Local Holiday Shopping Guide 2012

By now, it should be obvious: supporting big box stores and national chains does not benefit our local economy. Besides pushing out the smaller stores, it leads to homogenization. Think about what makes special the places we enjoy vacationing: unique shops, landscapes, and cultural experiences. Think about the vast difference in service between the majors where employees are underpaid, mistreated, and told they have to work during major weather events, versus the service at smaller shops where owners at least attempt to pay above minimum wage and understand workers to be fellow humans. Coincidence? Please.

Shopping locally, especially in Hartford, is sometimes viewed as inconvenient, yet how convenient is sitting in the gridlock around malls and then circling the lot seeking a parking space? Is being pushed by harried, cranky shoppers convenience? What’s to be done? Vote for change by determining where you will spend your money.


An experience is more memorable than an object. It requires no storage and no wrapping paper.

These basically break down into memberships and tickets, but can include class registration too.

The Kitchen at Billings Forge offers low commitment classes for those who can only peel themselves away for a few hours. Learn about pickling, canning, or baking pies.

What to get a gardener who has everything except a pot to plant in? Community garden spaces are cheap — around $25 per season. For those who are not satisfied by windowsill herb gardens, this is money well-spent. As a bonus, some of these gardens actually have potluck events and attempt to foster community. Folks who don’t garden might not see the value of securing space when the ground is frozen, but this is a great time to get this type of gift– when you can dream, plan ahead, and start looking through seed catalogs.

For those who appreciate quirkiness, a Real Art Ways membership gets the cardholder reduced price film admission, discounted admission to Creative Cocktail Hour, and entrance to members only events. You could also go for a lower budget option of taking a friend there for some popcorn and a film.

There is more than just one game in town. Cinema City and Cinestudio are other spots to catch movies. You can watch It’s a Wonderful Life and Baraka at Cinestudio every December.

Connecticut Science Center
Connecticut Science Center

Individual membership to the Wadsworth Atheneum grants the member free admission to the museum, discounted tickets to films and events, a discount at the Museum Shop, and invites to members only events.

Besides unlimited admission to the Connecticut Science Center and discounts at its cafe and gift shop, a membership there also grants the holder discounts at nearly a dozen local restaurants including Dish, J Restaurant, Peppercorn’s, Grill, and Black Eyed Sally’s.

An individual membership at the Connecticut Historical Society gets unlimited admission to its research center and museum, plus unlimited admission to the Old State House.

Tickets to Hartford Stage and events at the Bushnell will cost you, but will still be more memorable than some object that can be lost or broken.

For those who like to move, a YMCA membership will keep them going when the frostbite advisories are issued.

Or, just grab your friend and take her bowling.

If you’d rather be in the cold, go to a hockey game at the civic center and follow the game with free ice skating in Bushnell Park.

For friends who are more about Bhekasana than the Benjamins, there are several yoga options. Downtown Yoga Studio has classes every day and lots of different membership options. Bikram Yoga on Main Street also has a range of membership options and offers a 20% discount to those with student or military ID. Francesca, who teaches Monday night yoga at the Studio at Billings Forge says she is not doing memberships yet, but that the Veterans Yoga Project which she is involved with does accept donations. The VYP helps educate and support those using yoga to cope with PTSD. And, you can always just drag your friend with you on a Monday and pay her class fee.

If you know someone who would like art lessons without resigning himself to years of paying back student loans, Studio N111 is offering classes for adults and youth. Classes range from watercolor to pastels to drawing semi-nude models to keeping an artist journal. This studio is located on Pratt Street; look up and see “art” in the windows. Contact Nina at 347-406-3602.

Want to give the gift of laughter, but not risk grossly offending someone with standup comedy? Sea Tea Improv, Hartford’s own improv troupe, keeps things edgy and funny without the sexism and racism that defines too much of comedy these days.

Goods, Ingredients, and Materials

Every November, Open Studio Weekend provides ample opportunity to locate nice, unique gifts for those who appreciate arts and crafts. With well over one hundred artists whose work is priced from affordable to more-than-my-car-is-worth, it would be a challenge to leave empty-handed. Besides visual artists, there are potters, jewelers, custom guitar builders, and more. Open Studio Weekend is happening November 10th and 11th, 2012.

Alpaca visiting Hodge Podge
Alpaca visiting Hodge Podge

New this year is Hodge Podge, a Sunday afternoon open air market on Pratt Street. Vendors vary and if there is even a hint of rain, they have cancelled. But, if you can catch it, there is an interesting mix. Connecticut’s Dragon’s Blood Elixir Artisan Hot Sauces & Condiments has been on hand to give samples; sauces are made from locally grown habanero peppers and apples. Southington-based Sugarplum USA has eco-friendly goods– primarily t-shirts.  This past Sunday’s fair included booths with beeswax candles, all natural dog treats by Baker’s Dozen, and beautiful items made from alpaca fiber. Hodge Podge is slated to run through November 18th.

Shoes from Ome Omi Boutique

Ome Omi Boutique, a new shop at 57 Pratt Street, carries sexy shoes and lingerie in all sizes. Oomilya Poo-Nark says she custom designs shoes, whether they are towering stilettos or practical flats, and invites shoppers to visit the boutique by calling 860-578-2026 to make an appointment.

Sisters Addy, Callie, and Rory are the force behind Hartford Prints! which is located in Suite 220 of 56 Arbor Street. They have Hartford-themed greeting cards, postcards, posters, and t-shirts.

For readers, the back room of La Paloma Sabanera now hosts several cases of used books, priced low, from classics to non-fiction to contemporary Pulitzer Prize winners.

Those who prefer to be the first to break a book’s binding should visit museum gift shops. Beyond books, you can find scarves, jewelry, decorations, prints, journals, and other unique gifts at the shops in the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Mark Twain House & Museum, Connecticut Historical Society, Wadsworth Atheneum, and Connecticut Science Center. Sure, most of these places have a section of cheap junk to appeal to kids on field trips, but ignore it. The Connecticut Science Center is an especially good pick for those who would like to get something for children without stepping foot into the big box toy stores.

Tisane, on Farmington Avenue in the West End, stocks tea presses, thermoses, and other beverage-related accessories.

On Trumbull Street is Tea Haunt Canvas, a gallery space and tea house selling prints, bags, coasters, and jewelry. Around the corner is Sadhna’s Imports of India. Located in 960 Main, open 11-5:30 weekdays, has vibrant clothes, shoes, scarves, and jewelry.

Stackpole Moore Tryon/Tuesday’s Off the Rack at the end of Pratt Street near Main is a pop-up that will remain open through the end of January 2013. Those familiar with the main store on the Trumbull end of Pratt know that it is pricey. This temporary store will feature discount and sample sale items.

Every Thursday, you can visit the women making reasonably-priced hats and scarves at the Billings Forge Farmers Market from 11-2.

If anything positive has come from the recent hurricane, it’s that the love affair with the bicycle has been reignited for those who realized that two wheels powered by people can go places a vehicle with an empty gas tank cannot, even if the roads are cleared of trees. Daily Rider carries folding bikes, cargo bikes and lighter cargo cruisers, funky helmets, and more. If you have an old bike that you want freshened up, that can be done too.

If you are someone who cannot be talked out of giving a live animal as a gift, at least consider rescue adoption instead of supporting breeders, the latter of which is essentially supporting incest. The City of Hartford Animal Shelter has a steady supply of dogs. If you were thinking less about pets and more about livestock, go to Babcock Street near El Mercado on a Saturday mornings to talk to the man selling chickens and other birds from his truck.


Though it was sold out for the 2012 season, it may be worth trying to get on the waiting list for the 2013 season of the Grow Hartford CSA if you want to gift a foodie with fresh, locally-grown organic veggies, herbs, and flowers. There is a reasonable, reduced rate for low income families. Since this will not resume until summer, the instant gratification factor is removed, but there is something to be said for giving a person the gift of anticipation.

Looking for something to bring in for your coworkers at the awkward holiday party you are forced to attend? If you’re aiming to score brownie points, roll in with a box from Modern Pastry or Mozzicato’s. A trip deeper into the South End for pastries from First and Last Bakery will be well-received too. If you have the skill set that enables you to plan ahead, place an order for cupcakes with Icing. These baked-in-Hartford goodies come in a range of flavors from red velvet to lime to chocolate stout to pumpkin. Tastease on New Park Avenue, if you do not know by now, has adorable, artsy mini doughnuts. They sell out early, so calling ahead is recommended. Scott’s Jamaican Bakery — with three locations on Albany Avenue, Blue Hills Avenue, and Main Street — sells sweets and cakes, including pineapple cake.

Where else do you shop for gifts in Hartford?

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