Locally made and recycled options for last-minute gifts—or for you
By Emily Kovach
After the whirlwind of the holiday season, you may find yourself with a few last-minute gifts to pick up. Or, maybe it’s time to do a little shopping for someone extra special: you! After all, New Year’s Eve is right around the corner and last year’s bejeweled bow-tie needs a few other accessories to make friends with. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes, a refreshed work wardrobe for 2018, or just something to spruce up the apartment—winter does mean spending a lot of time indoors—it’s good to be ready for when the shopping mood strikes.
Philly hasn’t always had the best retail reputation, but that’s all been changing over the past few years. Just as the big chain retailers have taken over half-blocks in Center City, each neighborhood has welcomed independent shops and boutiques that offer a refreshing version of what local shopping can mean.
Artist Minna Aaparyti is the driving force behind this shop in Fishtown that focuses on eco-friendly gifts. Her background as a maker is apparent in the many handmade goods that are offered throughout the store; not all are strictly local, but each item has clearly been chosen with care. A variety of organic bodycare products, such as soaps from Idaho-based Orchard Farm and Philadelphia local Volta Organics, share shelf space with responsibly sourced teas from Wisconsin artisans Rishi Tea, essential-oils-based incense from Maroma, in India, and handknit mittens, hats and scarves. Select items for the home, such as journals made from upcycled paper and naturally scented soy candles, are available as well. There’s also a selection of earrings and necklaces, inspired by shapes in nature, all priced so you could give them as a gift or treat yourself without needing a special occasion.
Craft Foundry also offers a range of craft classes, all of which take place in the shop. For those interested in paper-based arts, the greeting card and basic bookbinding classes are great places to start. There’s also a workshop titled Two Books in Two Hours, which teaches participants how to make books with simple accordion binding as well as Japanese binding methods. Jewelry-making classes are available, too. You can choose from basic jewelry repair, introduction to silver clay jewelry and an intriguing class called Bronze Clay Adventure. Craft Foundry is a great place to celebrate the beauty and creativity in handmade arts.
701 Belgrade St.; 267.977.8499
Old City is packed to the gills with places to shop: There are the tourist traps hawking Rocky- and Liberty Bell-themed swag, the fancy-shmancy clothing boutiques, the high-end furniture design shops and so much more that we’re happy to walk right on by. But when Tiffica Benza, Ashley Peel and Jennifer Provost opened Philadelphia Independents in May of 2014, this bustling neighborhood finally had a store where local artists and makers are the focus. In fact, everything in this cozy shop is handmade and local.
Yes, you will find many Philly-themed items in Philadelphia Independents, but they are clever, well-designed items that actually represent what our city is all about. The T-shirts from Hog Island sport wry takes on local iconography (such as the word “Yous” in the famous “Love” square configuration), elegant screen-printed Philly maps from Eyes Habit, and stark, stunning black-and-white photos by Michael Penn featuring famous landmarks—not all souvenirs have to be schlocky. There is so much more, too: adorable, upcycled stuffed animals, all-natural body care, many styles of jewelry and one of the best selections of local greeting cards around. One wall of the store is dedicated to the 5x5 Gallery, which features work from a different local artist every month, usually with lively receptions on First Fridays. If you ever are in doubt of just how much talent is brewing in our fair city, take a spin around Philadelphia Independents for a potent reminder.
35 N. 3rd St.; 267.773.7316
For over 10 years, VIX Emporium has been holding down the corner of 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue in West Philly with super cute local gifts. A decade is a long time in our retail landscape—in 2007, there wasn’t as much retail in the Cedar Park neighborhood as there is now, and there certainly weren’t many artisan-focused boutiques in the city at large. But the selection at VIX, which is down-to-earth and offers a wide range of price points—and almost all locally made goods—spoke to the neighborhood in a way that resonated.
“When the Dollar Stroll started, we were the farthest thing West, but now we’re far from it,” says VIX’s owner Emily Dorn. “I’ve seen children grow up who have been coming to this store this whole time we’ve been open!”
Some offerings exemplify the location-appropriate bend to the political left—they sell T-shirts with the phrase “Nevertheless, She Persisted” to benefit Planned Parenthood, for instance—and the 1940s-era mirrored shelves are lined with all kinds of quirky, lovely gifts for the quirky, lovely people in your life. Check out the handmade ceramics, ogle the art prints, peruse the candles and bodycare, and don’t miss all kinds of jewelry and decorative home items. West Philly-branded T-shirts and baby onesies have become a symbol of local pride, and, hey, if you need an apron emblazoned with “West Philly is the best Philly,” VIX has that, too.
New for the 2017 holiday season, VIX is offering two exclusive 2018 calendars: one of paintings of West Philly architecture by artist Russell Brodie and the other by a local artist named Loretta Gary (owner of Radical Hearts Print Lab). Each month features a different radical figure or artist. They’ll print just 125 copies of each calendar, so if you’d like your very own piece of West Philly to appreciate all year long, get there soon.
5009 Baltimore Ave.; 215.471.7700
When I first moved to Philly in 2004, I needed to buy a suit for a job interview. As a broke and somewhat clueless recent college grad, the prospect of suit shopping had me feeling completely overwhelmed. An older, savvier friend suggested looking in Greene Street, and sure enough, when I stopped into the location at 7th and South, I walked out with a decent suit for under $50, which actually helped me pass for an adult (and, I might add, get the job).
That’s the beauty of consignment shops: Shoppers can go in with a specific mission, or simply just to browse. Either way, the odds lean much more toward success than the thrilling-but-unreliable vintage- or thrift-store hunt. The brands are recognizable, the sizing is modern, all of the garments have been vetted for good condition, and the prices are way, way less than what you’d spend at a department store.
Greene Street, which is based in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, has built a small empire on this concept. They began with one shop on the Main Line nearly 20 years ago and currently have nine locations across Greater Philadelphia and New Jersey. Each shop sells both women’s and men’s clothing, jewelry, shoes and accessories, and some locations have clothing for kids, too.
This isn’t the store’s only strong suit (no pun intended!), though. Greene Street is also a great option for when you’re doing a massive closet cleanout. That snagged sweater will have to go to the thrift store, but contemporary apparel with minimal wear can be consigned to Green Street for 40 percent commission. The locations in Wyncote and Summit, New Jersey, also offer the opportunity to trade items (see the website for more details).
Whether you’re buying or consigning, Greene Street helps to keep clothes out of the waste stream.