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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Monday, June 24

Gapers Block

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It's the week before Christmas — and the week before Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, too! — which means that if you have approximately 144 to 168 hours to finish your holiday shopping. In case you're still having trouble finding those last few items on your list, members of the staff of Gapers Block have compiled a list of some of their favorite places for gift shopping.


Arcadia Knitting
1613 W. Lawrence Ave.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: noon to 8pm
Saturday: noon to 6pm
Sunday: noon to 5pm

This year is Arcadia Knitting's first Christmas in its new location on Lawrence Ave., just west of Ashland. The space affords them two big rooms full of yarn all organized by color. Does Aunt Jenny want a blue scarf? They've got dozens of blue-toned yarn for you to pick from. One of the most helpful yarn stores in town, the ladies at Arcadia Knitting are informative and friendly without being pushy or overly "salesman" like. (I once made the request of finding some "manly" yarn and they nailed it with some merino that didn't bust my budget and was a total bullseye for my project.) It's truly a joy to stroll through the store and run your fingers over skeins of merino, alpaca, and mohair yarns while being able to really examine the color tone of the fiber in natural daylight (something not every shop can offer in such large supply). For the yarn-a-holics in your life, they also have a wall of needles, books and project-sized bags — all at great prices. If you have a significant knitter, get them some yarn, a new set of bamboo needles, and a fine book of new patterns to keep them busy through the winter. Maybe they'll thank you with that set of mittens you've been putting off making for yourself.
-Anne Holub


Chicago Comics
3244 N. Clark St.
Monday through Thursday: noon to 8pm
Friday: noon to 10pm
Saturday: 11am to 10pm
Sunday: noon to 6pm

With Tim Burton inspired lunch boxes ($19.95), Simpsons Pictionary ($34.95) and a variety of ugly dolls ($9.95-$24.95), Chicago Comics is a one-stop shop for the truly pop culture obsessed. At the front of the store you'll find your regular funnies — The Boondocks and Charles Schulz are here — as well as literary reads, such as the most recent McSweeney's and Punk Planet publications. Progress toward the back and you'll pass all manner of actions figures, from Family Guy to Buffy, and the widest selection of superhero titles you can imagine. Make it all the way to the end and you'll find yourself surrounded with independent and small press graphic novels. And for the special child in your life, you can do far worse than a three-foot plush Cat in the Hat ($70).
-Veronica Bond


Crafty Beaver
Multiple locations
Monday-Friday 6:30am to 8pm
Saturday 8am to 5pm
Sunday 9am 5pm

I realized I had made my official transition to "Guy" when I was totally stoked to wander through the best hardware store in Chicago, the Crafty Beaver. My wishlist grew with each visit: different drill bits, a Carhartt jacket, gardening tools. If the boy (or Dad, or tool-savvy chick) in your life is exhausted by the headache that is shopping at the Home Depot, it's time for a Crafy Beaver excursion. If you don't like hardware stores, the Crafty Beaver is mercifully small. If you do, it's small enough to quickly find what you need. If you can't, unlike the other hardware store, someone will actually help you.

Need some ideas if you have to buy something for a guy but don't know what? Here are some suggestions:
1. Laser Level. These are relatively new; not everyone has one. And it will make his heart flutter.
2. All-In-One Hardware Kit. These run $20 - $30 and have things like a screwdriver, tack hammer, wrenches, and other doo-dads. It comes in a case and works well for traveling. Like when Dad needs to come over and fix something in your apartment.
3. Lined Flannel. Lined Flannel is a timeless look. Before you right this off, I can say that flannel is beyond style, and great for any outdoor activity. Most people that get one love it for weekend fun.
4. Big Ol' Box Of Nails. No matter how many of these you have, you never have the right one. A random assortment of nails is handy, practical and cheap.
5. Bric-a-Brac. Still don't know what to get? Buy lots of little things for diversity and fun and enjoyment (all of these are probably $5 and under; buy them all for a sure hit): sandpaper, deck nails, lawn bags, heavy-duty garbage bags, paint tray liners, extra drill bits, or extra nice paintbrushes.

I know it sounds hard to imagine a huge smile on someone's face when they open up a big bag of sandpaper and deck nails. But these things are the atoms of every house project: without them there is no refinishing, painting, or new garden beds. And I think anyone will admit: hardware of any type is more exciting than more socks or a tie for Dad. The Crafty Beaver has locations in Albany Park, Uptown, and Portage Park in Chicago, with an additional location in Skokie. For hours and addresses, check out their website.
-Brian Sobolak


CTA Gift Express
Phone orders Monday through Friday: 9am to 4pm

If there's a railfan on your list, you don't even have to leave home to find the perfect present. The CTA's Gift Express has all manner of transit-themed merchandise, from shower curtains to cycling jerseys. Granted, some of the stuff is a bit corny (after all, does anyone but a local politician really need a silk scarf with the transit map on it?). Nevertheless, for every patterned sock, there's a neat item like the directional placards you see in El cars or cufflinks made from old fare tokens.

That said, if you're looking for something a bit more hipster-appropriate, the "Urban Transit Wear" from Toghaus could be just the ticket. The concept is sleek and simple: American Apparel gear emblazoned with the CTA station of your choice. And, according to the proprietor, "I can fill orders same-day/next day in most cases. And I will do so right up until December 25 for you last-minute shoppers. If need be, you can come pick them up from me directly to save time (and shipping cost)." Can you ask for better service? Just make sure to get there by CTA.
-Matthew Peck


Fox & Obel Food Market
401 E. Illinois Street
Open seven days a week
Caf´┐Ż open 7am to 8pm
Market hours are 8am to 8pm

Occupying a niche somewhere between Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca, Chicago's own Fox & Obel Market is, for lack of a less-lame term, a foodie's paradise. The olive oil tasting bar alone would be enough to recommend it. You can't swing an artisanal baguette without hitting a decadent ingredient that few would buy for themselves but that many would love to receive. Even if your gift list doesn't include anyone who fancies themselves a chef, you never know when you might need to pick up a quick hostess gift. This is just a good place to know about, people.

Incorporating a cafe and bakery within the market (which, naturally, includes the requisite cheese, fish, and candy islands), there's enough to keep you busy for as long as you want to browse (and nibble), but it's not hard to get in and out if need be. Be sure to try out one of the famous oatmeal raisin cookies ($1.50/each at the bakery, or $50 for a six-pound drum) — they're one of Oprah's "Favorite Things" of 2005 (and a relatively popular addition to the last GB Meet-Up). And unlike one from, say, the Gap, a gift certificate from F&O stands a chance of being judged both thoughtful and practical.
-Nathan Grotte


Mint Boutique
1450 W. Webster Ave.
Thursday and Friday: 4pm to 8pm
Saturday: 10am to 7pm
Sunday: 11am to 5pm

If you've waited this long to do your shopping, chances are you've resigned yourself to digging through uninspired leftovers at department stores. Well, pshaw! No need to resort to unwanted gifts when you could buy beautifully handmade items that were created right here in Chicago. Mint Boutique (1450 Webster Avenue) has hundreds of items that are likely to be perfect gifts. Whether you want candles from Flamebabe, hand-fused glass jewelry from Kiku, pottery from Mei Wu Pottery, vegan soap from Bad Kitten Soaps, or a card that is pretty enough to be considered art from a variety of folks, you'll find what you like at Mint. And you'll be able to cross off lots of names on your list without waiting in a long line, elbowing people out of your way for crappy merchandise in crushed boxes, and you might even have time to go across the street for a movie afterward.

For last-minute shoppers, Mint will be open from 12 noon to 8pm on Thursday, December 22, and Friday, December 23rd. And if you'd like to save 20 percent off an item, print off the special coupon and take it in with you.
-Cinnamon Cooper


Paper Doll

Paper Doll
1747 W. Division St.
Special Holiday Hours:
Monday through Friday: 11am to 7pm
Saturday: 11am to 6pm
Sunday: 11am to 5pm

It's hard to say whether it's the comprehensive collection of cards for every occasion or the resident pug Maud that keeps West Siders coming to Paper Doll. One thing's for sure, owners and sisters Stacy and Kelly Swett know how to choose and display irresistibly cute items. This Division Street shop carries tiny (and inexpensive) curiosities to stash in your purse in case of a gift-giving emergency like Sniffs tissues, flashcards from KnockKnock (covering such topics as slang, sex and therapy), and cheeky bath products from Blueq (choose from Boss Lady, Miso Pretty, Dirty Girl and Mullet themes). There's nothing more satisfying than buying the men on your lists stuff from girly shops like this; Paper Doll carries The World Beard and Mustache Championships and a well-designed, practical bottle opener and carabiner. The Swetts say their dolls from Kamibashi's String Doll Gang (made from a single string) are one of the season's biggest sellers. Members of the Gang include Gossip Girl, Joe Ninja, Lover Boy and Collin the Pirate. My favorite find: a "Friend of Maud" dog shirt in trendy ringer-tee style.
-Michelle Taransky


1913 W. Division St.
Monday through Saturday: 11am to 7pm
Sunday: noon to 6pm

Penelope's has quickly become the go-to boutique on Divison Street in the East Village. The cheery blue walls, pleasant husband and wife owners and adorable pugs guarding the door (or sleeping in the space-age chair in the front window) make for one of the most unpretentious shops in the 'hood. Their wares are an eclectic mix of clothing and accessories for men and women, quirky housewares and fun gadgets. Although they carry labels such as APC, Fred Perry, Penguin and Spiewak, Penelope's also carries unique and handmade garments by many under-exposed local and national designers. They have a great selection of last-minute holiday gift items like simple yet surprisingly mod bead earrings and necklaces starting at $10, woodland creature-themed throw pillows starting at $28, a copious mix of fun and hip silkscreen t-shirts starting at $25 and for the photog in your life, a mix of interesting lomographic and fish eye cameras starting at $25. If you can't find a gift for someone in this store, you're not looking hard enough. The kicker comes with trying to walk out of the door without having bought a few gifts for yourself.
-Jennifer Haffner


Penzey's Spices
1138 W. Lake St., Oak Park
Monday-Friday: 9:30am to 5:30pm
Saturday: 9:30am to 5pm

235 S. Washington St., Naperville
Monday-Friday: 9:30am to 5:30pm
Saturday: 9:30am to 5pm

Whether you're shopping for a foodie or your garden-variety fancypants, Penzey's is the place for you. The fine folks at this Wisconsin-based chain (with retail locations in Oak Park and Naperville) have carefully collected the world's best spices and packaged them with thought and love. Visit to find something to suit all palates.

1. Eight-Piece American Kitchen. Oh, we are a melting pot, aren't we? Live the dream through this spice gift set, featuring seasoning blends from around the world. Another fun treat — all Penzey's sets come packed with bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.
2. Baker's Assortment. For the fledgline baker. This $21.95 starter box contains china cassia cinnamon, Dutch cocoa, baking blend, and pure Madagascar vanilla.
3. Fleur de Sel. This is the finest salt in the world, harvested by hand from French salt flats. You can pick up a half-cup of it for only $6.95. It might not sound like a lot, but since Fleur de Sel should only be sprinkled on top of dishes and not used for cooking, it will go a long way.
4. Zassenhaus Pepper Mill. Penzey's sells these German-made pepper mills for $27.95 (the 5-3/4 inch) and $37.95 (the 7-1/2 inch). They're great for adding the yummy crunch of freshly ground pepper to all of your favorite dishes. Don't forget to pick up some Tellicherry peppercorns to go with it.
5. Kashmir Saffron. Buy this when you want to give the best of the best. Saffron is hand-harvested from crocus flowers, and Kashmir Cream Mogra Saffron are the fattest, longest saffron strands on the market. You can get a gram (which goes a long way) for only $10.95.
-Shylo Bisnett


1854 W. North Ave.
Monday through Friday: noon to 10pm
Saturday: 11am to 10pm
Sunday: noon to 6pm

Like an without the .com, Quimby's on North Avenue in Bucktown carries such an eclectic mix of books, magazines and ephemera, a shopper with drive might be able to complete all his gift buying in one locale. Great books for the Chicagophile abound, such as Joe Meno's new release Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir, Elizabeth Crane's classic When the Messenger is Hot, and the hip compilation "Chicago Noir" edited by Neal Pollack and featuring Achy Obejas, Peter Orner, Adam Langer and Meno. Quimby's is one of the only shops in Chicago where you can score literary journals sure to excite the experimental poet in your life: Aufgabe, Conundrum (issue #1), Crowd and the now defunct 3rd Bed. A carefully selected niche magazine (ReadyMade, Adbusters, Found Magazine, Dirty Found, Tiki Magazine, etc.) or zine is sure to receive more love than a gift-set from Bath and Body Works. The new McSweeney's, #18 is probably the most irresistible item in the store, especially because it's shrink-wrapped with Wholphin (a new DVD magazine) so it can't be thumbed through. For those book-hating friends, check out the stock of unique chatchkas including felt plushies from Mr. Pickles, Ugly dolls and a few bold selections from Accoutrements, such as a bacon car fresheners or a librarian action figure.
-Michelle Taransky


Timeless Toys Ltd.
4749 N. Lincoln Ave.
Holiday hours:
Monday through Wednesday: 10am to 7pm
Thursday and Friday: 10am to 8pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 6pm

If you are buying gifts for any children this holiday season, you do not want to miss Timeless Toys in Lincoln Square. You won't find any Bratz dolls, Star Wars action figures or any of the other garbage advertised during Saturday morning cartoons here. Instead, you will find a huge variety of classic, quality toys that encourage creative play. These include stuffed animals by Gund, coloring and activity books from Dover, the Klutz series of craft books and kits, musical instruments, games, storybooks and art supplies. The shop also includes notable selections of hand puppets and costumes. Timeless Toys is literally packed floor to ceiling with great gifts for babies, children and even those who are only young-at-heart, at prices for every budget.
-Alice Maggio

Waxman Candles

Waxman Candles
3044 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL. 60657
(773) 929-3000
Special December hours: Seven days a week, 10am to 8pm

I was lucky enough to once work across the street from this fantastic Lakeview candle shop that has since become one of my gift-giving mainstays. Not only do they sell the most amazing variety of votives, tapers, column and floating candles (just to name a few), but they make them all on premises. This is no "candle in a jar" candle joint. These candles have some sass, and won't break your bank account either. The candles at Waxman come in an amazing, ever-changing variety of smells, including "black rose," "sweet grass," honey, lotus and fig. They're carrying special holiday themed candles right now in the flavors of "yuletide carols," "sugar plum" and "frankincense & myrrh." If you've got a Scrooge on your list, give them a "lump of coal candle" or a votive in the flavor of "Santa farts" (kind of spicy, to be honest). Almost all their candles come with a "buy a dozen and get a discount" deal, which means you can shop for almost everyone on your list there in one trip. Grab some handmade ceramic votive holders, some wrought iron candlesticks, or some unique wall sconces to spruce up your joint before mom stops by. Get a "super votive" that will last for 40 hours, or a layered column for that special occasion (some of the flavors include "first date" and "sugar free"). If you like candles for their warm glow rather than their scent, grab some of their fabulous scentless tapers and votives in a wide variety of sizes and colors; they're always smokeless and drip-free. You get a pack of Waxman matches with your purchase, and they'll even box them up for you.
-Anne Holub


About the Author(s)

Gapers Block staffers Shylo Bisnett, Veronica Bond, Cinnamon Cooper, Nathan Grotte, Jennifer Haffner, Anne Holub, Alice Maggio, Matthew Peck, Brian Sobolak and Michelle Taransky contributed to this article.

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