With Thanksgiving already over a week behind us, stores have begun to pull out their tinsel and cottony fake snow and build generic, pan-denominational holiday scenes in their windows. Walgreens has started to play tinny Christmas music over its loudspeaker system.
Almost overnight, the commercial world has undergone a dramatic transformation, and just like that, we find ourselves in the thick of “holiday shopping season.” The pressure to find that perfect gift for that special someone suddenly places itself in the back of everyone’s mind. Where am I going to find something for my brother? What should I get uncle Joe? Ugh, do I have to get a present for my annoying little cousin?
Lucky for you, dear reader, the answers to almost all of your holiday gift-giving questions can be found just a stone’s throw away from Yale’s campus. New Haven is host to a bevy of small shops and galleries, many of which offer unusual alternatives to more generic present choices. Even the most difficult-to-please distant relatives will be placated by the wacky stuff that can be found in New Haven display windows.
To start your journey through some of New Haven’s most unique gift-finding locales, head down Chapel Street past the green to English Building Market. This warehouse-like space is full to the brim with colorful antiques and secondhand clothing from a wide range of eras. Many of the larger pieces of furniture are a bit pricey for a student budget; however, the various knickknacks and odds ‘n’ ends that litter the store are not only affordable but also perfect gifts. Design nerds will love the kitchenware from the 1960s and ’70s. History buffs will appreciate the old telephones and typewriters. Even your senile grandmother will enjoy a pair of saddle shoes that look just like the ones she wore to a sock hop in high school! The best thing about English Building Market is that, because all of its wares are antique or salvaged, everything is one-of-a-kind; you definitely don’t have to worry about getting someone something he or she already has!
But what about gifts for those who are less into the past and more into the here and now? You’ll have to find something more topical in the gift department. We have been hearing an awful lot about Ireland in the past few weeks; the nation’s economic and political struggles of late have captivated audiences across the globe. What does that mean for you this holiday season? Irish-themed presents are perfect for impressing your friends and family, who will think that you are so on top of global politics. Lucky for you, a treasure trove (or pot of gold, if you will) of Irish goods can be found right here in New Haven, just steps away from Old Campus at Celtica, located at 1006 Chapel St. Where else can one find kilts for children, sweaters woven from gen-u-ine Irish wool, and shamrock-covered tableware? Walking into Celtica is almost as good as a trip to the green isle itself, right down to the wistful bagpipe music being played over the store’s stereo system. For anyone with genealogy enthusiasts in the family, Celtica offers a whole range of gifts: little stuffed leprechauns sporting sweaters that say, “I’ve got Irish roots” and key chains bearing the crests of the various common Irish family names. Celtica also carries a nice line of mom-friendly gifts, because apparently loving one’s mother is a particularly Irish endeavor. You can buy your mother a plate that says, “Home is where your MOM is” in curly green letters; who could say no to that! Regardless of whom on your list receives that set of plates engraved with couplets of classic Irish well-wishing (“May you live one hundred years with one extra to repent”), they certainly will enjoy the thought you put into getting them such a bonny gift.
So now you have something for your grandmother and something for your mother. But what about your weird, hippie aunt? New Haven has a store for her, too. Have you ever rounded the corner of Park and Chapel and suddenly caught a whiff of incense? No, you haven’t been sucked into a wormhole and taken back to San Francisco in the 1960s, though you might as well have, if you follow the smell to its source, Group W Bench Gallery. This densely packed store is a liberal baby boomer’s wet dream. The store’s name originates from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 folk ballad, “Alice’s Restaurant;” in the song, Guthrie sings, “Group W’s/ where they put you if you may not be moral enough … and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly/looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers.” Don’t worry, you won’t find any mother rapers or father stabbers in this Chapel Street shop. You will, however, find an extraordinary collection of aura-improving candles and karmic jewelry. Every available surface in the store is covered with wares; the place is bursting at the seams! From the wall of vintage tin cars and wind-up toys to the racks of Indonesian sarongs, the off-beat and picturesque converge in this shop. Any “earth people” in your family will be more than pleased with a Ganesh mini fountain, complete with Vermont-made aromatherapy, just one of the many mystical offerings at Group W Bench Gallery.
Still not satisfied or finished with your shopping? If New Haven’s commercial oddities don’t do it for you (or maybe you’re just a holiday Scrooge and don’t want to spend more than you have to on gifts), there’s always Family Dollar, ready to come to your aid with religious timepieces for your mantle.