8/20/2012 2:15 PM ET|
How to avoid the mall until January
Not every artist charges thousands of dollars for original works. Even well-established artists may have reproductions and other merchandise that could fit your budget. Our friend, landscape painter and animation artist Michael Humphries recently opened a studio in La Cañada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, that features his artwork on mugs, calendars and notecards as well as original works. If you have an arts district in your town, check to see whether there are open-studio tours or other events where you can peruse local artists' works.
If there's an area of your town that could be described as quaint or charming, or a town like that nearby, join the tourists in wandering through the shops there. One reader nominated the old-town area of Arlington, Va., "especially the Fine Gifts section of Arlington Pharmacy." You may be pleasantly surprised at the quality of what you find. Amid the cheap T-shirt shops and other tourist traps, there are often places that stock clever, charming and one-of-a-kind gifts as well. People on vacation tend to spend money, and shops go where the money is.
Museum gift shops
Looking for gifts that are a cut above the ordinary? Check out the stores at local museums. You'll find the classy, the unusual or the just plain fun -- many museum gift stores have a whole section devoted to kids and some also represent local artists or craftspeople. Kansas' Wichita Art Museum, to name just one, has a beautiful collection of jewelry, glassworks, puzzles and, of course, prints, posters and notecards.
If your list includes any kids, or former kids, check out your local hobby shop for model and craft kits. We're loading up on these this year, since we plan to spend several days in the mountains for the holidays and these can be a great way for the generations to create something together. At least one former kid on my list is getting one of the models he used to love to assemble as a boy -- but shhh, don't tell him.
Teachers supply stores
These shops stock more than alphabet banners for classrooms. They have seriously sturdy toys for kids of all ages that promote, yes, learning. The science sections in particular often have amazing kits, games and tools, including things like digital handheld microscopes, chemistry sets and geodes you can break open to see the crystals inside.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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