CINCINNATI - A shopping day filled with frenzied parking lots, long lines at the cash register and stale mall air can put a damper on anyone's holiday spirit.
Shopping fanatics may thrive on the hustle and bustle of the holiday season at local malls and department stores, but fortunately there are some alternatives for the rest of us, and some right in our own backyards.
The Greater Cincinnati area is filled with local shops in almost every neighborhood. Whether you're shopping for your spouse, parent, friend or coworker, you can count on homegrown stores for something unique.
"It feels better to put money back into the community. You're going to get something that's unique and different too, something more special than something that they have everywhere," said Megan Schuck, manager of Pangea, a local clothing store located in Clifton along Ludlow Avenue.
Below are some of our top picks for holiday shopping this year:
For a photo gallery of our top picks and some of their products, go to http://www.wcpo.com//gallery/news/news_photo_gallery/shop-local-this-holiday.
1. King Arthur's Court Toys
Going to King Arthur's Toys as a child was a memorable experience for most who grew up in the Tri-State. Looking up at the royal purple awning with the parapet trim outside the store signified your arrival at one of the greatest places on earth.
Thousands of toys are arranged around the store with brightly painted walls and confetti print carpet to match.
Fortunately it's easy to navigate around with wide walking spaces that are perfect for families bustling through or parents with strollers.
It has served a flagship of the community for more than 31 years. Manager Leah Wiethe's father purchased the business in 1995.
Though many other toy stores carry a similar selection, Wiethe says it's their "toy experts" that help make their customers' shopping experiences unique.
Wiethe , a 15-year veteran, says most of the staff has worked for the company anywhere from 8-12 years.
"People come in and ask for suggestions and we walk them around and show them things based on our personal experience. We have children and nieces and nephews so we know what we like," said Wiethe.
From fluffy princess dresses to "Lord of the Rings" Lego sets, it's hard not to find something for the children on your holiday shopping list.
King Arthur's also has some distinct perks which makes it a one-of-a-kind shopping destination for parents.
"We try to carry a little bit of everything, but the main thing that sets up apart is the personal service. We offer gift wrap [and] we ship worldwide," said Wiethe.
Customers are welcome to leave their purchases with the staff who will wrap your presents after hours free of charge. For those with kids who like to sneak around for presents, King Arthur's will even hold your wrapped gifts until Christmas Eve.
King Arthur's is also one of the few stores in the country to carry a Gold Standard status with the Lego brand, which means they carry products that you won't see anywhere else.
"It's unique because not every store can carry the Lego Architecture series. Only 10-12 across the country, so we have the privilege of being able to sell the brand of [the] architecture [collection]... it's all worldwide sites the you replicate with Lego pieces... It's also great for teenagers and even adults."
But at the heart of it all, Wiethe says the store strives to carry toys that foster children's imaginations. For that reason they carry an extensive collection of Playmobil toys.
After your first trip shopping experience at this store, you will most likely be saying 'All hail to this toyland!'
Address: 3040 Madison Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45209
Parking: Parking lot and meter parking
Hours: Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Who to cross off your list: Children infant to pre-teen
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2. Northside International Airport
In a similar sentiment to Austin, Texas' "Keep Austin Weird" mantra, Cincinnati's Northside neighborhood prides itself on its eccentric characters and diverse community.
Over the past few years, local businesses and boutiques have continued to pop up in many of the renovated buildings along Hamilton Avenue with the most recent being the Northside International Airport.
Though the name may seem deceiving (sorry, no airplanes involved) business owner Aileen McGrath has created a co-op atmosphere where she houses a variety of local businesses to create a one-stop local shopping experience.
NIA was previously home to several bars over the years, the most prominent being Jacob's. But after many months of cleaning, painting and completely gutting out the interior, it hardly resembles its past.
NIA is easy to identify on the street thanks to a recent collaboration effort with CoSign, which helped mark several businesses in Northside with new outdoor signs.
When you first enter the shop your senses are struck by the smell of fresh tacos and baking corn chips which signifies your arrival at Tacocracy. In typical Northside fashion this storefront eatery takes a spin on traditional tacos by using a range of ingredients. For those tired of the same old chicken and beef options, indulge in marinated duck or Korean beef with a variety of salsas to choose from. You can even take a seat in an old airplane chair while you wait for your food to be prepared.
Past the dinning area is a large room divided by large black shelves to separate stations for each business. Within the mix is On the Prowl Vintage, Blink Makeup Studio, Wrong Bros. bicycles, (False) Minotaur and wax aesthetic.
Some of the staff's favorites include, "Duck Taco! Handmade Soaps, lotions and natural makeup at Blink, musical instruments and weird noise making apparatus at (False) Minotaur, amazing blouses, skirts and accessories from On the Prowl, mid-century modern furniture from wax aesthetic and sweet bikes and T's from Wrong Bros.," said McGrath.
Also a longtime Northside resident and co-owner of Fabricate, McGrath knows first hand the value of supporting local shops.
"When you shop local you are directly stimulating and investing in your neighborhood economy and local, independent entrepreneurs and artists. It helps keep your community unique with one-of-a-kind businesses with local flair and creates jobs for your friends and neighbors."
The only downside of holiday shopping at NIA is that you will most likely end up leaving with more gifts for yourself than the people on your list.
Address: 4029 Hamilton Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45223
Parking: Street, meter
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Who to cross off your list: Musician boyfriend, fashionable girlfriends, vintage lovers, creative artist friends and wacky Aunt Suzette.
If you love fashion, but hate wearing the same dress from Target that everyone else has in their closet, the newest addition to your wardrobe is waiting for you at the Pangaea Trading Company in Clifton.
Also the parent company of Kismet in O'Bryonville and Toko Baru on Ludlow Avenue, Pangaea offers an assortment of clothes, shoes and accessories that can't be found anywhere else in this city, which also makes it a perfect place for holiday shopping.
"We really take the time to find out their needs and what they're looking for without the pressure," says manager Megan Schuck of the store's customer philosophy.
From multi-colored leggings to sequin shoes, Pangaea carries the latest trends without going skimping on quality. Don't forget to browse the jewelry selection at the counter; Pangaea carries a wide array of specially handcrafted necklaces, rings and bracelets that fit a variety of tastes.
"It's unique, especially for this area, there's such a diverse clientele and [the owner] does such a good job buying for everyone when she knows the customers around here. It really is community," said assistant manager Meredith Allen. "It's nice that everyone is represented in the shop. I have all kinds of different people coming in here and everyone finds something that they love."
Though the store primarily carries items for women, you can cater to the men on your gift list with their men's selection for the holidays, which includes T-shirts and accessories.
"You can find something for your 1-year-old daughter to your 80-year-old grandmother here," said Schuck.
Just a few doors down from the Esquire Theatre, Pangaea is located in Ludlow Avenue's business district which is full of unique boutiques, restaurants and even a Graeter's ice cream shop.
You can plan an entire outing of shopping and dining while supporting local businesses and skipping the crowds at the malls.
"It feels better to put money back into the community. You're going to get something that's unique and different too, something more special that something that they have everywhere," said Schuck.
Whether you're shopping for the ladies on your list or for yourself, the knowledgeable staff will help guide your way through the store.
Address: 326 Ludlow Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45220
Parking: Street, meter
Website : N/A
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Who you can cross off your list: Moms, daughters, friends, brothers, boyfriends
Cool. Chic. Covington?
Believe it or not one of the coolest and trendiest shops for men's fashion is tucked away in the heart of Covington. Located directly across the street from the unoccupied Mad Hatter building on Scott Boulevard, Flow offers a variety of styles with a range of price points.
Self-described as a "shop for the modern gentleman" owner Jerod Theobald specializes in designer brands, including Beren, SLVDR and Comune, to name a few. Products are neatly showcased to compliment the hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, giving it a clean modern feel.
Flow opened it's doors on Black Friday of last year and though small in size, offers a wide selection on it's popular products For example, Theobold says Chino pants are top sellers because he keeps a variety of colors in stock aside from the ordinary blacks, navies and tans.
Flow also stays up to date on accessory trends from belts to bow ties, the latter a huge success during Derby time last spring.
However, Theobold says one of the most overlooked items is the Unbranded jean collection. It's the sister brand to the popular Naked and Famous line, which typically runs more than $200 a pair.
Theobold says Unbranded offers the same quality for a fraction of the cost: $78 a pair, a price comparable to jeans in national chain stores.
"You're not going to go to Kenwood Mall or Nordstrom or Macy's and find the brands that I carry here."
Theobold says he focuses his efforts on exclusivity by carefully selecting products that provide customers with a unique style.
And if something doesn't fit just right? Don't worry, there's a tailor next door. If something runs too long or needs an adjustment, Theobold sends his customers over to Ray Damico Tailoring.
"The only thing we're missing is a barbershop."
For those who love designer, but hate the price tag that comes with it, Theobold also carries consignment clothing including brands like J.Crew, Banana Republic and Lacoste.
"With consignment merchandise, you'll find... the brands that guys are familiar with where they come in, know their size and grab it off the rack. They don't really need to try it on."
His consignment selection also brings some female customers to shop the racks.
"I ask, 'Oh is that for your husband?' and they say, 'Heck no, it's for me.'"
And if you make a trip to Flow be sure to say hello to the shop helper, Ravi, a miniature schnauzer who keeps his station in the back of the store.
Address: 321 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky., 41011
Parking: Street and meter
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Who to cross off your list: Boyfriends, husbands, brothers, boss, a coworker, any guy interested in putting his best foot forward in terms of style or fashion.
Hardly a year since its opening, Lolli's in Mariemont is already making buzz around town as the destination spot for holiday shopping.
For those who are just getting started with their list, this eclectic shop is filled from top to bottom with items that range from infant to grandparent.
Longtime Mariemont resident and mother of four, Leah Osgood opened Lolli's last February, which sits across the street from the National Exemplar and a few doors down from Mio's Pizza.
"I wanted an eclectic feel that had a mix of home gifts and accessories…with classic style and a bit of an edge," said Osgood.
With a keen eye for merchandise and a set-up similar to Anthropologie, Lolli's products are thoughtfully displayed on antique furniture that give the store a homey feel. Just make sure to check out every open door and drawer so you don't miss a thing.
"I'm always shopping for fun new things you can't find anywhere else," Osgood said.
Some of her top sellers of the season include:
Among Osgood's personal favorites are the S'Well reusable water bottles that keep liquids hot for 12 hours or cold for 24. "I'll put ice in mine at 9 in the morning and still have ice at 9 at night," she said.
Osgood also keeps the men covered by stocking cufflinks, belts, wallets made out of recycled ties and flannel shirts, picture frames, bottle openers, wine stoppers and recycled bike chain bottle openers, all of which make unique gifts.
For those in need of inspiration before heading out the door, Osgood is offering special discounts on select items with Lolli's 12 Days of Christmas. Every few days, Osgood posts offers on the store's Facebook page , as well as Loll's top picks which highlight the top gift items of the season. Just make sure you check it often so you don't miss the deals.
Address: 6936 Madisonville Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45227
Parking: Parking lot in back of store
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Who to cross off your list: Anyone who appreciates unique gifts and style
An art gallery and boutique all rolled into one, Indigenous is a prime spot for holiday shopping this year.
Located in the historic shopping district of O'Bryonville and sandwiched between Hyde Park and East Walnut Hills, Indigenous features more than 150 artists.
With a focus on works by local artists, merchandise ranges in mediums from jewelry, pottery and paintings to prints, stained glass and kaleidoscopes, just to name a few.
"We have something for just about anybody... even for that really hard to buy for person, but we're easy to shop for the ladies with our fantastic jewelry selection," said owner Diane Christian-Budd.
The store also carries open edition Charley Harper prints. Recently Brett Harper, Charley's son, held a gallery show at Indigenous. The staff also is able to custom order prints from the Harper catalog if necessary.
Indigenous also hosts a series of in-store events like "Saturday Studios" where guests can watch local artists demonstrate their own creative techniques.
"We're providing an outlet for local artists who do what they do professionally instead just as a hobby or additional job. It builds community and keeps your dollars within the place that you live," added Christian-Budd.
And if you're feeling completely clueless about what to buy, the staff will help guide you through the store.
Address: 2010 Madison Road Cincinnati, Ohio 45208
Parking: Parking lot, meter parking on street
Hours: Mon - Fri: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Sat: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sun: 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Who you can cross off your list: Anyone who appreciates art
The quaint business district of Bellevue, Ky. is full of small town charm. Nestled in between Newport and Dayton and only a few blocks long, this strip of Fairfield Avenue is tightly packed with unique businesses.
Within its perimeter lies The Cozy Cottage, as it's appropriately named for its inviting atmosphere. Decorated throughout the shop with holiday lights and ornaments, you feel like you're walking into your aunt's home on Christmas Eve and not someone's business.
Nearly every surface of the store is compact with trinkets and crafts, but displayed in an organized fashion which makes it easy to shop. You're bound to stumble upon something new every time you enter.
Barb Wiedeman opened her store eight years ago and specializes in American-made goods and gifts. She also sews her own line of clothes to fit American Girl doll clothes, which are top sellers all year round.
From food and doll clothes to customized ornaments and wooden toys, the Cozy Cottage carries a wide range of gifting products, most of which are locally made. She also makes holiday wreaths geared toward men with sports team's logos and lights intertwined.
"I have very few things with batteries, so teenage boys are a problem," said Wiedeman.
And for the person who is difficult to shop for, Wiedeman is offering a gift basket where customers can create their own combination from select items from soups and dips to handmade wash clothes and soaps.
You can even purchase a gifting bag on the way out so you don't have to go home and wrap.
And while you're spending the morning or afternoon in the area, Widedeman suggests stopping by the Bellevue Bistro for breakfast to sample "the best French toast ever."
Address: 307 Fairfield Avenue, Bellevue, Ky.
Parking: Street, meter
Hours: T-F 10 - 6, Sat 10-4, Sun 11-2, Mon 11-4
Who to cross off your list: Friends, coworkers, spouses, American Girl doll fans
8. Park + Vine
Since Park + Vine opened its doors in 2007, owner Dan Korman has helped pave the way for making green living more accessible in the Cincinnati-area.
Being "green" refers to living an eco-friendly and eco-conscious way that benefits all living creatures, including both humans and animals, a lifestyle Korman has lived for the majority of his life. He stopped eating meat 27 years ago and commutes back and forth to the shop on his bicycle.
Self-described as a store that "specializes in general merchandise and foods that are considered good for personal health and the environment," Park + Vine is located in the heart of Over-the-Rhine's Main Street alongside several up and coming local businesses.
"It's easy to spend a morning, afternoon, evening or whole day in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. There are plenty of local shops along Main Street and Vine Street, and at Findlay Market. The neighborhood is very walkable, which makes it easy to get to all the old and new restaurants and bars," said Korman.
In 2010, Park+Vine relocated from Vine Street to Main and majorly expanded, adding a grocery and lunch counter that offers a daily vegan menu. So while you're out and about shopping, you can refuel with delicious healthy treats.
When you first enter the aroma of fresh herbs from potted plants greets you at the door, you'll feel like you're inside someone's home. Toward the front is a mini book store with nearly every sort of self-help guides that range in topic from vegan and gluten-free cooking to composting and fermentation.
Park + Vine is also a one-stop shop for nearly every type of reusable water bottles and canteens that come in a range of colors, sizes and prices that make for a great holiday gift for someone constantly on the go.
An entire wall is dedicated to locally made T-shirts, many of which you've probably seen around the city, including the popular gray and red "Made in Ohio" shirts, along with "Eat More Kale."
Park + Vine also caters to children's needs with an entire room full of baby and kid's wear. Korman says reusable diapers and non-toxic toys are his popular sellers for kids items, but you can find anything from teething necklaces to locally made children's clothing.
The staff has created a holiday gift guide to show what's new and popular this holiday season, which includes an emphasis on locally made items and goods.
"We hear from a growing number of people every year that they're intentionally spending more money at local stores because they know their purchase makes more of a difference," said Korman. "Spending money at local stores matters because the money doesn't really have a chance to leave the community."
However, Park + Vine is more than just a general store. Korman hosts a variety of workshops and events that build a sense of community and gives like-minded individuals a place of camaraderie.
So whether you're shopping for a friend, coworker or family member who has an interest in eco-friendly living, gift something thoughtful from the lovely staff at Park + Vine or a gift certificate to get their foot in the door.
Address: 1202 Main Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202
Parking: Street and meter
Hours: Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m . Sunday open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Who to cross off your list: Anyone who likes eco-friendly items and prefers locally-made items
9. Everybody's Records
Record stores are few and far between these days, but fortunately Cincinnati has a couple of gems sprinkled throughout the city. One of those being the beloved Everybody's Records.
Located in the heart of Pleasant Ridge's business district, manager Woody Dorsey describes the neighborhood as "a mix of family oriented... and small businesses in a nice neighborhood that's relaxed, easy to get to."
When Everybody's first opened its doors in 1978 the shop specialized in buying and selling albums, CDs and cassettes for trade or cash. Over the years it's evolved into a full-service store that stocks label and import albums. If you can't find it, chances are they know how.
"People should shop at our store because not only being an independently owned for almost 35 years. We provide great customer service and strive on being community orientated," said sales associate and indie buyer Wil Rhyne, who has been working at the store for five years.
So if you're having a hard time shopping for the person who has everything, the staff is confident you'll be able to find something for just about anyone on your list.
The store layout is easy to navigate with used and new items located in separate rooms. Customers are also more than welcome to sample music at select listening stations before committing to a purchase.
For those who have never ventured to Everybody's, it's like walking onto the set of the 90s movie "Empire Records," while maintaining the gritty, yet comforting appeal of a traditional record shop. The walls are clad with posters of musicians and bands that range from classic rock to indie pop, which creates a sense of nostalgia for the sounds of both the past and present.
Everybody's also offers selections beyond just vinyl and plastic. It's also one of the few places where you can find just about anything on cassette tape from Neil Young to The Boss.
"We have an extensive library of books and biographies that relate to music. As well as little niche items such as T-shirts and Zippo lighters and people should check out our buttons," said Rhyne.
And if you're feeling overwhelmed by the selection, each staff member is working to create their top picks of 2012, which should be ready soon and will serve as a helpful guide to holiday shoppers.
Or just walk in the store and ask.
Address: 6106 Montgomery Road Cincinnati, Ohio, 45213-1402
Parking: Parking lot in back of store, meter parking on the street
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Who to cross off your list: Anyone who likes music, or stocking stuffer items
For a photo gallery of our top picks and some of their products, go to http:// www.wcpo.com//gallery/news/news_photo_gallery/shop-local-this-holiday.