A different take on holiday shopping stories

We’ve been bombarded the past few days with stories about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

All that coverage reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was on the weekend shift right before Christmas. The editors wanted some sort of holiday shopping story.

Rather than do the typical thing and go to the mall to interview harried shoppers (which is not much fun anyway), I sold my editors on a contrarian* story idea: Go to unusual places to shop.

I stopped at a garden center, a hardware store and a fishing/hunting store and worked up a fun little feature story.

I pasted the story below in my original post, because I couldn’t find it online to save my life. I’ll keep it here, but I’ve now got a link to the original (courtesy of my colleague Eric Hartley) — So would you mind giving me and my newspaper a few clicks?

Trying to avoid holiday crush?

Stores off the beaten path offer unique gifts for everyone on your list

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

There are just two days left until Christmas and you’ve suddenly realized you still have gifts to buy.

Maybe you got news that your uncle just decided to join your family’s Christmas dinner. Or maybe you accidentally left a cousin off the list.

At this point, it doesn’t really matter why. What matters is how you’re going to solve the problem.

The first thought is to rush to the malls, right?

The malls may have lots of stores, but they also have lots of people, people, people and nary a place to park.

There are plenty of other retailers out there you might not consider for last-minute shopping. Ones that have ample parking and friendly employees, too.

The Capital has done some legwork, and we’ve drummed up some unique gift ideas at unusual stores.

So now you have no excuses – get shopping!

First stop: the hardware store.

Clement Hardware employee Sue Alascia can point out potential gift ideas in nearly every aisle of the Severna Park store.

“Tool sets are always good,” she said, picking up a $25 set with a utility knife, level, measuring tape, flashlight and batteries.

Even though the shop is a hardware store, there are gifts for more than just home fix-it types.

Bird feeders range from $5 to $34 and old-fashioned oil lamps sell for $9.50. Be sure to buy “ultra pure” oil for refills.

“They are so popular right now,” Ms. Alascia said.

You could pack a bucket full of car wash supplies and Armor All wipes for a new car owner or a car enthusiast.

Other hardware store ideas: battery-powered touch lights ($10.80), five flashlight set with batteries ($8.50), long handled grabber to reach the top shelf ($25).

Second stop: the garden shop

At Gary’s Garden Mart in Severna Park, most of the floor space is occupied by Christmas trees and poinsettia plants.

But there are other gems to be found in the shop, according to employees Melissa Avenius and Brittany Benewicz.

Ms. Avenius is a fan of the miniature log cabins that burn incense ($9.99 to $12.99). She even bought one for her mom in Florida.

“You put the incense in and smoke comes out the chimney,” she said.

Gary’s also sells bird feeders, scented candles and the staff can pot pansies or decorative cabbage into pottery for you.

Another idea: blooming orchids that sell for $24.99.

“That’s a really great deal,” Ms. Avenius said. “The blooms last a long time.”

Last stop: the hunting and fishing store

Angler’s off of Route 50 is hopping this time of year, mostly with waterfowl hunters needing gear.

But it’s not all camo and ammo at the venerable outdoors store. There are plenty of gifts for outdoors enthusiasts, cooks and even little kids.

“Why would you want to go to the mall when you’ve got all this parking and all this great stuff?” asked owner Charlie Ebersberger.

Surprisingly, Angler’s has kids offerings such as plush animals (including rockfish) and kiddie rod-n-reel combos. The fishing rods run $18 to $20 and feature the likes of Spiderman and Barbie.

There’s also outdoor apparel for men and women, Under Armour gear and ladies’ sweaters and shirts. There are gifts for cooks, such as a box set of Old Bay seasoning and a decorative glass shaker for $24.99. There are crab-themed cookbooks and platters.

Angler’s offers binoculars from $20 to $1,400, high-intensity xenon flashlights from $40 to $100, and even high-end, durable Filson luggage.

Plenty of other options exist for frantic shoppers.

Other ideas include video store gift cards (pair them with a bowl, popcorn and candy from a drugstore) or car wash gift cards (paired with car cleaning supplies and fun air fresheners from an auto parts store).

Anyone with a car can put gasoline gift cards to good use. And liquor stores sell gift sets of alcohol and matching glassware.

And these days, you aren’t even out of luck if you wait until the very, very last minute. Nearly every convenience store and grocery store sells gift cards to a multitude of stores.

Best of all, many are open on Christmas Day.

Published 12/23/07, Copyright © 2011 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.


* When I’m stuck for story ideas, thinking contrarian is a fun way to brainstorm. I picked up the idea from a writing workshop many moons ago. So often, we think to write about things that are typical, usual, normal. The things everyone is doing. But what about the unusual things? The things that only a few people are doing? The opposite? One of my favorite contrarian stories was when I wrote about how Thanksgiving dinner can actually be quite healthy, if you skip the gravy and pies.

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