Even under the calmest of circumstances, some people just don't like to shop. When the pressure's on to buy the love of their nearest and dearest for another year, it's even less enticing. Here's one way to look at it: as a chance to buy all that stuff that you want, but don't have room for. So bite the bullet, folks, and check out these places. They've been vetted by a genuine staff shopaphobe. And lots of them offer goods online, so you may not even have to leave your warm little cocoon of curmudgeonry.
Grace's Antiques and Collectibles is a step back in time ... although which decade you want to end up in is your choice. Go all the way back to the '20s, or just to 1998 (there's a framed copy of the front page of the West County Times proclaiming Clinton's impeachment). Grace has had the store for just ten years, but it feels as if it's been there forever; lovingly saved stuff culled from others' lives means lots of vintage cookware, shelves upon shelves of dolls, and some surprisingly affordable furniture. And, of course, a Jolly Green Giant telephone.
Assorted vintage handkerchiefs, $1 and up; "Archie Bunker for President" mug, $2; 1920s Art Deco armoire, $85. 530 First St., Rodeo, 510-245-8211.
For that lover of shiny things, why not stop by Prospector's Claim in Livermore? Owner Bob Howard (author of Metal Detecting: 3 Key Factors in Order to Be Successful at Finding Gold) has been a hobby gold prospector for 37 years, and selling gold-mining and panning tools from his store for the last two decades or so. He offers both standard and deluxe beginners' kits -- the difference is the Super Mini Sluice Box -- in addition to maps, metal detectors, rock tumblers, and anything else your loved ones might need to strike it rich. There's a 16 percent discount if you buy online.
Standard beginner's kit $24.74, deluxe kit $97.93 with tax (online discount prices). 174 S. K St., Livermore, 925-455-9535, ProspectorsClaim.com
For Leather Lovers
Perhaps you've lived your whole life in the East Bay and never made it up to the funky town of Crockett, in the shadows of the new Al Zampa Memorial Bridge over the Carquinez Strait. Well, now is a good time to go, not least because of what's happening over at Buffalo Run Leathers. Owner Julie Mitchell is going to have a hard time keeping up with demand for her handmade leather Christmas stockings, trimmed with faux fur, so call or stop by soon. If she's out of those, check out her custom helmet covers in pink-and-black leather (among other colors), or her T-shirt selection. One favorite: a black tank top with a picture of a motorcycle proclaiming "Girls Ride Too" in gemstones.
Leather Christmas stocking, $24.95; custom helmet cover, $55; tank top, $14. 1410 Pomona St., Crockett, 510-787-1035
For Art Lovers
As long as you're in Crockett, you might as well make a day of it. The place is jam-packed with artists who love the views, the close-knit community, and the relatively affordable home prices. Stop in at the Epperson Gallery for a crash course in local artisanship: it has a Robot Teapot by nearby Port Costa's famed Clayton Bailey (you know -- the ceramic robot guy), evocative landscapes by Crockett's own Mamie Walters, and wonderfully textured small paintings by Concord's Mark Jezierny. Painted tiles by Sydney and Bailey Liebes provide a glimpse of life on the strait.
Whimsical trivets, $6; Robot Teapot, $500; paintings by Jezierny and Walters, $500 and up. 1400 Pomona St., Crockett, 510-787-2925, EppersonGallery.com
Rock Paper Scissors Collective's storefront opened in Oakland's thriving Uptown art 'hood earlier this year, and it has already become the East Bay's hipster emporium of record. Screen-printed clothing and accessories, patches, scarves, greeting cards, and stickers by local designers, artists, and craftspeople are just a few of the inventive, attractive, and not to mention community-friendly goods you'll find here. Although you could really go wild, there's a lot under $20 for sale. And RPS is much more than just a store: it's also an art gallery showing off-the-radar talent and a learning space where you can take classes in knitting, skateboarding for girls, and banjo appreciation. Whatta place -- it really puts the "oo" back in cooperative.
CDs by local bands, $5 and up; homemade books, $6 and up; ties, $12; screen-printed pillow cases, $18. 2278 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-238-9171, RPSCollective.com
For Whimsical Bibliophiles
Every studio in the Sawtooth Building in Berkeley is worth a peek, but one particularly inventive artist deserves your special attention. Jim Rosenau turns old hardcover books into furniture in his workshop This Into That, playing off title combinations with humorous results. One wall-mounted bookshelf is made up of five handsome tomes including I'll Quit Tomorrow, You're Younger Than You Think, Anyone Can Still Make a Million, and Classical Myths That Live Today. Okay, so it's funnier when you see it for yourself. Jim will make custom shelves, bookcases, coat racks, or pretty much anything else that you can think up. He'll be participating in Berkeley Open Studios this year, and you can also find his work at Afikomen in Berkeley and the Christensen Heller Gallery in Oakland.
Stock two-bracket bookshelves around $240; free-standing bookcases, $700 and up. 2547 Eighth St. #30, Berkeley 510-845-7854 (office) or 510-845-0106 (studio) ThisIntoThat.com
For Fluffy and Fido
Pets are so hard to shop for these days. How can you really top last year's diamond-studded collar? Well, Sabine Brunner, a transplanted German ceramic artist, knows what your pet wants in a dish: stability. Yep, Muffy will probably eat out of anything (including the unsecured bag of kibble, of course) but what if her water dish gets knocked over on a hot day? Brunner's Pop Art pet bowls rest on four little paws, making them tougher to topple. They're cartoony-cute, too, but that's for your benefit. The artist also makes ceramics for human use at her Lafayette studio, Littlecup Ceramics, including a series she calls "Cute Faces," wall sculptures made from inverted bowl shapes and decorated to look like bears, cats, dogs, and pigs -- ideal for a kid's room.
There isn't enough ink in the world to describe everything that's for sale at the Pacific East Mall in Richmond. Candy Box (Suite #108, 510-526-6966) is so stuffed full of goodies that you can't reach for anything without knocking something else over. A perfect place to shop for sweet-toothed -- and adventurous -- noshers, it specializes in Japanese snack foods; there are at least fifteen different kinds of Pocky (the candy-dipped biscuit stick), including Black Sesame and Peach Strawberry flavors, and the intimidating eleven-inch Giant Pocky. Nippon Station (#131, 510-524-8823) is almost as crammed to the rafters with J-toys and accessories, some of it innocently naughty. Try to get your hands on "The Undies Bag," a small zippered purse made to look like a pair of little girl's frilly panties. And over at Utsuwa-No-Yakata (#117, 510-558-1984, Utsuwa.com), there are some amazing bargains on Japanese tableware, including sets of five darling fish-shaped dishes in bright colors and vegemorphic chopstick rests.
Giant Pocky, $11.99; undies bag, $6.99; five-piece dish set, $12; radish-shaped chopstick rest, $1.99. Pacific East Mall, 3288 Pierce St., Richmond.
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