My most memorable Christmas shopping experience was about 12 years ago when I was nearly broke. I had a little more than $100 to spend. That meant about $10 per gift per person. It may sound daunting to come up with a decent gift for a sawbuck, but I managed quite well. In fact, it was an amusing challenge.
Having little to spend forced me to think of inexpensive gifts and unique places to shop. Being broke also led me off the beaten path and far from the scurrying masses. I have been shopping this way ever since.
Fortunately, around the time of my financial woe, dollar stores had just opened in the area. I remember pointing at several items in amazement as I asked the cashier, “Is this a dollar?” She patiently nodded as I loaded my cart. I intend to visit at least one dollar store this season. They are top-drawer for stocking stuffers — bubbles, candles, gum, whistles, pocket-sized sewing kits, oven mitts, napkin holders and all the bric-a-brac that would delight any child or grandmother.
Another favorite for getting cheap goods is Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts. The shelves are loaded with stuffed animals, stationery, photo albums and more tchotchkes than they’re likely to sell. It’s also swell for folks who encourage their children to make gifts, rather than purchase them. Jo-Ann’s is packed with paints, beads, markers, crayons, construction paper and every conceivable arts and crafts tool your kid will need to make mayhem of your home. Check your phone book for a location near you.
Neighborhood hardware stores are an obvious source when shopping for do-it-yourself fools. But don’t rule them out if Mr. or Ms. Fix It are not on your gift list this year. Many corner hardware stores carry fabulous kitchen accoutrements for cooking fanatics. For less than $15 you can buy a Farberware French-style knife with a 6-inch blade at any Damman Hardware location. A solid cutting board runs about the same price. To get the consummate gardener through the dreary days of winter, pick them up an amaryllis or a paper-white narcissus. Hardware stores often carry these potted bulbs and other varieties for less than $10.
For flowers and plants, also consider a trip to Eastern Market in downtown Detroit on Russell Street near Mack Avenue. A poinsettia is a no-brainer if you need a little something to bring to an obligatory gathering. It says, “I care,” without you having to spend a bundle. Of course the market offers much more than cheap poinsettias and produce.
For bulk candy, chocolate and other necessary holiday sweets, Rocky Peanut Co. (2489 Russell St., 313-567-6871) in Eastern Market is the way to go. It also carries jam, olive oil, dried fruit, tea, coffee, hot cocoa and more lovelies for filling a stocking or creating a holiday basket.
Speaking of baskets, you can purchase wicker ones across the way at R. Hirt Jr. (2468 Market St., 313-567-1173), which sells scads for very little. For $4 you an also pick up a cobalt blue or clear bottle to fill with olive oil and herbs, liquid soap or bubble bath. Hirt also peddles potpourri, teapots, soap and other assorted sundries, as well as sweets, meats, bread and cheeses. Be sure to visit all three floors.
Also worth a peek is Cost Plus Eastern Market Wine Warehouse (2448 Market St., 313-259-3845). The staff is knowledgeable and the price range for wine and liquor is broad.
For less than $15 you can pick up a pepper mill at The Rafal Spice Co. (2521 Russell St., 313-393-7980). Or put together your own spice rack. Spices are sold in bulk, making them far less pricey than at the grocery store. It’s a tiny shop, but you can’t miss it; the aroma will draw you in.
Eastern Market is open year-round on Saturdays, but is teeming with shoppers and is even more congested during the holidays. However, the stores mentioned above have weekday hours, which is a good time to drop by.
Not far from Eastern Market is The Flying Dutchman, housed in a Victorian mansion in the heart of Midtown Detroit (aka the Cass Corridor). Many of the goods, which are very affordable, come from Ecuador, Indonesia and other exotic lands. Pick up a hand-painted pin, glass mobile, chess set, woven bag, scarf or wall hanging for $25 or less. Glass pipes, incense and candles are also available for head-banging types (4470 Second Ave., 313-832-7725).
Another boutique worth perusing is Little Things, near Greektown (633 Beaubien, 313-964-5091). It’s convenient for those who work downtown — just walk over on a lunch break and check out the wares. Wallets, hats, scarves, teacups and handmade paper journals are some of the items. Journals start at about $12; the leather-bound ones are $35. Some jewelry sells for $15, but other pieces are pretty pricey.
If you like handmade gifts, head to the Biddle Gallery in Wyandotte for handcrafted jewelry, pottery, glass and fine art. Some of the works may be too much for your pocketbook, but consider
purchasing the greeting cards with pressed pansies. They cost just a few bucks and seem suitable for framing (2840 Biddle Ave., 734-281-4779).
Framing photographs is another easy and inexpensive way to go. Pick frames up at any thrift store, including All the Rage in downtown Wyandotte (2848 Biddle Ave., 734-282-5577). All the Rage also has great, inexpensive costume jewelry. The owner, who offers customers dark Hershey kisses, is a peach.
The Salvation Army in Detroit offers plenty of solid finds, though some folks might be nonplussed to get used goods for Christmas. You can bet that book lovers would not be among them. Most would be thrilled to get an old edition of Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice (1627 Fort St., 313-965-7760).
Ferndale has at least two used bookstores, Library Bookstore (169 W. Nine Mile Road, 248-545-4300) and John K. King Books (22524 Woodward, 248-545-9050). King also has a monstrous store (901 W. Lafayette, 313-961-0622) and the pocket-sized Big Book Store (near Wayne State University, 5911 Cass, 313-831-8511) in Detroit.
But don’t ignore booksellers such as Paperbacks Unlimited (22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 248-546-3282). It has a fine selection of classic and new literary works. The periodical rack is primo. A magazine subscription is another affordable gift that keeps giving all year.
Book Beat in Oak Park has an amazing collection of art, literature and children’s books (26010 Greenfield Road, 248-968-1190). My favorite section is photography. Some are rather expensive, but the works of Dorothea Lange and Lewis W. Hine are worth every penny. If you plan to splurge on one special someone this year, this is the place to do it.
Check out more Holiday Survival Guide stories:
Surviving the gatherings of the clan.
Season for sharing
How to help those in need survive the holidays.
Pass (on) the stuffing
Ways to keep the holidays from becoming too weighty.
Blue for Christmas
How to battle the holiday blahs.
Presents from tinsel town
What would the season be without its flicks?
Avoiding Xmas bling bling
You needn't sell out to the corporate juggernaut.
A gift guide to underground recordings.
Oh, holy naught
This year's Xmas sounds like the hour 13 lineup on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
A dilettante's guide to holiday imbibing.
Silent night, sober night
How to stay on the wagon.