Hard Candy: How to Shop Local

If you’re one of those people who have completed your Christmas shopping early (or Chanukah, Ramadan, Saturnalia, or whatever – I can’t keep up anymore), congratulations. But if you, like me, haven’t even thought about that sort of thing yet, don’t worry – you can do it all without even getting in your car if you want.
No, I’m not going to tell you to buy your gifts online. I actually hate shopping for gifts, but that’s a throwback to a time when I had a charming in-law in my life who handed us a specific list. And by specific, I mean we showed up Christmas morning with receipts in hand, because you just knew at least 75% of what you bought was getting returned for something she really wanted: credit. It was, in a word, horrible, and by the end of my tenure in that family, I resorted to gift cards, because if you don’t care about the thought and effort someone puts into a gift, well, screw you.
But as much as I hate walking through the mall or clicking around on Amazon, looking for a gift to give just because I must give one, I truly delight in finding something special for someone I love . And, believe it or not, the idea of “shopping local” doesn’t appeal to me because it bolsters the local economy. No, it appeals to me because shopping local allows me to put more thought into what I give the people I love.
Shopping local comes in all sorts of creative forms. One year I bought my mom 26 used trashy paperbacks (one for every other week). I mean, OK, that doesn’t sound like a great gift, unless you’re my mom. She gets angry when I spend any money at all on her (“That’s not how Christmas works!” she tells me, but I remember what I did to that woman when I was 15; I can’t not get her something!), devours books like a diabetic eats candy, and has a propensity for printed word brain candy. That’s where Small Adventures came in rather handy.
So, OK, used books not your thing? Look around – everyone you see on Corey Avenue, Beach Boulevard, and St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District wants your business. Take Domain: I found awesome pinup coasters for a friend who loves Betty Page and a brie baking dish for another friend who likes to make me brie (see what I did there?). I have a stubborn curly-haired friend who will get a gift certificate to Live Curly, Live Free this year because she won’t do it for herself, and another friend who keeps saying he needs to get out and paddle Clam Bayou. Guess who’s getting a tour of the bayou from Kayak Nature Adventures?
But say you want to do something grander, or perhaps more personalized? Not to engage in too much self promotion, but consider some of the artists who have graced the pages of the Gabber over the last few years. Denis Frain creates metal wall art that you can tailor to your budget or to depict something personal for the recipient; Own Pach not only blows glass, he has an amazing selection of glass art already, and if you stroll through the Domain gallery you’ll find a sweet little Christmas tree trimmed with Owen’s blown-glass ornaments. Mel Lowe does artistic photography and makes any woman look and feel beautiful.
Still at a loss? Everybody loves to eat. Look around: from breakfast at Gulfport Cafe or Stella’s to an elegant dinner at the Tradewinds’ Palm Court (you did know the Tradewinds was locally owned, right?), a dinner at any of those places works as an amazing gift, too. The Sirata, like the Tradewinds, is owned by a local family; why not give your in laws a weekend there the next time they come to visit (OK, that one’s a gift for you, too, but I won’t tell, I swear).
I think I’m making my point here, but just in case I’m not, here are a few others: if someone collects something, check Gulfport Beach Bazaar, the thrift shop on Corey, or the Salvation Army before you launch a massive online hunt. If someone truly doesn’t need any more “things”, give them a membership to the Gulfport Senior Center, Gulf Beaches museum, Gulfport Historical museum, or any number of local places. Give the gym rat a year at Fit For Life, or buy them a few sessions with a personal trainer.
While I realize this reads like one giant ad, understand that no one here paid for inclusion (or even had a say in whether I mentioned them) and just because I don’t mention a local business here doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your money, because by and large, they do. Honestly, I wish I could cram more businesses into this column, because there about 357 local businesses who richly deserve and want your business, and they all offer you the chance to give gifts that let the recipient know you were really thinking about them. Shopping at local stores, especially in an area like South Pinellas, affords us the opportunity to really personalize our gifts and let the people we love know that we really put a lot of thought into what we think of them and what we believe they would want. It lets them know that we believe they’re just as special an individual as the community we’ve chosen to call home.
Now, get out there and walk over to your nearest downtown.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com. No business or individual received any sort of compensation in relation to this article.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.