There's a great Bruce Springsteen song called "New York City Serenade" that includes the line, "It's midnight in Manhattan / This is no time to get cute."
It came to mind when thinking about the potent mix of excitement, hubris and pure panic that defines last-minute holiday shopping. When you get down to mere days or even hours before the bell tolls, you can't afford to bounce from store to store, hoping against hope that you'll amble into the perfect, poetic surprise. What you need is a kind of no-BS dependability, a place that gives you a reason to believe that 10 minutes after you walk in, you'll walk out with an all-around solid gift — something unique but understandable, admirable but affordable. And yes, maybe even inspired.
And while there are no guarantees in this life, there are Best Of winners. So this year, the Indy picks out 10 of our readers' favorites from the 2013 poll and gives a little sampling of what you'll find if you invest your waning moments there. At each, we highlight one gift under $50, one gift over $50. Done and done.
Look, we know you're not worried yet. But there's less than a week till Christmas.
In other words, it's midnight in Manhattan ... no time to get cute ...
• • •
As repeat winner for Place to Buy a Thoughtful, Inexpensive Gift and Place to Buy a Thoughtful, Over-the-Top Gift, locally owned Terra Verde (208 N. Tejon St., terraverdestyle.com) threatens to satisfy all your holiday needs short of a Christmas tree. And even then, it can hook you up with a pine-scented Thymes Frasier Fir candle.
"When you buy a tree, it smells for an hour, then it's done for," says store owner, Chris Sondermann. These Minnesota-made candles, priced at $34, have "extra long burn times that make them last for several seasons."
For the more blustery days ahead this winter, check out the Montanaco Shawl Collar Faux Fur Vest. Besides being a mouthful, this elegant, not to mention warm-as-hell, vest, is a good gift for the guys looking to give their ladies a wow moment. "A lot of times it's nice on a cold Christmas morning to open something warm and fuzzy," says Sondermann. Costing $124 (prices vary by style), this vest may get you all sorts of cozy cuddle time‚ and not just with the vest itself, if you're lucky. — AP
Savory Spice Shop
The moment I step into Savory Spice Shop (110 N. Tejon St., savoryspiceshop.com), I'm greeted with the pleasant aroma of herbs and spices, as well as with the warm welcome of store owner Dick Frieg. The quaint downtown location harbors spices, seasonings, curries and salts for both meat-lovers and vegetarians, says Frieg. "People love to receive spices as gifts," he asserts. "It gives people a chance to explore new horizons with fresh, wonderful flavors."
If you're looking for a gift under $50, then look into the Keys to the Cupboard spice assortment ($42). With offerings including garlic, onion, basil, organic cracked rosemary, French thyme and Greek oregano, Frieg says, this is the perfect gift for young people looking to cover the basics.
If you're looking to up the ante, check out the Gourmet Salt Collection ($79.50). This assortment features some of the finest salts in the world, from Mayan sea salt to Hawaiian Black Lava sea salt. The pink Himalayan sea salt, mined by hand, is believed to be the most ancient of all sea salts; it contains 84 trace elements, including iron, making it a flavorful alternative to what's in your table shaker. — AP
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
"It's a gift that people give for those who have everything else," says member and donor records coordinator Susan Lindquist about animal adoptions at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo road, cmzoo.org). You can select any of the animals at the zoo — from zebras to lemurs to pythons — to "give" to a loved one.
"A basic adoption is $30," says Lindquist. "It comes with a picture of the animal, certificate of adoption, fact sheet and adopted parent's name on the website."
If you want to buy for the whole family or a group of friends, you might consider spending extra on an Animal Encounter. "They're about half an hour long, and admission with the zoo is included," says animal administrative assistant Ashley Arimborgo.
This gift provides the opportunity to get a perspective on zoo life that's not typically available. "With penguins, people can give them enrichment or help feed," says Arimborgo. "With elephants, people can watch them get a bath or help feed." The most entertaining animal to visit, in my opinion, would be the orangutan: "You can watch them paint," Arimborgo explains. "Usually a painting is included." Encounters for up to four people are $250, then an additional $25 for each extra individual. — GR
While traveling, Eve Carlson of Eve's Revolution (1312 W. Colorado Ave., evesrevolution.com) stumbled across a scent that stole her heart. The Canadian-made, soy-based Eco-culture/Seracon candle, housed in a vintage container, is one of the newest products that she recommends as a gift to set the mood for the holiday season. Priced at $16, it gives off a festive, crackling sound upon the wooden wick catching fire.
If you're looking for something a little trendier from this women's vintage clothing boutique, check out the Winter White Poncho ($58). With a Winter Wonderland-ish feel to it, it's a great gift because it fits everyone and can be worn with a variety of outfits, says Carlson. One other thing to say about Eve's: Shopping in the homey, welcoming boutique is such a pleasant experience that you'll momentarily forget about the stress of your shopping list. And if not, you can always grab another candle to soothe your stress. — AP
Poor Richard's Bookstore
You might think you know everything Poor Richard's Bookstore (320 N. Tejon St., poorrichardsdowntown.com) has to offer. Well, did you know that in November, the folks here started a Vintage & Collectibles bookshelf? "Some people bring in their libraries, and we come across pretty valuable books that way," says employee Mike Cole.
Authors on the shelf include Faulkner, Orwell, Chekov, Wharton and Dickens, just to name a few. "We have some fantastic titles ranging from true old classics like The Iliad and The Odyssey to more modern, relatively speaking, horror titles like Dracula," says another employee, Philip Krogmeier.
Though some of these are recently reprinted "collectibles," my visit also yields a 1931 copy of The Magic of the Stars, by Alfred Sutro, priced at $25. Another book with yellowing pages and that musky, antique smell is a collection of stories by Jonathan Swift, priced at $20. Though the Swift compilation is without a printed publication date, a name and the year "1914" have been written on the inside front cover.
If you've got a little more money to burn on that bibliophile in your life, you might check out the three-volume box set of The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton, which runs at $85. With a title like that, you're sure to ring in the holiday spirit right. — GR
Brown's Shoe Fit Co.
My parents bet me I wouldn't find anything at Brown's Shoe Fit Co. (123 N. Tejon St., brownsshoefitco.com) under $50 but a measly pair of shoelaces. Well, that proves wrong as soon as a sales associate kindly shows me to the sock wall, featuring Smartwool Socks (starting at $12.50).
Disclosure of sorts: I own half a dozen pairs myself. Made with Merino wool, these socks are awesome at whisking away moisture, helping keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, says sales associate Dan Vega. "We sell so many it's ridiculous," he adds. And for the parents and grandparents out there looking to keep those precious toes of the little ones warm, Brown's also sells Smartwool Cozy Baby Booties, priced at $21.99.
Now, for those looking to unload that chunk of change weighing them down, a pair of Dansko Clogs ($150) looks like a good option. A sweet older woman, clearly a loyal customer, displayed her own pair for me, saying she'd worn them while working as a teacher for the past 10-plus years. One of the Top 20 shoes sold at Brown's, this one is orthotic-based, providing stability and durability that most everyone can pull off style-wise, according to Vega. And, added bonus: No laces needed. — AP
Commonwheel Artists Co-op
Walking into Commonwheel Artists Co-op (102 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, commonwheel.com) can be an overwhelming experience of inspiration and retail euphoria. If you have a tendency to end up buying for yourself when shopping for others, I advise you to stay on your toes.
One danger zone is Caron O'Neil's key rings, which can be attached by their lobster clasps to zippers, key chains or anything with a loop. "They're really sturdy," says O'Neil. "These are brass rods, so they're not going to bend open, and these are double jump rings, so they're not going to pull apart."
O'Neil says she finds the charms for her key rings all over the place, from art shows to bead shops to the occasional Arc or Goodwill. The most expensive key ring is $22.50 and the cheapest is $15.
O'Neil directs me toward a shelf featuring one of the co-op's newest artists, Tracy Hartman-Jensen, who specializes in wood-fired pottery.
"This effect you can only get from wood firing," says O'Neil, pointing out the sleek glaze of Hartman-Jensen's work. "It's just real earthy. [She] fires it — stoking it, stoking it — for hours and days until it gets to a certain temperature." Among this collection is a pair of candleholders, which is $70. — GR
I'm not exactly what you would call "outdoorsy," but I still know how to spot a nifty piece of crunch technology when I see it. Now available at Mountain Chalet (226 N. Tejon St., mtnchalet.com), The PowerPot is a device that converts heat generated by boiling water into power to charge your electronic gadgets. You never thought the woods would get this tech-savvy.
"It's a great tool for somebody who is using their iPhone or Smartphone in the backcountry as a navigation device or entertainment," says manager Matt Chmielarczyk. The PowerPot comes in at $149.
If you're looking for something a little more basic for that outdoorsperson, you can't go wrong with a headlamp. The folks at Mountain Chalet carry the most recent improvement on the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp, now with 130 lumens.
"The Spot is, I think, the best value in a multi-use headlamp," says Chmielarczyk. "Almost all of our employees own it. It's got a great combination of focused beam so you can see long distances... [and] a more area light, which conserves the battery." Not bad for $39.95. — GR
Kirk and Hill
Having never been to Kirk and Hill (129 N. Tejon St., kirkandhill.com) before, I enter timidly. OK, so I actually struggle to open the door and peer helplessly into the stylish women's fashion boutique for a minute too long. Seeing my feeble attempts, store manager Kirsten Hillstrom comes to the rescue, shaking her head in good-natured amusement.
It's with this in mind that I assure you: Yeah, Kirk and Hill is high-end, but it's not haughty.
For a safe, easy and versatile gift, a faux fur scarf ($39) is a great pick, says Hillstrom: "You don't have to worry about size, and everybody can use a scarf." If you're looking to up the glam, check out the Stella McCartney-inspired leather purse, priced at $99. Fashion designer and daughter of Sir Paul, Stella typically sees her purses run around $1,000 to $2,000, so you're getting a bargain. Coming in silver, black and green, the American-made bag makes for a great gift because, again, you don't have to play the size-guessing game. — AP
Independent Records (multiple locations, beindependent.com) has an impressive collection of box sets, but there's one that may speak loudest to the Dead Heads in your life.
"It's a box set of live Dead from 1979," says Ian Knoop, an Independent Records employee. "It's a first domestic release on vinyl. Dick's Picks [a concert-recording series] released them on CDs when they first came out, and now they're releasing them on 180-gram vinyl, which is high-quality and really great-sounding." This fifth volume of Dick's Picks is priced at $100.
And since we've started with the Dead, we can stick with the spirit of expanded consciousness and suggest you invest in one of Independent Records' new marijuana-inspired T-shirts. Among the collection are ones that riff on the Tide detergent logo and the 7-Eleven logo, though my personal favorite displays the Mona Lisa smoking a tremendous doobie. Get that touch of class for $14.99, sizes small through XL, $16.99 for XXL. — GR