[This article is part of a larger collection of articles: Christmas; Sane & Simple]

Going to an actual brick and mortar store seems like more work, but in my experience I’ve found it actually saves me time and energy. Not to mention I usually have more fun shopping this way. I’m especially talking about the small, local shops & boutiques. These places are gold on gold on gold. 

The popular complaint people have about local shops is that XYZ is often few dollars more vs. a big box store vs. online. Which might be true, sometimes. But aside from all the typical “shop local” arguments (like supporting your local economy, and being a good human) here are a few reasons why spending a tiny bit extra is beneficial for you too:

Why shop local:

Tangible browsing is a better experience than online shopping. On paper it sounds great to do all your shopping online in your pajamas, rather than having to comb your hair, put pants on, and leave the house. But shopping at an actual store could be one way to side-step Christmas stress.

1. There isn’t any mindless scrolling, or risk of falling down a researching/comparison rabbit hole because the selection has already been thoughtfully curated. The shop owners have already sifted through the garbage for you. Which cuts down on decision fatigue and over-researching. Also, these small business owners actually care about the quality of their products, and are probably more concerned about quality than you are. It’s their store after all; their name on the line.

2. They also care about your experience too, so expect good tunes, free samples, and other charming holiday qualities that will zap away the scrooge vibes. Maybe when you walked in the door you were handed a free wine sample to sip on while you shop. Or you sampled a tester of an expensive lotion and now your hands smell like lavender. How delightful is that?

Not to mention browsing in person saves disappointment. That cool game you saw on Amazon is actually a pocket-sized piece of crap. But you were too preoccupied with your Seinfeld marathon, and 2 dozen open internet tabs to notice. 

3. Think of shop employees as actual humans who are there to help answer questions, give you ideas, and basically act as your temporary assistant. Don’t be shy. This is what they are there for. I know because I used to work in one of these locally owned specialty shops that I’m advocating for, and I loved helping people with their gift lists.

Those retail elves also have time-saving intel. They probably don’t know your grandma/friend/teacher, but they’ve helped 4 other people shop for their grandmas/friends/teachers in the past 6 hours so they’re steps ahead of you with lots of ideas. The trick is: you have to ask. Retail elves are many things but mind readers they are not. Chances are you’re not “just browsing” so you might as well speak up and take advantage of the free help. 

4. The good shops will also gift wrap everything for you, for free. They might forget to offer, so you may have to ask. Worst case scenario, they don’t. Best case scenario, they do and that’s one less thing you have to worry about. PRO TIP: Gift wrapping is an art, so if you have a huge haul and if the elves have a lot going on: leave and come back to get your gifts in 10 or 30 minutes. Go get a coffee, walk around the block, enjoy yourself! And then swing back and poof! Gifts are wrapped and ready to go. #winning

5. THIS IS MY FAVORITE HACK: Find a shop that reflect the tastes and styles you of your niece, or dad, or mother-in-law and it’ll be like walking into their christmas list. I realized this one year when I went into Home Depot before Christmas and suddenly I had a 3-4 gift ideas for my dad and father-in-law. It helped me get out of my own head. Because when you go to a store that reflects someone else’s passion points and not your own, you’ll stop filtering gifts ideas by your own preferences. An auto parts store might not excite you, but your Uncle would love that car detailing kit.

6. A lot of smaller, but more established stores will even accommodate the ultimate no-stress approach by doing everything for you. The shopping, gift wrapping, writing the card, and even possibly delivering the gift. Sometimes all you have to do is call with a general list and budget and say something like “can you help me put together a $30 gift for my wife who likes to read, and garden?” And the elves will do the rest. 

So brush your teeth, put on your #adulting pants, and find a babysitter. Actually go and check out those cool stores you drive by all the time. You could even invite your friends, go out for lunch, and make a day of it. Because if you’re going to have to shop, you might as well make it as fun as possible.

PRO TIP: go in the morning or later in the evening to avoid holiday crowds.

Favorite gift shops in Grand Rapids:

  • Art of the Table [specialty food, wine, cocktails, and gifts]
    I used to work here, so I’m biased. But all the charming, too-good-to-be-true amenities I wrote about can be found here. The weekly (thursday?) wine samples, the food samples, helpful and cheerful staff, beautiful gift wrapping and even parking. Very well curated selection, not only for gifts but for entertaining as well. And a kick-@ walk in beer color.
    • BONUS: There are several other excellent shops in this stretch of Wealthy Street. (like **Woosah** [local artist storefront selling wood cut prints on outdoors-inspired apparel, accessories, and gifts]. Mokaya [chocolate], and Lee & Birch [clothing botique].)
  • Rebel [colorful paper goods, home decor, and gifts, with sass]
    Everything here is well curated to be gift-y. Great for stocking stuffers. And white elephant gifts that are actually cool. And stocking up on all the funny cards.
  • GRAM [museum gift shop]
    Great learning toys and gifts for kids [toddlers, and big kids alike]
  • Hop Scotch [children’s store]
    This store is muy excellente. They have well-curated kids items (mostly infant-toddler). This was my go-to spot for baby shower gifts. Also, their gift wrapping game is strong…and complimentary. (Oh hello cute tissue paper flower!)
  • Books & Mortar [bookstore + gifts]
    Well stocked on books of all genres. But I especially love that they didn’t skimp on their children’s book selection: which is packed with gift-worthy books that are well illustrated & have important themes.
  • Honorable mentions:
    • Rylees Ace Hardware on Michigan/Fuller (Seriously. You could do most of your Christmas shopping here. Their kitchen/gift section is on par with a lot of the local boutiques.)
    • Romence Gardens. [plants and garden decor make great gifts for grandmothers, mom’s]
    • The Downtown Market

Favorite gift shops in Seattle:

  • Digs [furniture/gift store hybrid]
    I love this store! They stock the kind of gifts I like to give (unique, quality made goods with an attention to detail and good design) Lots of fun ideas, and options for people from toddler to adult.
  • Portage Bay Goods [awesome card selection, quirky gifts, children’s gifts]
    Great for artful knick-knacks, a large selection of cards, paper goods, well made children’s toys, and other playful gifts for every occasion. Clay and I bought 1/2 of our niece’s and nephew’s Xmas gifts here. (portable enough to pack in our suitcase to bring to MI!)
  • DeLaurenti Food & Wine
    The biggest selection of chocolate & natural wine that I’ve seen yet. So far this is the best shop I’ve found for specialty and imported foodie things. Their selection is impressive & drool-worthy.
  • Lucca Great Finds [home accessories, bath/body care, paper goods]
    The eclectic selection here makes this a great place to find special and unique gifts for special and unique people. They also sell Marvis toothpaste which makes a great stocking stuffer. And their back room of paper and office goods is stocked with the best designer pens, and notebooks.
  • Bookstores, there are so many but here’s the top of the top: Elliot Bay, Book Larder, Lamplight, and Lion Heart.
  • Essenza [boutique self care]
  • Indoor Sun Shoppe [so many plants!]
  • Archie McPhee […obviously]
  • Ballard Consignment [the best used/new furniture store in all the land, + antiques and collectables galore]
  • Venue [local art stalls, indoor]
  • Dandelion Botanical Co. [naturopath, apothecary]
  • Watson & Kennedy

What are your go-to shops? Leave it in the comments and maybe it’ll help make someone’s Christmas shopping a little easier!

Head here to read other articles in my Christmas guide. Happy shopping!

One thought on “Shop smarter, not harder

  1. Katie, Kate- This is why I let Mom do the shopping. For me, it is easy, Corvette America and life is good.

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