Street Smart Chicago

Presents: Have Yourself a Local Little Christmas…

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We’ve long espoused the importance of supporting the shop around the corner, but never more so than now. As we listen to the daily drumbeats of doom in these waning days of the Bush economy, expectations proliferate that some retailers will see their last Christmas this December. So if you value that creative little shop on your street, if you appreciate the friendly chats with the owner when you stop in, show your support by spending your holiday gift money local. In doing so, you’re helping yourself, since studies show that locally owned businesses keep much more money in the local economy than the big national chains. If Newcity readers spend just $100 each locally this holiday season, that will contribute more than ten million dollars to the local economy. Just consider the possibilities. We have, and that’s why we’ve joined with more than seventy alternative weeklies around the country in a coordinated “buy local” campaign this holiday season.To help you put your money where our mouth is, we’ve dedicated our entire “Twelve Gifts of Christmas” feature to locally owned retailers or designers. And don’t forget local cultural institutions, whether museum gift shops or tickets to a performance; they often suffer most during economic downturns when their donors and customers cut back. And finally, pay heed to those who advertise in these pages. Not only are many locally owned businesses, but all, by spending money in Chicago’s only locally owned and operated arts and entertainment weekly, are supporting the effort to buy local themselves. Happy shopping. (Brian Hieggelke)

Newcity’s 12 Gifts of Christmas
By C.J. Arellano

Stylish Scarf
Whether he can match neckties to designers without looking at the label, or whether he can’t even match his hoodie with a decent T-shirt, a scarf is the perfect gift for any boyfriend or brother whose wardrobe you’d like to spruce up. “It’s a gift you can’t really go wrong with. You’re not debating about what to match it with or anything,” says Tee Lam, stylist for His Stuff, a men’s boutique in Lakeview (3162 North Broadway). “And for a guy who’s really plain, a scarf will add a little color and funkiness to his style, instead of pushing him too far and buying him, say, a polka-dot shirt.” His Stuff carries an array of stylish scarves ranging from wool scarves at $25 to $169 for eye-catching cashmere.

Versatile Sweater
It’s the annual burning question for every Chicago gal: “How can I stay warm and look hot in the bone-cold winter months?” Sweaters, dusters and wraps are making a comeback this season. Whether you’re shopping for your girlfriend, sister or super-bestie, a visit to women and men’s boutique Ciao Bella (3829 North Southport) should prove fruitful. “We cater up to four generations—20s to 50s—depending on how we stylize the ensemble,” says Ashley Pawlikowski, an assistant buyer at Ciao Bella. Consider Daftbird’s sweater vest with attached scarf, well worth the $138 price tag due to its versatility and stylish fusion of two garments. It’s virtually two gifts in one.

Mix Tape USB Stick
You can drop a little more green for your nearest and dearest, but you still have a ton of acquaintances and co-workers to check off the list. If you’re looking to shop in a lower price range for gifts both unexpected and funny but with more class than a gag gift, head to The Boring Store, a spy-themed novelty shop (1331 North Milwaukee). Their merchandise consists of things that look like other things, such as a safe disguised as a soda can or a Post-It dispenser disguised as toast-and-butter. For the nostalgic hipster, check out the Mix Tape USB Stick ($21). It looks like a cassette tape, but it’s actually a cardboard container for a 128MB thumb drive. Stick a collection of songs on the drive, and after your friend dumps them onto iTunes, he or she will have a brand new flash drive to use. Cute and practical!

Improv Comedy Tickets
Get your improv-loving friend tickets to pH Productions, an comedy troupe that performs every week at the Stage Left Theater (3408 North Sheffield). Their mainstay weekend shows include “Wheel of pHortune,” in which the form of the show is decided by a spinning wheel, or “pHrenzy,” where eight improvisers compete and the least funny player is voted out by the audience at the end of every round. pH head house manager Ben Elliott recommends “pHamily: The Musical.” “I’m constantly impressed at the talent of our cast to not only come up with the most bizarre litany of characters but then take those characters and create these amazing, show-stopping numbers with them,” Elliott says. (Tickets can be purchased via whatisph.com at $10.)

Bag of Joe
And then there’s that one person on the list for whom you’re totally clueless. You know: the strange name you pulled out during the office Secret Santa and said to yourself, “He still works here?” Don’t fret. You can still get him a classy gift he’ll actually use. Consider a bag of coffee ($12.95) from Metropolis (1039 West Granville). The Rogers Park coffeehouse offers their library of unique blends, including the noteworthy Colombia San Rafael, a sumptuous mix of cherry, blackberry and honey.

Sensual Body Products
It may be freezing outside, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be a cold front in the bedroom. Romance store Tulip (3448 North Halsted) offers toys and tools designed to keep your love life nice and toasty. They pride themselves on using safe materials, claiming that several comparable establishments use carcinogens in the construction of their toys. If your honey is an aesthetic junkie, many of their products are German and Swedish designed, ensuring that they’re pleasing to the eye as well as… elsewhere. For the tamer crowd, try Tulip’s lotions, body sugar and soy body candles (which burn at a lower temperature so you can pour and use as massage oil). You can mix and match four of them for $25.

A Day at the Spa… For Him
Massages, facial treatments, waxing…it ain’t just for the ladies anymore. For that hardworking dad or husband who could use a good day of relaxation, treat him to spa package from Sir Spa (5151 North Clark), a spa for men. “Our most popular treatment at Sir entails one of our treatment packages called ‘The Monarch’ [$210],” says owner Pete Hillman. “For three-and-a-half hours our guests move through a one-hour Signature Massage, a one-hour Hot Towel Face Treatment and finish off with our Hand and Foot Detail.” And to boot, Sir Spa offers complimentary beer and wine to guests. Sir Spa does welcome female customers as well, and there are even “date night” packages, which range from $170-$250 per couple.

Vintage Dinnerware
Believe it or not, you can shop for your platter-loving mom and your Cubs-crazed cousin in the same place. Posh Chicago (613 North State) specializes in one-of-a-kind dinnerware gleaned from hotels and restaurants all over the world. Owner Karl Sorenson originally worked as a flight attendant, but was inspired to open Posh Chicago in 1996 after falling in love with unique dishware he discovered at flea markets in Europe. Sorenson laments the homogenized quality of the corporate big guns. “They all just start to look the same no matter which one you go to,” he says of chain stores. Contrarily, many of the items at Posh Chicago have special origin stories behind them. For anyone on your list tickled by novelty china, try a collection of plates branded with the phrase “Pancakes Make People Happy!” They’re originally from the Royal Canadian Pancake House, a Manhattan breakfast hot spot that closed up several years ago. Or for the sports fan on your list, get Posh Chicago’s dinnerware emblazoned with the ubiquitous encircled C. No, it’s not the Cubs logo, but it might as well be. These vintage items are actually from the Chicago Athletic Association, which pre-dates the Cubs. Sorenson explains that in 1915, CAA member William Wrigley bought the Cubs and merely gave the team the CAA’s logo!

Avant-Garde Dining
For that couple who starts out all their conversations with, “You’ll never believe this new restaurant we discovered!” give them a gift certificate to Moto Restaurant (945 West Fulton Market). Head chef Homaru Cantu is internationally known for his avant garde “molecular gastronomy” cooking techniques. You’ve seen it on Food Network: it’s essentially using a science lab to prepare a soufflé. After you’re seated, you’re treated to a menu with your name on it (reservations are a must here). It’s made of edible paper, so chow down. It’s less of a menu and more of a program: the restaurant’s ten-course ($115) and twenty-course ($175) meal are set in stone. Among the restaurant’s ten-course meal: saffron and orange, house-made chili pequin quail, braised duck, apples and caramel and pumpkin pie.

Socially Conscious Soaps
For the person on your list who always seems to magically find the nearest soap or lotion tester, try buying them a luscious soap from The Enterprising Kitchen (online-only store at www.theenterprisingkitchen.org). This Chicago-based program offers hand soaps, shower gels and bath salts. For an especially relaxing treat, get the bath teas, which include teabags filled with salts, botanicals and oils that soak in your bathwater ($8). What makes The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK) especially noteworthy is their cause. Under the TEK program, these bath products are made by women who are learning basic workforce preparation and business skills in order to become self-sufficient and economically independent. Check another person off your holiday list and support these hardworking gals in the process!

Mexican Art Catalog
The art and culture aficionado on your list already has every Monet book and Dali poster known to man, so head over to the National Museum of Mexican Arts (1852 West 19th) for some intriguing finds. Their gift shop, called Tienda Tzintzuntzan, includes Frida Kahlo T-shirts, a Day of the Dead mousepad and tons of Mexican cookbooks. For a rundown of Mexican art itself, try giving a catalog such as “Art of the Other Mexico” ($19.95), published by the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, which chronicles Mexican art produced in the United States.

Personal Coupon Book
Along with door-busting Christmas sales and eager gift-giving shoppers, every December also heralds the return of people decrying the over-commercialization of Christmas. Maybe these Scrooges have a point. How about keeping it simple and personal and giving a colorful, hand-made coupon book to your sweetie, best bud or steadfast parent? Head to Paper Doll Chicago (2048 West Division), a fun and vibrant paper-goods store, to stoke your imagination. What boyfriend isn’t going to redeem “Good for a Night Out to One Lame Action Movie Without Protest”? Or how about, “Good for One Platter of Home-Made Chocolate Chip” for the close friend who fawns every time you pull those cookies out of the oven? The holidays may mean it’s time to shop till you drop, but sometimes the currency that goes the furthest is that made with colorful paper, jagged-edge scissors and a lot of love.

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