My family uses the German word “stadtbummel” (city stroll) to mean “We’re wandering in and out of stores on a whim.” Whatever you choose to call it, a stroll along Broadway at this time of year is a handy way to pinpoint gift ideas for every man, woman and child in your life.
Let’s bummel over to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (1886 Broadway between 62nd and 63rd), the go-to theater for anything interesting on the Upper West Side, and pick up a slim yellow and blue gift certificate booklet ($20) for Christopher the cinephile. The chocolate chip cookies ($1.95 each) at Breadsoul Café (30 Lincoln Plaza) are an addiction for Roger, who works long hours at the West Side Y on 63rd Street. He gives them as gifts to co-workers to munch on during the stressful holiday crunch.
“I do like my body butter,” said the mother of a tween girl at the Body Shop (2151 Broadway at 76th Street) clutching one fat, round tub in each hand. Her Uggs-wearing tween was busily looking for “purple and blue things” for a friend; the Body Shop currently has only dark red cranberry things. I’ll buy the Mini Shea Body Butter ($10) for my mom, because I can’t take my eyes off those pretty Karite nuts on the lid. Curiosity led me to Google the Karite Nut tree. It can live for 300 years and is called the “tree of life” by African women who make this penetrating butter by hand.
At Apthorp Pharmacy (2201 Broadway at 78th Street) buy Tweezerman nose hair trimmers ($15), and a plump bottle of Ahava Bath Salts ($22) for your husband (if he’s like mine, he takes baths daily; if not, get the salts for a girlfriend). And don’t forget Grether’s “swiss made” Pastilles ($5.95) for dad’s stocking. A pastille is a “pill shaped lump of compressed herbs burnt to release its medicinal qualities.” Think old-fashioned candy. Grether’s blackcurrant pastilles are worth it just for the classic blue and gold tin with the bulging lid. They come in redcurrant too. And they’re sugar free.
Let’s imagine we could fulfill the dreams of the animal-loving 12-year-old niece who lives with her beloved (but allergic) parents. We’ll adopt the snowy kitten curled tight on a beach towel in one of four stacked cages on the sidewalk in front of Barnes & Noble (2289 Broadway at 82nd Street). Uptown Cats takes in strays and neuters and de-worms them, and takes them back for any reason. Des, of Uptown Cats, checks out adoptive owners so thoroughly—and gives up his cats so reluctantly—that it’s like getting a visa to Iran. But on the Uptown Cats website (www.uptowncats.org) you can do a background check of your own: “Maxi was found dodging cars on the Bruckner Expressway…” Animal advocates warn against giving pets as gifts, but responsible parents who have thoughtfully weighed the burdens and joys of pet ownership might get Des’ approval.
My out-of-town 16-year-old nephew wants dark blue Vans sneakers. They’re half price ($25) at Harry’s Shoe Store (2299 Broadway at 83rd Street) but not in his size. He’ll have to settle for a Rubik’s Cube ($14.95) from Bank Street Bookstore (2879 Broadway at 112th Street). He’ll like it: he spent Thanksgiving break with his cousin’s cube, trying to crack the code and avoiding homework. There’s also the wooden dreidel ($1.99) for the 6-year-old, or the plush dreidel ($5.95) for the baby, but I prefer the pretty glass dreidel that really spins ($2.95). A game to keep kids happily busy (and off the computer) during the holidays is Rush Hour ($16.95 for ages 8+), a sliding block puzzle where players have to shift vehicles out of the way to reach an exit. The game teaches “logical progression, problem solving and sequential-thinking skills,” according to the manufacturer.
Nondescript little AR Wireless (2768 Broadway at 106th) has had to “drop our prices a bit” so it might be time to pick up that BlackBerry Bold smartphone for someone you really (and I mean really) love ($650).
At Liberty House (2466 Broadway at 112th Street) you can pick up a box of Morning Star Incense, a perennial best-seller ($8 for 80 sticks) with a tiny holder tucked inside. Liberty’s lovely leather wallets range in price from $18 for the ILI brand, with the curved, zippered top, to $92 for the buttery yellow Tano wallet lined with satiny purple fabric. The woman next to me picked up a pillow sachet with a pair of black putti—the winged babies often confused with cherubim—on the front. She planned to “tuck it in with another gift” for Kwanzaa ($18). I was happy to hear from co-owner, Martha Faibisoff, that Liberty House just signed another five-year lease. They’ll wrap your gifts free, by the way, and you can bring them directly to the post office around the corner on 112th Street and mail them at the APC (Automated Postal Center) machine, although, alas, that line moves no faster than an equally long line for the human clerks.
It always happens when I’m shopping for others that I am reminded of things I need for myself. So during a lull at Janoff’s Office and Art Supply (2870 Broadway between 111th and 112th) I selected small Post-Its ($.70) and a rectangular Ampad reporter’s notebook that fits nicely in the hand ($2.48). Then I spied the perfect gift for my friend Carol, and my brother Jon, both writers: the Moleskine set of three plain journals ($10.56). These “legendary” notebooks used by “Van Gogh, Picasso, Hemingway and Chatwin,” are prized for their creamy ivory stock and their portability.
At University Housewares (2901 Broadway at 113th), owner Bob Fendell looks not much older than the college kids he serves. He informed me that the original owner of the 70-year-old store (as well as the nearby University Hardware) is a Mr. Milstein, age 95. Here you can pick up six cookie-tray bags with twist ties for your gift plates of homemade goodies ($2.79).
Now, I’ve always thought GameStop (2764 Broadway at 106th and 2330 Broadway at 85th) catered mostly to males. “No,” said the ponytailed male cashier firmly, relating a tale of a 73-year-old female “diehard pc game fan,” who “comes in once a week” and natters on about games “dominated by females” and “Clans” and “Game Chicks” and “Frag Dolls.” I had no idea what he was talking about and stopped taking notes. I don’t even have cable. Families buy the Wii ($249), the uber-popular Nintendo game system that’s a favorite of kids and elders alike. Wiis are in stock, a salesman reported last week, but “we’re running out pretty fast.” Shoppers who miss this item, take heart: GameStop expects additional Wii shipments before the end of the month.
At Oren’s Daily Roast (2882 Broadway between 112th and 113th), the Presidential Peppermints are selling well at $3 a tin, as are the After Therapy Mints, the Anti-Establish Mints, and the Messiah Mints: Save Your Breath. “I helplessly collect things about Obama,” said a wire-rims-wearing press photographer who enviably sat in the third row at the Democratic Convention and has tickets to the inauguration. She fingered two little tins; one with the WPA-style print of Obama’s “Hope” poster face in red and blue and another with six little Obama heads in different colors. Together we decided on the Hope face: “It’s worth it for the tin alone,” she said.
You can still pick up an Obama T-shirt ($22) at Morningside Bookshop (2915 Broadway at 114th Street) or get far away from politics with the Solar System postcards ($4.98). The top book of each stack on the sale table looked a little worn, but not a copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments ($8.98) teased out from the bottom of the pile, nor a copy of Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Defined Man ($10.99).
At Cardomat (2884 Broadway between 111th and 112th) owner Rosalie Manning has filled her 15-year-old store with a lovely selection of note cards for all the thank-you notes you’ll be writing after the holidays. Manning opened back in the day when “There was nothing here! It was awful! This is Columbia!” I, for one, am thankful she’s here. I browsed the stacks of Waste Not Paper, from a company that emphasizes renewable content, chlorine-free colors and other “green” practices. Eight note cards and envelopes are $14; I liked the paisley chocolate with antique gold pattern for my sister in Georgia. However, the “Never think outside the box” New Yorker cat cartoon box (20 for $14) is a better deal. Advent—the season of anticipation and expectation—has come fast on the heels of Thanksgiving this year. No worries: Cardomat has chocolate Advent Calendars ($4.50).
Manning and other shopkeepers along Broadway worried about the lack of buyers and the “staggering rents.” It’s therefore comforting to see the brand new Portrait Bug: Snap n’ Snip (2466 Broadway between 91st and 92nd), brainchild of owner Kim Brooks, a lifelong New Yorker who couldn’t find a decent portraitist in the $75 range on the Upper West Side to snap her 2006 baby. (“I had to go to New Jersey!”) She wants you to “Get those photos off the computer and out of the shoebox.” Her concept is threefold: scrapbook store, portrait studio and party room. A young mother was busily buying colorful paper, tags, stickers and doo-dads for precisely the reason that scrapbooking has become so popular: “I’m not that artistic,” she said, drinking in all the advice Brooks could give her about “scrapping.” PB, as the store refers to itself on its website (www.portraitbug.com), also sells the gadgety ActionSampler, a see-through camera that produces a four picture grid on one print ($30).
Dunkin’ Donuts (2601 Broadway between 95th and 96th & 2547 Broadway between 93rd and 94th) proudly uses Fair Trade-certified coffee, but everything in Bazaar de la Paz (2662 Broadway near 101st) is Fair Trade-certified. “We make connections between artists—who don’t have access to the global market—and consumers,” said owner Carol Puzone, a former international humanitarian aid worker. This store defines one-man’s-junk-is-another-man’s-treasure. I fell in love with the delicate Ecuadorian dried orange peel star ornaments ($2.50) and the yellow- and aqua-flecked South African Paper Mache bowls made of Lion Safety Match boxes ($28.50). Puzone said teens buy the teeny tiny ten-cent recycled paper beads from Uganda to make friendship bracelets. Deeply colored vegetable-dyed toys—a double-pull clacker duck and a tic-tac-toe game, for example—are safe for teething kids ($6 to $45). Tropical Salvage furniture is sold downstairs ($125 to $2350). Centuries-old Indonesian hardwoods are salvaged for this line.
Last stop was Silver Moon Bakery (2740 Broadway at 105th). A Columbia grad student I know likes to pick up a fruit tart on her way to holiday parties. “People have enough stuff,” she reasons. The dusted with sugar lemon tart topped with three juicy blackberries looked yummy to me, but my waitperson said in cold weather people prefer the apricot tarts or mixed fruit in medium ($15) or large ($27). Suddenly worn out from my long, chilly stadtbummel, I couldn’t think about fruits, tarts or pies, but the hot chocolate that Silver Moon employees whip up from scratch in their basement went down easy ($4.23).
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