sable mink jacket for $429 (retails for a whopping $1,800), brand-name jeans for $14.50, Christmas and evening gowns that retail for $200 to $400 starting at $50 ... we could go on and on.

Of course, if you're a clueless husband, boyfriend or son who doesn't know what to buy that special lady, Persnickety's co-owner Debi Wallace will help you out. Oh, and the bonus? Persnickety's is a consignment store, so you can bring in your own stuff to hawk if you're short on cash.

The RumRunner

3131 E. First St.

Face it: Nothing can guarantee some people are in good spirits ... like good spirits. Unless you're buying for a teetotaler, recovering alcoholic, straight-edger or child, alcohol makes a pretty good Christmas present--and if you are buying for a nondrinker, you can find something for them, too, right next to all the alcoholic goodies at the RumRunner.

This store has a huge selection of giftable liquor: 750-milliliter bottles of brand-name vodka, gin, rum, tequila and scotch mostly run between about $30 and $40. And there's wine up the wazoo, from a $6.99 bottle of Glass Mountain cabernet sauvignon to a 1990 Petrus Pomerol for a mere $1,950 (which is actually a steal; trust us).

As for food, the RumRunner has a superb delicatessen serving salamis, pâtés, deli meats, caviar and more than 30 different kinds of cheese served by the pound ($9.99 to $24.99). You can give wine and food together with one of the RumRunner's popular "Custom Creations" gift baskets, or you can make your own basket.

If you don't know what you want--or if you've just had too much holiday shopping and need a pick-me-up--the store has wine to taste for free. If only all stores were so considerate.

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